Today: Jennifer Coolidge
Is there not a hint of Mae West's bawdy style? A splash of Bette Midler's brash cheek? A glint of Raquel Welch's gilded glamour? Even a dash of Lucille Ball's daffy demeanor about Jennifer Coolidge? Let's leave out the Pamela Anderson and Anna Nicole Smith associations; they're old, lazy and boring. Coolidge is the new doyenne of daft.
Take One: Blonde ambition
Legally Blonde (2001) was all about Elle and la vie en rose of course, but it took just enough time out from its lawyerly pursuits to make way for a little bit of solid support: Jennifer Coolidge's manicurist, Paulette Bonafonté, assists Elle into the pink; Elle, in turn, teaches Paulette the ways of the Bend & Snap. Coolidge's comic timing is impeccable. And whilst she doesn’t have a great deal to do in the film her characterful scenes with Witherspoon were fun. Coolidge lifted the slightly jaded, what-has-the-world-given-me? veteran of love type to brazen, buxom heights. The film made good use of her comedy credentials - she gave Legally Blonde plenty of bend and a lot of snap. Wouldn't it have been great to have her in nearly every scene?
She has her fair share of fun dialogue. "I'm just a middle-aged high school drop-out with stretch marks and a fat ass" is Paulette's line in resigned philosophy. But the obvious catty joy Coolidge revels in as she delivers "so what's this Vivian got that you don't have - three tits?" gets my winning vote.
Paulette's tragi-comic yet cheerful naivety was a great asset to the film. We need her there as contrast, a timorous foil for Witherspoon's youthful perkiness; she's the older, though maybe not-the-wiser, generation Elle; and at heart a mouse in a lioness body. Watching Coolidge in the film got me thinking - wouldn't she be perfect choice if someone were to do a comedy remake of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore? I'd back this casting. It'd be a dream lead role for this deserving supporting actress.
Take Two: My stepmother is an AA-lien
Herzog's recent The Bad Lieutenant Port of Call: New Orleans (2009) was, cast wise, a treasure trove of future Take Three contenders: you may well see Val Kilmer, Eva Mendes, Shea Whigham, Michael Shannon, Irma P.Hall or Brad Dourif receiving thrice the love here soon. But Coolidge was the really unexpected cast addition, so she claims this one. I must have been looking elsewhere during the opening credits (playing spot the reptile?) because I didn't know she was in it. But I was happily surprised to see her pop up as Nicolas Cage's boozy stepmother. She bucked her familar trend of blonde ditz-queen here and worked wonders in a rare serious role. (Maybe the connection is that Coolidge has a house in New Orleans, and she may have desired a spot of home work.)
Sacrificing her trademark flirty pout and all trace of make-up in the name of artistic endeavour she's almost unrecognisible. It's a small but interesting part. Whether she's trolleyed on beer, teetering on the edge of her dilapidated mansion's verandah, whilst facing off with Cage, or engaging in a lengthy slagging match with Mendes, Coolidge is wholly convincing in the film as a drugged-out, beer-stewed former babe. She added another facet to her career. And more power to her for taking on such an uncharacteristic, vanity-free role.
Take Three: Best on show in Best in Show
"We both have so much in common. We both love soup. And, er, we love the outdoors. And talking and not talking. We could not talk or talk forever... and still find things to not talk about."
Ah, the ways in which Coolidge, as Sherri Ann Cabot, one of Best in Show's (2000) many competitive dog owners, is endearingly funny ("Ya know what, I'm the one having to push him away"). She appeared in two other Christopher Guest com-sembles (A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration) but she delighted most in this one. It's a role not a million miles away from Legally Blonde's Paulette (if it ain't broke, don't fix it, eh?) - and it seemingly aped Anna Nicole Smith's penchant for, erm, the more mature man - but Coolidge lends a fresh charm to Sherri Ann, and essays the role with a poised, spaced-out affability.
You can see early on how Sherri's heart just isn't in it; she loves her dog, not her husband - but could she really care less about show trials? It's no wonder she finds love with Rhapsody in White's trainer Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch), for whom she provides "unconditional love... and decorative abilities". Sitting on the sidelines and chipping in with an ad lib or two may look easy, but is tricky to get spot on. Coolidge nails each scene and very nearly steals the whole movie.
She's given so many wonderfully jubilant turns in both film and TV. Stick a pin her richly-comic résumé then sit back and bask in the sheer joy of watching a Jennifer Coolidge performance. It's a pleasure to praise solid comedic (and occasionally dramatic) support when it's carried out with such cheeky abandon and effortless good humour. I'd willingly watch her in anything.
When's Jennifer going to get a starring vehicle of her own to shine in?