Tuesday, April 07, 2009

POOR ANNA FARIS: OVERRATED!



One of the unexpected side benefits of writing a blog, aside from the personal pleasure of meeting and befriending so many terrific people I would never have had the occasion to cross paths with otherwise, has been that it has almost completely eliminated my desire to write huffy letters to the Los Angeles Times. For better or worse, this space is where my peace gets spoken these days. The trade-off from the ego boost of seeing my name in print on Sunday morning next to a exaggerated cartoon of John McCain spitting fire, or the print ad for this coming Friday’s latest forgettable rom-com is, of course, that my brilliant, pithy observations are not subject to anyone else’s scissors—any misspellings, typos, bad grammar or ideas left dangling are entirely my own responsibility, not that of someone trying to fill in exactly the right amount of column inches, submitted zingers be damned.

So I was able to hold my tongue (or my flattened-out typing fingers) last week when I discovered, upon opening my Los Angeles Times Sunday Calendar section, that Anna Faris, the fresh, fearless and winning star of the Scary Movie series, Smiley Face and, of course, this year’s The House Bunny, is, rather than someone who is finally getting some recognition for her prodigious comedic talents, in fact quite clearly overrated. In actuality, the Times technically calls out only Faris’ turn in Smiley Face as the overrated piece of work, but the uncredited writer of the three-sentence dismissal in question (who rather presumptuously makes use of the royal “we”) clearly means to pooh-pooh the actress’s work in general and does so with a reductive minimalism worthy of a TV Guide capsule review:

“This googly-eyed blond recently became a comedy It Girl, but after watching this 90-minute goof from 2007 by Gregg Araki we're left as bewildered as her drugged-out character. Between this and (The) House Bunny, we're wondering when playing dumb became the ticket to stardom? Wait, don't answer that.”

One can’t really call this tossed-off observation a review, but the snobbery evident here is precisely why, to borrow an observation made here by writer and SLIFR reader Neil Fulwood a couple of months ago, someone like Amy Adams gets ignored by Oscar for a fairly luminous piece of acting in Enchanted only to be nominated a year later for the thankless role of a dowdy moral umpire in Doubt, grimacing earnestly between two grade-A scenery chewers going about their award-season business. The standard knock on Anna Faris is that she has gained a modicum of fame for little else other than playing variations on a theme of female American vapidity, and that her most vocal supporters are male audiences and critics who couch their movie-star crushes in bouquets of praise for her work. In an interview published this week in New York magazine, Faris confronts this question and appears quite aware of the rather limited range of the roles she’s had so far, but is also given an opportunity (by the undoubtedly star-struck writer Logan Hill) to talk about precisely what she tries to do to make those roles her own, and how she’s working to create opportunities for herself that don’t necessarily depend on everyone else’s expectations. That said, in the interview Faris comes off as one quite comfortable with the work she’s done so far, sans apologies, and without giving any indication that she’s going to chuck her gifts as a comedienne in pursuit of the almighty Little Naked Golden Man. (As for that notion that it’s only the boys who appreciate the actress, Stephanie Zacharek would probably disagree.)

And God help her, Faris is probably about to get showered with more praise (along with co-stars Seth Rogen, Ray Liotta and Michael Pena) for her role in Jody Hill’s Observe and Report which, if you have a tendency to believe folks like David Edelstein, is shaping up to be another feather in this “overrated” star’s dunce cap. As reported in the New York piece, Faris seems quite proud of the fact that her character is central to a gruesome sex scene which reduces star Seth Rogen to straight-man status and made even the enthusiastic audience at the SXSW Festival audibly shocked, uncomfortable, unsure of where the movie was headed… until Faris blurts out a hilarious line (heard in the R-rated trailer) that sets the movie squarely back on the comedy path to hell. She says of playing the vapid narcissist Brandi in Observe and Report, “Being so self-absorbed, narcissistic, and wonderfully delusional… was just a joy.” Sentiments like these are not likely to further tickle the fancy of those, like the blurb writers at the Los Angeles Times, dedicated to keeping the flame of highbrow culture brightly lit in the face of purveyors of dimwitted caricatures like the ones in which Faris traffics.

