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Two men walk into a restaurant in New Jersey: charismatic mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), who loves his life and all the Italian food in it, and con artist Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), whose round shape signals a man who enjoys his meals. Irving wants Carmine to fall for his con. And Carmine needs to trust Irving so he can get the money Irving has promised.
Carmine looks for a connection between the two of them. He discovers they’re both from the Bronx and they both know Tommaso’s spicy clams at Pasquale’s Rigoletto.
At the restaurant, Irving watches Carmine schmooze with chef Rocco about his chicken picatta. “You know like we do,” Carmine enthuses. “The chicken very thin, the red sauce, the lemon.” A few gulps of red wine and Irving knows he’s is in, especially after Carmine makes him a gift of a “science oven,” also known as a microwave, to heat his pasta, lasagna and meatballs, warning, “Don’t use it with metal.”
Later, Irving’s wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), who doesn’t pay attention to what her husband says about their new kitchen appliance, places a metal pan covered with tin foil into the microwave. It blows up, then bursts into flames. Instead of being penitent, she challenges her husband, “You bring something into this house that’s gonna take all the nutrition out of our food and then light our house on fire? Thank God for me!”
How Greed Makes Monsters Out of Family: “Nebraska”
Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) wants to get to Nebraska, from his home in Montana, to pick up the million dollars he’s been promised by the oldest con in the world — the sweepstakes scam. His devoted son, David (Will Forte), offers this excuse, “My dad just needs something to live for.” Even though Woody’s conversation revolves around “don’t know, don’t care and doesn’t matter,” David agrees to drive his father to seek his fortune.
After two days in the car, they pull up to the house of Woody’s brother, Ray, in Nebraska. Ray’s wife, Martha, chirps, “You must be starving. I made sandwiches.” She hands each of them a bologna on white, served on a paper towel. As David politely chews, his cousins belittle his driving ability while Ray watches Woody eat.
Later, when they learn that Woody is almost a millionaire, mealtime gets serious as Martha presents them with a Thanksgiving-in-July feast that includes a Jell-O mold. There are compliments and fake smiles. “Ma and Pa would be real proud, Woody. We’re just tickled for you,” say the cousins. That quickly turns into, “Remember that money I loaned you? Maybe now’s a good time to pay it back.”
Of course, when they find out Woody has fallen prey to a scam, all heck breaks loose, in the humiliation department.
In the end, the relatives come up empty and our hero gets his just deserts. On the way home, Woody cracks his first smile in the film.
Beverly Levitt is a Los Angeles screenwriter and food writer.