Thursday, June 24, 2010




It has been observed more than once that awards shows are very happy to make use of people with comedic talents to host the ceremonies, but not so happy to actually include stellar comedic performances among those worthy of the industry's highest awards. The prevailing explanation being that for some reason, people who are good at producing laughter aren't pulling off as difficult or meaningful a feat as people who are good at producing tears.

The Gentle Reader can guess what Apprentice Writer thinks of that.

Yes. Exactly.

Yet it has struck her more than once what gutwrenching dramatic performances comedic actors are capable of (grammar police: yes, yes, that participle is dangling. Let it have some fun already.)

In AW's view, Jim Carrey's finest performance was as the bewildered Everyman, ignorant of his celebrity status in 'The Truman Show'.

Will Ferrell's best was as the obsessive-compulsive bureaucrat grappling with parallel realities in 'Stranger Than Fiction'.

Bravo to those casting directors who saw dramatic potential in those actors, and those casting directors who added a pair of female comics to the list.

Renee Zellweger, of everlasting (and well-deserved) Bridget Jones fame, gave a lovely, poignant performance as a mother determined to find a new father for her sons in 'My One and Only'. After the utterly forgettable 'New in Town' (and it pains AW to say that, given her deep love for Harry Connick Jr.), it was a welcome change to see Ms. Zellweger in the role of a mature character, dealing with adult situations and emotions, rather than yet another twenty-something bumbler. She does that very well, but enough already.

She plays a woman in the '50's who decides she simply won't tolerate her husband's philandering any more, takes one suitcase and her teenaged sons, and leaves - without any marketable skills or support system. She is given many male characters with whom to interact and in an interesting and effective move, the well-known ones act against type. But not for a single moment does the viewer lose track of the fact that this is a film about the female lead. The ending has a nice little twist that takes the story out of fiction and into biography.

And in further proof of Ms. Zellweger's ripeness for understated performance, the best lines in the whole film go not to her, but to one of the husband-candidate characters. His big fatherly-advice-giving scene to the teenaged narrator involves a recommendation to keep a sweater handy because understanding women is about temparature control: they are always too hot or too cold. If you can fix that, you're all set.

Joan Cusack is a marvellous comic actor who has made a career of playing the quirky sidekick or best friend. AW's favorite is the fabulous 'Grosse Point Blank' where she plays executive assistant to her equally fabulous brother John Cusack's assassin for hire character. For some unfathomable reason she has not had a big break playing a lead herself, but it is wonderful to see her now being considered for dramatic parts.

AW has never read any Jodi Picoult books, which are extremely popular among general fiction readers, but have a reputation of being emotionally manipulative (according to some readers). AW was unsure what to expect going in, given the heart-rending subject matter (childhood cancer) and how her like of Abigail Breslin balanced out her dislike of Cameron Diaz. In the end, neither Breslin nor Diaz made much impression despite being the main characters - the magic Breslin had in 'Little Miss Sunshine' seems to have rubbed off, and Diaz was as painfully unconvincing as ever.

It was the secondary characters who stole the show: Jason Patric as the stoic, hypo-verbal firefighter in the impossible situation of having to choose which of his children needs a father most at any given time, and having to choose when to be a parent and when to be a spouse. Evan Ellingson as the attention-deprived, learning disabled son. Sofia Vassilyeva as the terminally ill teen, whose performance was so convincing AW wondered if she had personal experience with life-threatening conditions. And most of all, Joan Cusack, in the small but pivotal role of judge tasked with determining whether to grant an eleven-year-old medical emancipation. AW believed every word, every facial expression, and thought this performance (with those of the other secondary characters) made the movie worth watching despite a twist the viewer can see miles away and a tediously pat ending.

Hooray for actors who prove that far from being shallow, talent in comedy springs from a deep understanding of the painful challenges of life!

Gentle Reader- seen either of these movies? What did you think? Should AW read a Jodi Picoult book?



Rachel said...

Awesome pairing! As an amateur actor myself (years ago!) I can attest to the whole "comedy is so much easier than drama" thing as being complete crap. I don't know why more people don't realize this but drama is easy! Comedy is hard! Like holy crap hard!

(Stranger Than Fiction is one of my favorite movies - that script!)

I've been vacillating on My One and Only and am so glad to see some comments on it. I am going to watch it as soon as I'm back home again. (Have you seen Zellweger in Down With Love? That's another that rox my sox with an awesome script - hubby and I re-watch that one a lot for the great laughs.)

I haven't seen My Sister's Keeper. I had to read the book years ago for a book club and I added the movie to my general Picoult embargo. I do not recommend her but I know that many people completely disagree with me.

M. said...

Rachel - I'll be interested to see what you think of MOAO.

Yes, 'Stranger than Fiction' was excellent, but I have to admit I'm one of the many who just didn't get 'Down with Love'. I thought I'd like it (Ewan McGregor! Come on!) but it fell flat for me.

My variation of movie I ADORE and no one else saw was 'I'm With Lucy' - in my view, a wonderfully satisfying romantic comedy. My DH found it predictable but to me that wasn't the point - it was how it got to the end that was enjoyable. Also, it has Gael Garcia Bernal, whom I love though I can't put my finger on why.

Ref Jodi Picoult - I have noticed that the people who recommend her books to me tend to be non-frequent readers. The real 'bookies' tend to the opposite.

Rachel said...

Well, Down with Love wasn't for everyone so I can understand that. Thanks for another tip with I'm With Lucy. Unfortunately, Netflix doesn't have it in stock but I put it on my Save list. I'll be sure to come back and comment after I give MOAO a viewing.

Oooh, the Picoult observation is a good one. There is a distinct difference between avid readers and not quite so avid readers in book recommendations.

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