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Awesome Lack of Taste: Style Lessons from Hot Tub Time Machine

Something a bit different from our standard we liked it/didn’t like it review; here’s some style lessons learned from Hot Tub Time Machine’s costume designer Dayna Pink.

Aviators are cool whenever:

When loser gang Adam (John Cusack), Jacob (Clarke Duke), Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry) transport back to Kodiak Valley Ski Resort circa 1986, aviator sunglasses are among the first sartorial giveaways on display. Lots of variations too, the standard wire frame with tints as popularised by Ray Ban, plus a bright red ‘shutter’ pair seen most recently on Kanye West.

The closest Hot Tub Time Machine has to an out and out villain, Lou’s nemesis Blaine (Sebastian Stan) poses on piste as though he is the first person ever to think of wearing aviators outside of a fighter plane. Yet with this constrained setting, just the ski resort really, costumes are specfic to one particular style: sportswear.

This means the overall look of the film is surprisingly restrained. Apart from glimpses of the obvious, such as Lycra pants, Converse All Stars and some horrifically colourful cotton, laughs are centred round the time travel aspect as opposed to the backdrop.

Upturned collars rule:

Blaine’s right hand man Chaz (Charlie McDermott) proudly displays that fine cross-continent phenomenon – the polo shirt, specifically one adorned with a Ralph Lauren logo and upturned at the collar for a touch of James Dean. Overdosing on C. Thomas Howell in Red Dawn, Blaine persuades his buddy that Adam’s crew (who incidentally appear exactly like their old selves after travelling through time) are invading ‘commies’ thanks to a can of ‘Chernobly’ energy drink found in their belongings.

Ralph Lauren did not invent the polo shirt, we have René Lacoste to thank for that, but with designer labels born in the eighties and sportswear the dominant look, it was Lauren who combined these elements into such a lucrative staple. Lauren’s bridge collection polo’s were part of his ‘preppy’ range mainly adopted by frat boys in the U.S. and, even more regrettably, football hooligans in the UK.

Neither Blaine nor Chaz get much screen time; playing it straight, their job is to advance the plot more than anything else. Although McDermott is funny spouting a few mumbled stoner lines and for those familiar with enough Teen Wolf era comedy, Stan perfectly evokes the jerk-off jock waiting for his comeuppance.

The best thing about the upturned polo shirt collar, besides an implied (and usually unjustified) toughness, is that anyone can do it. Even the lodge guy serving pizza wearing a Miami Vice tee manages to look cool – and in bright pink too.

Colour me bad:

The women of Hot Tub Time Machine do get the bulk of wardrobe colour (though by no means all). Being as most of their characters, particularly hyperactive Jennie (Lyndsy Fonseca) are shrill and migraine inducing, this doubles as an apt metaphor.

Then again, even their look is not that over the top, not when you consider some of the hideousness in magazines by the mid 1980s (shellsuits in lime green?). Dayna Pink demonstrates considerable discipline here. Colour was truly riotous around ’86-89; couture designers often cared more about combining yellows and reds with stripes and polka dots than they did about shape and style.

Interesting that John Cusack is producer as well as star and that director Steve Pink also worked on his earlier retro-inspired hit Grosse Pointe Blank (Pink co-wrote the largely improvised screenplay). This is the second time Cusack has felt need to exorcise the decade that gave him a career. It is all very good natured, but Adam’s line “I hate the eighties!” is infused with real life self-pity. The best thing about Cusack is that when he gets frustrated he gets funnier, and he is plenty frustrated here.

Run To the Hills:

For non-stop zeal, Rob Corddry’s possibly suicidal; definitely disgusting Lou rivals Zach Galifianakis’ similarly gross and lonely Alan in The Hangover. Lou is the rocker of the group, so he wears a leather biker jacket with flame inserts and Iron Maiden t-shirt.

Of course Iron Maiden t-shirts are as fashionable today as they ever were, which is to say more so. Only instead of metal types jumping about in sun-faded, sweaty originals that have not been washed in, well, forever, we now have teenagers in pre-faded, extra-tight versions from Top Man. What makes Lou blend right in with the (late) eighties crowd is not that he’s dressed in an Iron Maiden shirt, but that it is relatively loose fitting. Baggy tees and tight jeans were the mark of Rock back then.

Quite how far this role will project Corddry into the mainstream will depend on the man himself. If he keeps playing the guy who felates his best friend over a bet (admittedly at gunpoint) then, sure, we will laugh. But for how long? At present however this matters not a jot as he wrings every last drip of comic juice out of Hot Tub Time Machine’s sporadically funny script. Lou is the new Alan, only with more semen. “So much semen!” as he excitedly informs us.

Long sleeved t-shirts never for the evening:

As demonstrated by Craig Robinson’s repressed Nick up on stage belting out ‘Let’s Get It Started’ in a Back to the Future homage, was there ever a point in history, at any age, when sportswear seemed like a good idea for night attire? Being covered in assorted hairbrush and comb designs of dazzling colours only makes matters worse. Moreover Adam’s love interest April (Lizzy Caplan) is all Molly Ringwald wearing a cloche that reeks of desperate Bohemian – Dayna Pink got this one so right.

The movie is not without its stumbling blocks. A few set-ups, such as Nick cheating on his wife seem to fizzle out before a proper punchline is revealed. Also some of the humour might struggle to travel. The end credits Mötley ‘Lou’ number probably plays better in the States than anywhere else. For the rest of us, grinning at Corddry’s childish facial expressions keeps the silence from feeling too awkward.

Hot Tub Time Machine then. Expect nothing more than the title and it cannot fail to please. Eighties nostalgia has never been so disgusting. Or funny.

© 2010 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.