If Observe and Report is a hit, on the heels of The House Bunny, perhaps she’ll get the chance to produce even more roles for herself, ones that differ from what women typically get offered, especially as they creep past 30. “We’ve seen so many ambitious women in the last ten years of comedy,” says Faris in New York, “and their comedy comes from trying to balance guys and jobs and fashion. I want to play the girl that has zero ambition, the girl who’s stoned, playing video games, wearing the same things for weeks in a row. I want to see what she’s up to: the girl who just says ‘Fuck it.’” Faris knows that looking at such lack of ambition and finding ways to play it to creative heights is not the same as sharing that same lack of interest in playing anything but the same old dumb blonde (or brunette). It’s a shame that writers for papers like the Times are still laboring under the misguided notion that there’s precious little talented required, or much honor for that matter, in doing so. This principle of dedication to portrayals that some might deem unworthy is one under which the actress’s screwball ancestors, from Carole Lombard and Jean Arthur and Barbara Stanwyck to Barbara Streisand and Jennifer Tilly and Julia Roberts, all operated naturally, while simultaneously making it—the comedy thing-- look easy and breezy. If she’s lucky (and audiences are even luckier), Faris will join those ranks and continue to be overrated for years to come.

***************************************************

10 comments:

Jason Bellamy said...

Dennis: Well, like you said, the Times calls Farris' performance in Smiley Face overrated, so some of your objection might not really apply. (Also note that the Times lists books as underrated, even though the industry seems to be doing quite fine, thank you. So I'm not sure this overrated/underrated series is worth getting worked up over.)

That said, I agree with you that Faris makes it look all too easy and thus doesn't get the respect she deserves because of genre prejudice. No argument there, and the Amy Adams comparison is a great one. Then again, I think we're kidding ourselves if we think that schoolboy crushes on Faris aren't involved in her still mostly underground critical acclaim, the same way that Clint Eastwood's films have been frequently overpraised because of a reverence for the man himself.

Greg said...

One can’t really call this tossed-off observation a review

Although that does pretty much constitute a review these days so in many ways, sadly, one can.

Amy Adams gets ignored by Oscar for a fairly luminous piece of acting in Enchanted

It's true, she was terrific in that and Miss Petigrew Lives for a Day (although the latter is drudgery to get through) but I wouldn't have nominated her. I might not have nominated anyone who was nominated that year either, mind you, I'm just saying with only five noms available her performance didn't seem that remarkable. Of course, I must admit, quality has rarely been a consideration with the Academy in these matters. I see your point though, and even though I haven't seen Doubt I don't doubt she is better in Enchanted.

the actress’s screwball ancestors, from Carole Lombard and Jean Arthur and Barbara Stanwyck to Barbara Streisand and Jennifer Tilly and Julia Roberts, all operated naturally, while simultaneously making it—the comedy thing-- look easy and breezy.

Actually, Faris' career isn't much like these and that's the problem. Lombard, Arthur and Stanwyck all excelled as dramatic actresses early on. I just attended the Carole Lombard tribute a couple of months ago and everything from her first studio years was drama. Same with Arthur and Stanwyck, from The Silver Horde to So Big their first early successes were all dramatic turns. And that's the problem our "reviewer" mentioned up top has. We all know, or should by now, that many people, including critics as well as people in the industry, cannot recognize talent until it has been used "respectably" in drama (I use quotes because comedy is more than respectable). That's always bugged me. Steisand and Roberts also "proved" themselves with dramatic turns. Tilly is the only one who is almost all comedy and got nominated for an Oscar despite that. Personally, I think Jack Black should've received a nomination by now for something but before that happens he's going to have to play a dysfunctional father who beats his children I suppose.

I think my comment was longer than your post.

Steve C. said...

And that's why I'm glad I no longer read the LA Times...

As a long-standing fan of Faris (hell, I watched Lovers Lane for her... how many of you can say that?), I'm ever-pleased by the recognition she's been getting. Each of her roles is a symphony of ditzhood, yet it's never just the same thing over again -- the unflappable Shelly Darlingson is a breed apart from the chronically hazy Jane F., who is miles away from the hormonal overdrive of April from The Hot Chick. You could argue that it's all variations on a theme, but who among her comedic contemporaries in Hollywood is even bothering to offer variations these days?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Points well taken, gentlemen. I admit that even I had a twinge of poster’s remorse late last night, wondering if I was making to much hay over this one. As Jason says, the blurb specifically referred to Smiley Face, but I really do think what the writer was after was the gist of Faris’ career so far, with no regard (or space given) to what it is she actually does in those roles. (This is often a problem with a lot of reviews that are 1,000 words or more too.)

