Friday, January 11, 2013

Performance of the Week: Leslie Mann

This week the performance that has been sticking with me is Leslie Mann in This is 40.  We finally caught it last weekend.  I really enjoyed the movie, and I think Apatow did a great job of blending personal stories with the sort of comedy you expect from his stuff.  He made a great showcase for his wife.  This is Mann's movie (though of course Paul Rudd is as excellent as ever).

I can't imagine too many actresses who'd be able to balance the sort of character comedy Apatow is known for with the familial turmoil and drama present in this script.  Obviously she's playing with a stacked deck, since she's performing her husband's script under her husband's direction alongside their own children.  But talent is talent, no matter who you're working with.  That connection could be a hindrance for some as well.  It can be easier to go to personal places in front of strangers, rather than those who have a good idea of what exactly you're working with.

There were a lot of laughing-through-tears moments in the film, where Mann had the task of juggling the timing and tone of comedy with the emotional content of the dramatic element.  It's not like they're completely alien to one another; both are rooted in honesty and commitment.  But she pulls it off extremely well every time (see also: the great doorman scene with Craig Robinson in Knocked Up).  Mann also physically bares herself in this movie, which always impresses me from both women and men.  Though, thanks to double-standards I think it's usually a lot more loaded for women.  Anyway, she gets a mammogram on camera and I have to assume that would be pretty hard to go through with.  And good lord does it look painful.  I also caught a great real-mom moment: Mann, Rudd, and the youngest daughter are in the kitchen watching the older daughter have a total meltdown.  At one point the younger daughter is fiddling with her plate, and Mann put her hand on her daughter's shoulder in a total "stop doing that and pay attention to your sister in this scene" gesture.  I'm really glad that got caught on camera.

There's something else I'd like to briefly touch on: why can't awards shows get comedy right?  This is a huge topic, but it feels funny to write about something like Leslie Mann in This is 40 during awards season, of which she has no part of course.  Why is comedy so much more subjective than drama?  Why do dramatic actors look at comedy as some sort of advanced, strange math intelligible only to those born with a rubber chicken in their hand and a fake arrow through their head?  There's an apocryphal quote, attributed to whichever dead dramatic actor the storyteller chooses: "Dying is easy; comedy is hard."  I first heard that in grad school, where my teachers (mostly Actors Studio members, and experts at the craft) couldn't begin to address how to perform a comedy.

Why are the Academy, the HFPA, and critics afraid to honor actual funny people doing actual funny things?  As it stands, the comedy categories generally include the funniest dramas or dramtic performances.  We just saw Silver Linings Playbook last night, and while it certainly has humor I'd hardly call it a comedy, or Cooper & Lawrence comedians, or their performances funny.  Yet there they are dominating nominations for comedy in film.  This seems particularly strained in a year when Apatow made his most personal comedy in which Leslie Mann gave one of the most dramatic funny performances I've seen.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.

No comments:

Post a Comment