Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Amy Adams in American Hustle

Amy Adams received her fifth Oscar nomination for playing Sydney Prosser, the seductive and mysterious girlfriend of a con artist who poses as a British aristocrat in David O. Russell's latest flick, American Hustle. Many people believed that there would be a fight between Meryl Streep and Amy for that fifth spot among the nominees with Meryl being weaker, but as it turned out, the weakest link was Emma Thompson, which leads me to believe that Amy is actually a dark horse for that Oscar win. If there's anyone who has a chance of pulling off an upset on Oscar night, it's her. It's her fifth nomination (with no wins), she's well liked and the actors seem to be crazy about American Hustle. Still, unless Amy wins Bafta, Cate Blanchett has this award locked up.

The overwhelming love from actors for American Hustle was surprising to many, but not really for me. Obviously, David O. Russell's movies always do well with actors. It features a terrific ensemble with some of the biggest stars at the peak of their respective careers. The story itself is well-written, although I wouldn't say it goes into such depth as 12 Years a Slave (which I also find overpraised) or especially Gravity (despite the lack of a traditionally developed story). American Hustle is nothing but very smart and occasionally stunning entertainment that can be grateful for especially Jennifer Lawrence whose performance is a hit or miss, I'm well aware, but count me in among the fans. The constant pain present behind loud, exaggerated scenes and the out-of-place sentences, the unleashed craziness that makes her performance in Silver Linings Playbook look like subtle French acting all help make her scene quite simply stunning. I'd say that out of the 10 nominations, it's the only one that it deserves to win.

And it's not really the best case scenario for a lead actress if a supporting lady steals the movie so much, especially when that leading lady herself is borderline supporting. In my opinion, one of the main reasons why Amy Adams doesn't have an Oscar is that she's always cast in the second most interesting role of the movie that rarely gets the fireworks that lets her really shine. In Doubt, Viola Davis' brief, but heartbreaking performance overshadows basically everyone, but especially Adams whose performance seems rather pale, lifeless and kind of lost compared to it. In The Fighter, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo chew the scenery to such an extent and breath the oxygen out of the movie so much that all the other actors are suffocating and are unable to have an effect. And in The Master, Amy Adams totally fell into the background thanks to the groundbreaking performances of the two male leads. I suppose the reason why she always plays this type of roles is her versatility: she's able to elevate even the most underwritten character and her charisma and star power always shines through. 

In many ways, Amy Adams always has the hardest part in the movie and she rarely screws up (although she's dangerously close to it in Doubt). In American Hustle, for the first 20 minutes or so, it seems that finally she gets the best role in a movie and boy, does she live up to it! She walks around with confidence, wraps Christian Bale's character (and us, the viewers) around her fingers with her fake British accent, her sexiness and of course, that cleavage. She wonderfully shows the tragedy behind her character and her drive for survival no matter what. She obviously becomes the emotional centre of American Hustle with the most serious role - and whenever the screenplay demands seriousness, Amy Adams just nails it. She shows the emptiness of Sydney, but also her desire for redemption and a new life and this occasionally leads to the most heartbreaking moments of the film.

Another very intriguing aspect of Amy's performance is the way she portrays the character's relationship with Bradley Cooper's and Christian Bale's respective characters in this film. In many ways, Sydney's stronger then both of these men and yet she depends on both of them. Many interpret this as the result of a shallowly written, maybe even sexist screenplay, which I personally don't believe. I'd rather say that the character herself is lost and seeks for someone she can finally rely on, but knows no other way to achieve that, but through manipulation and acting. We can actually see the dilemma of this character as she breaks down and reveals (some of) the truth to Bradley Cooper's character. However, you remain uncertain if she did this because she really wanted to tell the truth or if it's just a part of another plan. This adds to some of the most exciting, unpredictable moments of this performance. You just never know what's coming up next with Sydney and if that was Amy's main goal in this movie, she succeeded. 

