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.