POSTED February 28 2014

American Hustle, hair-as-metaphor, and hair acting

imagesHow could I have missed this? The oddsmakers sending me the Vegas line on the Academy Awards (favoring 12 Years a Slave and the probability that Pink and Bette Midler will perform a duet) and analytics teams regaling me with data that the “wealthy white men” who dominate the Academy are more likely to vote for 12 Years than American Hustle, I failed to notice a curious oversight.

American Hustle, which purveys five of the most follicularly exuberant coiffures in movie history, failed to be nominated for the best makeup and hairstyling Oscar. How can this be?

Christian Bale’s toupee, which announces that this con man has something besides his bald spot to hide, not considered Oscar-worthy? Amy Adams’ crimped hair, suggesting that she is decidedly not on the straight and narrow, not cited? Jeremy Renner’s proto-Ronald Reagan pompadour, indicating that it’s morning in New Jersey, not a contender? Jennifer Lawrence’s updo, stray tendrils falling out and suggestive of someone tightly-wound coming apart, not in the hunt? And Bradley Cooper’s home perm, signifying he’s trying to be someone he is not, overlooked?

American Hustle might is the most evocative hair-as-metaphor since Samson.  It’s not hair acting, as with Brad Pitt whipping his Breck Boy locks in Legends of the Fall, Hugh Grant flouncing his Eton flop in Four Weddings and a Funeral,  Johnny Depp tangled up in dreads in Pirates of the Caribbean or Orlando Bloom trotting out a My Little Pony mane in Lord of the Rings.

Thoughts? Other great moments in hair-as-metaphor or hair acting at the movies?


  1. Gary Kramer says:

    In literature, and in film, whenever a character gets a haircut, it is a metaphor for a life change. Audrey Hepburn’s pixie cut in ROMAN HOLIDAY is a classic example. Barbara Streisand’s shave in YENTL. Meryl Streep in SOPHIE’S CHOICE. The list is endless (even if the hair is not).

  2. Steve Elworth says:

    AMERICAN HUSTLE is the hair film par excellent. I do not think any of the real people in Abscam had hair any way that great.
    Transformation in hair style in film is always significant. Do not forget The changing of Mia Farrow’s hair in ROSEMARYS BABY as a sign of her posesions by the other, a santanic pregnancy

  3. Thanks for your brilliantly stylish commentary, Carrie. I’d add Demi Moore’s ceremonious head shave in GI Jane to the list of hair-honed character transformations in narrative, and of course there’s the real life drama about locks and dreads in GOOD HAIR.

  4. I think the ultimate hair-as-acting movies (although they’re much more than that, obviously) are A Hard Day’s Night and Help. Each of the main characters’ hair (style, quality, hair movement) was integral to the pictures. Also, in a funny way, I think of that weird, hideous haircut Harrison Ford wore in Presumed Innocent. It’s an odd picture, but somehow Ford’s cut seems integral to it. Kevin Kline’s lank, greasy hair in French Kiss was essential to his performance. (How did they achieve the look?) Finally, anything Johnny Depp appears in seems to demand a total gestalt reaction, hair included.

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