However... However, (I believe, if you wanna look good, you gotta forgive everybody. It's the best beauty treatment.) no matter how well Amy pulled off this character in theory, in the context of the film, it simply doesn't work. Her performance would work extremely well in a very serious project, but not in David O. Russell's over-the-top film. Amy is unable to understand the irony in this project and reallydoesn't display a sense of humor around the character. Occasionally, it's there (like the scene at the dance club) and in many ways, it's a funny performance, but I couldn't see that bitter, crazy sense of humor. She doesn't want to coast on the silliness of the costumes, the cleavage and the whole situation. Nobody else took the film as seriously as she did and it unfortunately shows. Even if you despise Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper here, you have to admit that they seem to fit the movie better anyhow. Quite simply, if you work on a David O. Russell movie, you have to unleash the crazy beast inside you and be extremely playful with your character. Out of the place moments are just a part of how works as a director (and why I like his films so much) - you can mention the crazy dance from Silver Linings Playbook or Melissa Leo and Christian Bale singing in The Fighter or Jennifer Lawrence's insane rendition of Live and Let Die. These are the essences of these films that are serious and occasionally heartbreaking, but they never ever take themselves seriously. The tone of Amy's performance somehow doesn't fit this. And you can see this easily, because whenever she is able to unleash the beast, she's brilliant (that crazy scream on the toilet or the dance scenes with Bradley Cooper are golden). But whenever she's too serious, the whole performance seems weird (like her climatic scene with Jennifer Lawrence) because it's not weird enough. 

So, despite the moments of true greatness, I cannot conclude that this is the most outstanding performance of Amy Adams. She fails the inject the much needed irony into this character and forgets about the over-the-topness of the material. Her subtle, realistic portrayal of this character just doesn't feel right in this movie. She's not playful and yes, funny enough here but she seems to miss the whole point of the movie. If she had been able to avoid that, this would have been an amazing performance. But alas, I have to say she's only very good and for this she gets a...

What do you think?


Dario said...

She's so last place, no?

I found her really good in this movie, though after reading this now I can't unsee that she's a little too serious in a David O'Russell movie. It's a four for me.

Unpopular opinion time! What do you think about all five of Adams' nominated roles? For me, it's like:
1. Junebug
2. Doubt
3. American Hustle
4. The Master
5. The Fighter

dinasztie said...

I haven't seen Junebug, but I'm planning to.

My ranking:
1. The Fighter (I forgot to add that I actually thought she was pretty great there and should have won if it wasn't for the amazing Jacki Weaver)
2. The Master (really underrated, sharp work, but pales in comparision with the astounding male leads)
3. American Hustle
4. Doubt (I used to like her, but on a last rewatch I was really disappointed and I didn't like her at all. Very misguided).

The thing is that I don't believe she deserved to win any of these 4 times. She always #2-3 at best. Maybe in Junebug. :) And I like her a lot in Enchanted, she could have been easily nominated instead of Cate and especially the horrible Ellen Page.

Carlos said...

Well, you know I love Adams in this film. :)

For me, she brings the "realest" performance, and I need that for a film filled with over-the-top yet terrific performances.

She'd be my last out of the 4 nominees that I have seen, but I won't be disappointed if she wins. :)

Dario said...

Lol your ranking is a complete reverse of mine :D

I found her not very special in both The Fighter and The Master, probably because she was constantly overshadowed by the other actors on both movies. I found her in Doubt to be very good even if I still prefer Viola Davis over her. And Junebug is still my favourite effort of hers, though for some reason I could see that you won't like her there.

Honestly I never thought Amy was awesome in Enchanted, though she's definitely better than Ellen Page (I still can't believe that many awards she won for it). If anyone should be nominated for a film written by Diablo Cody, it's definitely the wonderful turn of Charlize Theron in Young Adult.

Anonymous said...

Yeah...I mean, I really like Amy Adams in general but something just felt a bit missing here. I was quite confused about what to feel because when I look at each of her scenes individually, they're all really good and very "oscar clips" (especially the confession) but as a whole I just couldn't embrace her performance. I guess I kinda agree with you here; it didn't quite fit the energy and tone of the movie. It also didn't help that she shared a lot of her scenes with Cooper whom I felt was quite bad.

