I’ve been watching Family Stone while cleaning — a friend lent it to me is my only thinly veiled excuse — and what strikes me most is how bad Sarah Jessica Parker is. I never thought she was terrible on Sex and the City. As Carrie Bradshaw, even if she stumbled a bit when a strong emotion was called for, her physical comedy harkened back to old Broadway in the very best way. She threw out vaudeville one-liners with panache. She tripped well. She wagged. She mugged. She arched her eyebrows with the best of them,
But she is God-awful in this film. I mean shite and shinola. Parker is no more a terrible stage actress than she is a terrible television actress, but now that I consider the body of her filmwork, she truly fouls up celluloid every time she crosses its path, except for maybe in Footloose. Pictured on a big screen, her long face and wiry body resemble those of a 1950s drag queen, which is hardly her fault. That she overreaches and stammers is. She falls so out of step with her fellow actors that she comes off as more humanoid rather than fully human. Someone get this woman a musical. Just ban Aniston from the same fate.
For I’m stuck on the idea that not every actress is suited for every medium. Film requires a level of honesty that the small screen doesn’t, but television requires a level of give and take and an insouciance that the long incubation of moviemaking often renders impossible. And stage requires a level of engagement and vibrancy that almost inevitably proves too much for any sort of screen actor. Of course there exist the likes of Glenn Close, who rarely falters, not even in The Shield, of all things. Kathy Bates, in town for a reading of Eve Ensler’s Necessary Targets, is smart, honest and accessible in every medium known to man. And God knows Helen Mirren never misses. British broads basically are equipped for everything, all attendant metaphors applicable.
But can you imagine how dreadful Meryl Streep, who excels on stage even more consistently than she does on film, would be in a sitcom? She’s already almost too larger-than-life for the big screen. (To be fair, she turned in the best performances of her later career in Angels in America, but HBO hardly counts as TV anymore.) Or take Catherine Keener, a star on stage and big screen whose snide demeanor would merely come off as a lack of affect on TV. Maggie Gyllenhaal is such an ideal film actress that I can scarcely imagine her in any other medium. Jennifer Aniston has flatlined in every movie she’s ever appeared in except for Office Space, in which bad acting was actually the point, but she sported genuine comedic chops on Friends. Julia Roberts really is a decent movie star, if a limited film actress (a whispering Mary Reilly will forever haunt my dreams), but her sputtering guest turn on Friends flailed and Broadway ate her for breakfast with forgivable glee. Some actresses whom I’ve seen shine on stage over the years have never made it to screens of any sort (save the requisite Law and Order episode) not only because their looks didn’t translate but because they couldn’t stop pitching to the back of the house.
The list goes on and on — and I haven’t’ even tackled the European actresses. It’s like a missing lesson from the Free To Be You and Me soundtrack: Not every actress is suited to every medium and, hey, that’s okay.
God help me, but critic Armond White’s article about why it takes so long for the “American Eccentrics” — namely, Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, David O. Russell, Alexander Payne, Paul Thomas Anderson, Sofia Coppola — to churn out their films is really great. White’s metareactionary reviews normally get my dander up, but if I didn’t cop to digging on this piece, I suppose I’d be guilty of the grandstanding I smell in most of his work. Or did I just evidence it now, already? Oy. Meta, meta, meta and not a drop to drink.
Here’s the Amex ad by Wes Anderson he references. Much better than The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
A brief e-treaty: If you’re around tomorrow in NYC, come to the discussion I’m leading at the IFC Center’s 2:00 screening of Russian Dolls. Although critical reception has been mixy, I actually prefer Dolls to its prequel, 2003’s L’Auberge Espagnole (The Spanish Apartment), which starred much of the same cast, including toothsome Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou. Afterward, I will be interviewing director Cédric Klapisch and moderating audience questions.
Particularly given that he looms as a huge rock star in his native country of France, Klapisch is a very generous interview subject. I interviewed him after a screening today, along with Romain, in his Parisian flat via ichat webcam. Between their wine consumption, the three-second delay, technology glitches, and my retardation directly proportional to Duris’ wicked hottyhottyhotness (he was sporting a devastating mustache), the experience could have been misery incarnate. Twasn’t, and since Sunday will just be Klapisch, with all technology glitches sorted, the event should prove quite worthy of a sawbuck and change. In a low-budget Jetson sort of way.
So come! And come with questions!