“I think we're kidding ourselves if we think that schoolboy crushes on Faris aren't involved in her still mostly underground critical acclaim.”

I do think that’s a factor, Jason, undoubtedly, and male critics would be doing everyone a service if they owned up to that. But as Bill R. said here earlier, that doesn’t mean she honestly isn’t good! What’s interesting to me is, on the occasions I’ve had to see Faris interviewed, she’s less interesting to me than she is to see at work, and that goes for the charm and sex appeal factor as well. (In talking about what she does, she's more fun to read in an interview.)

Greg: Good point about the dramatic foundations of Lombard and Stanwyck’s careers. Especially in terms of Stanwyck, the observation is right on the money. In Lombard’s case, she may have been known for those roles during her time, but the ones she’s most remembered for are those screwball heroines, from Twentieth Century all the way to To Be or Not to Be-- her standing in the canon of film history is much more reliant on her influence here, and that’s why I think she can be used as a point of comparison with Faris. And I think I agree with you on Amy Adams—I’m not sure I would have nominated her for Enchanted myself, but it was easy to see why Oscar ignored her. And again, I’m with you all the way on Jack Black—he should have been on the list for Nacho Libre!

“You could argue that it's all variations on a theme, but who among her comedic contemporaries in Hollywood is even bothering to offer variations these days?”

Steve: Amen, brother.

Thanks for the indulgence, readers of both genders. I know this probably seems like much ado about nothing, but the general dismissal of the effort and talent comedic performances require, male or female, has always been a bee in my bonnet. In fact, I wonder if anyone has any more thoughts on comic performances that may have had great commercial success but little recognition at awards time. I know I have a pretty long list myself, but I’d be curious to hear some of yours.

Greg said...

In Lombard’s case, she may have been known for those roles during her time, but the ones she’s most remembered for are those screwball heroines, from Twentieth Century all the way to To Be or Not to Be--

No, I agree. I'm just say she started with the dramatic roles, not that she's remembered for them. And in case no one wants to read my over long comment above, it basically said idiot reviewers cannot recognize talent in comediens until they do something in drama, unfortunately. And Jack Black is a genius. His moment tied to the tree in Tropic Thunder was, for me, one of the funniest moments in the movies in 2008.

dave said...

Just throwing this out there, but to me, Anna Faris seems like a descendant of Marilyn Monroe.

Anonymous said...

I, for one, cannot wait to see Anna Faris in "Observe & Report". I hope that movie is as dark & demented as the pre-release word of mouth has indicated.

- Bob

Thom said...

Dennis, keep making hay brother--it's good for the care and feeding of film blogs!

Dismissing our enjoyment/praise of Faris' performances because we're attracted to her screen image seems silly. That's tantamount to claiming that only unappealing actors receive genuine praise. Of course the audience is attracted to Faris--she's lovely on screen. But the fact is she's also funny and in comedy that's what really matters. And, being attractive, funny and entertaining she's also in good comedy company - Clara Bow, Mabel Normand, Lucille Ball spring to mind in addition to the artists already mentioned above; I'm sure there are others. I'm happy to read that Faris wants to etch her own mark on the genre and expand the types of characters she plays. I look forward to laughing my way through her next performance.

...Then again, I was her love interest in Scary Movie 4 so I suppose my opinion could be biased...

Dana King said...

As Peter O'Toole's character said in MY FAVORITE YEAR (paraphrasing someone else): Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.

sexy said...

情趣用品,情趣,情色,成人,A片,自拍,情趣用品,情趣,色情,成人影片,色情影片,免費A片,情趣用品,情趣,成人網站,A片下載,日本AV,做愛,情趣用品,情趣,美女交友,A片,辣妹視訊,情色視訊,情趣用品,情趣,色情聊天室,聊天室,AV,成人電影

情色,A片,AIO,AV,日本AV,色情A片,AV女優,A漫,免費A片,A片下載,情色A片,哈啦聊天室,UT聊天室,聊天室,豆豆聊天室,色情聊天室,尋夢園聊天室,080視訊聊天室,080聊天室,080苗栗人聊天室,免費視訊聊天,上班族聊天室,080中部人聊天室,視訊聊天室,視訊聊天,成人聊天室,一夜情聊天室,辣妹視訊,情色視訊,成人,成人影片,成人光碟,成人影城,自拍