Well, since we're on this topic I thought I'll share my thoughts on her nominated performances as well:
1) Junebug. I think you're going to like this one; funny, pure, weird and awkward in a good way, but ultimately heartbreaking.
2) The Fighter. Her expression when Bale said "your life sucks!" and when she beat up that annoying woman were both memorable highlights for me. Melissa's "give me an Oscar!" performance there was a bit too much for me.
3) The Master. Very limited and thankless part but just the "we can never dominate our environment unless WE ATTACK" and the PSH jerking off scenes alone made me think that she would have been a worthier winner than Hathaway, whose performance I'm unfortunately not really a fan of.
4) Doubt. To be fair, I watched her very long ago when the movie first came out so I might like her more on a rewatch. I just remembered finding her a bit bland there.

Her performances in Doubt and AH are pretty equal to me. Good, but quite not outstanding.

Oh and she was hilarious in Enchanted. "How does she knoooow...."

Do you think she's a good actress? I always find her a likable presence on screen and have good memories of her work in general, even in the weaker ones.

dinasztie said...

Anon: I really enjoy her as an actress. And I agree Melissa Leo's overacting did nothing but take away the spotlight from others who could have used it better. I don't like her. And how horrible was she in Prisoners! Yuck...

Anonymous said...

I totally agree about Jacki Weaver, she was very frightening and amazing in Animal Kingdom. I didn't think Melissa was bad in The Fighter because she was actually quite memorable (guess her scenery chewing did pay off to a certain degree) but there just wasn't a lot of depth in that performance.
I should also add that I thought Melissa's brief cameo in Flight was really great. A right mix of energy and fierceness injected into the interrogation scene.

But yeah...I didn't really like Prisoners as a whole, and I agree that her "weird creepy lady harboring a dark secret" (Might as well add some cats into the equation)portrayal was so cliched I totally guessed the twist the moment she first appeared.

Great review by the way. Very fair and insightful.

Louis Morgan said...

We'll we disagree less about Adams's rating than I thought we would, but I do disagree why her performance does not work.

Honestly to me it's mostly the writing which tries to make out her character to be very important in the first half, but then proceeds to forget about her in the last act. Really there was no reason story wise her character should have been working on the con at all.

Performance wise I just felt she was nothing special and her accent should have been stronger if Cooper's character was going to be so surprised.

I disagree that she played the part wrong for a Russell movie, because Russell does not know how to play his own movie. Russell definitely does want the stuff with Jeremy Renner, the scene with De Niro in particular, to be very serious, but he undercuts it with his the poorly handled wackiness thrown in.

Also for Lawrence I can't agree at all. She only shows any pain in that one scene with Adams that was just there for blatant Oscar scenery, and she really basically forgets about that for her remaining scenes.

dinasztie said...

Louis, I disagree on Jen, of course. I feel like her over-the-topness was covering the desperation and pain that came to the surface at some crucial points, which you consider blatant Oscar scenery. It IS a divisive performance, but both Rosalyn and Jen are master con artists. So unpredictable, funny - frankly, you never knpw what's coming. :) It worked for me wonderfully.

Fritz said...

I have seen her only once but can't comment yet because I was completely disappointed by American Hustle which is a boring mess so I really need to see it again with focus on her work...

Anonymous said...

I really liked Lawrence too but I didn't love her. I found her first scene where she was telling Irving she was not getting a divorce very, very, very shaky, although I understand that her uneven line delivery works for you. But other than that, she had some really great moments, such as the bitch face she gave Adams when they first met and her final confrontation with Irving. I used to find her acting rather fake in that scene, but now I think the character was probably putting up a show there herself because deep down she knew she messed up (?)

Other than that, in thought it was quite a good performance that reminded me of Penelope Cruz in VCB. I still think SLP and Winter's bone are her best though.

dinasztie said...

Anon: It's not her best performance indeed, but it's masterful in many ways (in my opinion). I understand why some dislike her, but I love what others hate about her. Although her two nominated lead performances are, of course, better, I think she still stands out in this weak Supporting Actress field (Julia Roberts gets close to her and I'm not that much of a fan of her, either, plus she will never be my pick, because she's clearly leading).

