Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Signatures: Catherine Keener

Adam of Club Silencio here with another look at my favorite actresses and their distinguishing claims to fame.

"I think I want to end therapy. I don't know, I feel like it's time, y'know. I feel like I want to go at it alone for awhile. I mean here I am completely single and I'm not SO depressed about it. (Pause.) It's hard with Laura being so grotesquely in love... but I'm still okay. (Pause.) And its been forever since I've been obsessed with someone, so I think I'm doing a lot better in that area..."
-Amelia, Walking and Talking (1996)

If misery loves company, it has exchanged vows with Catherine Keener. She's made a career of trudging through the wreckage of characters' neuroses and judgment -- still somehow offsetting their scalding words with a cool, collective charm. A sharp acidic wit underlies even her most sentimental supporting parts. If strong, funny and flawed female roles are a rarity, it's simply because they're all currently occupied by Catherine Keener.

Menial day to day tasks like Walking and Talking become means for Catherine to brilliantly devour and dissect everyday perils -- such as the dating world; one small step for single woman kind, one giant leap for Nicole Holofcener's career. Obviously Catherine is Friends with Money to writer/director Holofcener, and their frequent collaborations have marked some of the most richly textured but stripped-bare arcs for women in modern comedy. In Catherine's care these characters flounder, they curse, they belittle, and yet somehow remain undeniably genuine. They never fully overcome their weaknesses, but it's their sardonic perception of themselves and their surroundings that ring so painfully (hysterically) true, and possibly lead them in the the right direction by the films' end. For as much as they struggle to find their path, wade through dismantling marriages (see also: Your Friends & Neighbors and Full Frontal) and begrudge the happiness of others, at least their mothers still think they're Lovely & Amazing. If Catherine's characters teach us anything it's that even if you're miserable inside, you still have to be able to sell yourself to others.

"Listen, Mister... This s**t is pretty!"

-Michelle, Lovely & Amazing (2001)

"I am dubious, but I don't welsh."

-Maxine, Being John Malkovich (1999)

Catherine's cinematic trials occasionally peak into darker territory -- even (quite literally) branding Ellen Page a "prostitute" -- but by and large she finds her trademark scathing charisma through her characters more everyday pains. Be it de-virginizing a forty-year-old man or an underage Jake Gyllenhaal (misery only in the legal repercussions), Catherine's career has spanned a wealth of women whose age and experience has molded them perfectly to dismantle any and all despairing matters of social construct. With biting, understated ease, Catherine Keener has shown that it's simpler just to say "f**k off," but doing so ignores the wonderful art in insult and disregard. And because a bit of dry, insensitive wit takes longer for others to process.


Anonymous said...

You are spot on about Catherine Keener. She plays such remarkably flawed and poignant characters. I fall for each one of them because she conveys their troubles and insecurities so deeply.

Anonymous said...

I rejoice everytime I see this woman on screen. She is a performer that has a natural charisma that's perfect for the screen. ugh, my actressexuality is going into overdrive!

Alison Flynn said...

I LOVE Catherine Keener. Terrific write-up of this wonderful actress.

One of my favorite movies of hers is Living in Oblivion - which also feature one of my favorite working actors, Steve Buscemi.

Andrew K. said...

Catherine Keener needs a good lead role worthy of her talents. I did not like Friends With Money, but Keener sold it for me.

Bailey said...

LOVE Catherine Keener. For some reason I am always reminded of the movie "The Real Blonde" when I think of her, even though that movie belongs in the shitter (still think Maxwell Caulfield is the sexiest thing alive, though). Anyway, yeah, Catherine Keener...not the greatest range in the world, but she's amazing at what she does. (I was sad to hear she and Dermot Mulroney filed for divorce. They seemed cool together.)

Adam said...

Alison, good call on "Living in Oblivion," another role perfect for her special comedic timing. Love her dwarf dream sequence!

Bailey, I think you're right about her range on occasion but I still think she has the ability to make each of her characters wholly believable. Her line delivery always feels so authentic, like it's a conversation instead of just movie dialogue.

I think the absolute best idea is to have Nicole Holofcener design an HBO series that places Catherine Keener in the lead. It seems the perfect format, it gives Keener the role she deserves, and Holofcener's already worked on some of HBO's best series like "Six Feet Under" and "Sex and the City." Anyone have friends with money who can make this happen?

Anonymous said...

If you think Keener doesn't have enough range, you should check her out in Capote-- she plays To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee. It's quite a departure for her.

She's also often the best thing in bad movies (I'm thinking of Full Frontal and Hamlet 2 in particular).

Anonymous said...

i hated her in "american crime". she was excellent.