Monday, January 11, 2021

31 Days of Believe Care Invest: American Hustle

In 1978, we meet Mel as he’s deeply in trouble, running some sort of sting operation for the FBI, under threat of prosecution himself. We then flashback to his childhood, when he would break windows to help his father’s glass business. We then jump ahead to when he meets the love of his life (and partner in crime) Sydney. 

Why Mel might be hard to identify with: Sydney says why she wasn’t attracted to him at first, and we agree: “He wasn’t necessarily in good shape and he had this combover that was rather …elaborate...” 

  • We start with a specific time and place: “April 28, 1978, Plaza Hotel, New York”
  • A classic “I understand you” moment with his love interest: She’s wearing a charm bracelet with pictures of Duke Ellington. “Is that Duke Ellington on your bracelet?” “Yeah, as a matter of fact it is.  He died this year, y’know?” “I know. I doubt anyone else here knows or cares about it.” “Well, I care about it, he saved my life many times.” “Mine, too.” 
  • We begin by lingering over Mel’s elaborate comb-over and toupee ritual, which is fascinating…
  • …then Mel gets in a fight with his FBI handler, who decides to escalate things by messing up Mel’s hair. Hurt your hero in a way that would only hurt your hero.
  • As his modern day situation falls apart (with the implied threat of jail if he can’t fix it), he leads us back into the past by saying, “Did you ever have to find a way to survive, and you knew your choices were bad? I learned how to survive when I was a kid.” He’s been behind the eight ball his whole life.
  • Victimizing parents earn sympathy for a hero’s bad behavior, but so do victimized parents: “I would rather be on the taking side than the getting taken side any day of the week, especially when I saw how my father got taken. I mean, seein’ that scarred me for life. I became a different type of guy from my father, I became a con artist.”
  • We see young Mel throwing a rock through a window as he says, “My father had a glass business.” He’s always working some angle.
  • Confidence is a superpower: Here’s Sydney’s full quote: “He wasn’t necessarily in good shape and he had this combover that was rather …elaborate, but he had this air about him, and he had this confidence that drew me to him. He was who he was. He didn’t care.”
  • You can reveal a hero’s own qualities and values by having him compliment those things in others: “She was smart, she saw through people and situations. She knew how to live with passion and style. She understood Duke Ellington.”

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