Allen said... Fritz I think I have to give the film another watch to fully absorb Adams. I remember thinking she was good, but there's a lot happening at all times in the film and I think she gets lost especially when you've got Bale and Cooper and Lawrence each trying to grab attention in their own ways.

dinasztie said...

Allen: In many way, she's also lost, yes, but for me that wasn't the biggest problem.

moviefilm said...

Her nominated performances:
1) Doubt - I found her subtle work to be perfectly working for the film and for her character. I almost love thi performance.
2) The Master - She was pushed to the corner, but tried to make the best of it
3) American Hustle - I agree totally. Not fitting to the context of the film and too subtle.
4) The Fighter - Absolutely overshadowed by the rest of the cast. I can't even remember it.
Junebug - I haven't seen it yet. :)

Derek Bowman said...

Your point about her other nominated performances is completely spot on, she's always giving solid, subtle perfs that are overshadowed. Only Junebug allows her the spotlight.

However, I think you also fall under that same trap imo, allowing her more subtle work here to be dwarfed by the loudness of JLAW & BCOOPS. I think we may just disagree about the tone of this film fundamentally. I don't find it nearly as "crazy" as you do, and think that if Adams & Bale went as crazy as you want it would throw the film completely off balance. I felt we needed her subtlety to ground the film. Whenever she's with Cooper she's funny enough, but her and Irving aren't inherently comedic characters (hairpiece aside).

But I totally agree with you about that bathroom scene, I don't get why everyone loves it. It's weird & feels added in by improvising rather than organic.

raghavendra prasad said...


dinasztie said...

Derek I disagree. The problem is not the subtle nature, but the lack of real humor. It ultimately depends on what you think is important but those "loud" performances communicated real emotions through the absurdness more to me, which this movie really was. So in a way, I fell into this trap (because of my expectations, but man, this IS an absurd movie) but I'd rather appreciate performances that some hate a lot than one that everyone is at least OK with. :P

dinasztie said...

Derek I disagree. The problem is not the subtle nature, but the lack of real humor. It ultimately depends on what you think is important but those "loud" performances communicated real emotions through the absurdness more to me, which this movie really was. So in a way, I fell into this trap (because of my expectations, but man, this IS an absurd movie) but I'd rather appreciate performances that some hate a lot than one that everyone is at least OK with. :P

Derek Bowman said...

Ok, I think we just see things inherently differently here, lol.

I totally get what you are saying about the absurdity and feel sort of the exact opposite? Yes, the movie is absurd to a strong degree but I think Adams & Bale were supposed to be orchestrating the absurd rather than actually being absurd themselves? They are the con artists, but they are always sort of portrayed above the rest of the characters intellectually. Their romance felt like the only true moment amidst the absurdity to me.

But I totally get your points, and just see things differently I think. :) More humor would ruin the steadiness her & Bale provide imo. Btw, I actually think the loudness works really really well in Cooper's case. He's fantastic. So I totally see where you are coming from.

joe burns said...

I disagree as you know. I thought she was fantastic and her subtle work enhances and adds to the film as well as fits in with, to me. But I think she'll be last on your ranking, sadly.

joe burns said...

I responded to your question on Blanchett by the way. I don't know if you saw it yet, but in case you didn't, I'll post it here:

Well, I think Cate did a great job in Blue Jasmine and Jasmine is clearly a complex role (That could have been a disaster in another actress's hands), but Cate is such a great actress that understood the character so well and is so brilliantly calculated in the part that the results are terrific, but not things that are beyond her capability. I feel like Cate plays it all perfectly, but I feel like she stayed in her comfort zone here or better said, had the part of Jasmine down so well that the results are great, but not amazing. I hope you can understand where I'm coming from.

I'll also let the cat out of the bag and tell you that my ranking could be different despite the ratings I gave to all the three women. My thoughts on how I will rank these three women have adjusted a little bit, but not too much. But my opinion's on all of them are still solid, just who will win and why might possibly look a little different. That's all I'm saying

Antonio Djordjevic said...

well i thought that she was really good, and the most interesting character for me as well. Bale was also really great, Cooper was good and Jennifer was overrated for me.