Monday, December 20, 2010

Mary-Louise Parker Is... Mary Louise Parker!

Thoughts I had while watching... RED (2010)

A few years ago I attended one of those New Yorker festival interviews that featured Mary-Louise Parker and the writer/moderator called her "a chameleon" after showing a clip of her from a movie I didn't recognize in which she wore a blond wig. It was the most ridiculous thing I heard that entire movie year.

Mary-Louise Parker is not a chameleon. Mary-Louise Parker plays Mary-Louise Parker. Like most enduring star actors, she's very very good at her one role.

This random memory came to me while watching RED, the October action comedy (yes, I'm two months late.) about Retired and Extremely Dangerous operatives, that the Golden Globe and Satellite voters unfortunately tossed into the precursor-mandated viewing schedule.

In the film Mary-Louise Parker plays Mary-Louise Parker with a headset. She works a boring job answering phones in some payroll divison of government and she enjoys flirting with retired killer Bruce Willis played by not-retired action star Bruce Willis. Once someone takes a hit out on Willis, MLP gets caught up in the madness.

All of the delightful MLPisms were there: the stoned line-readings, the sly smiles, the wide eyed narcisstic "this is happening? to me ???" wonder, that improbably unique fusion of frazzled and narcotized performance energy as if her body and mouth have never quite decided which brain  chemicals or illegal substances are in power during that moment.

The movie is not good. But I can't lie and say I didn't enjoy it at all. Here are the things I enjoyed about it most in descending order.
  • Mary Louise Parker playing Mary Louise Parker.
  • Bruce Willis playing Bruce Willis.
  • Mary Louise Parker mumbling "pizza" from beneath duct tape after much unintelligible screaming about being tied up and duct-taped. It's true, I LOLed.
  • Mary Louise Parker hiding behind Bruce Willis when confronted with John Malkovich playing John Malkovich. My what big teeth he has. "All the better to chew scenery with, my dear"
  • Karl Urban being sexy, especially whilst wounded. 
  • Bruce Willis casually stepping out of a madly spinning car, as if it's in park and he's just running errands... with loaded firearms.
But mostly I did not enjoy it. For these reasons.
  • Brian Cox mangling a Russian accent. 
  • Rebecca Pidgeon being cast as someone who you're not supposed to know is sinister, because she's always sinister.
  • This is a personal thing but I have a super low tolerance for "comedies" that think rapidly escalating body counts are hilarious. And seriously this thing is vile with the 'killing people is fun and wacky! twinkly cheer.
  • That neighborhood where not a single house lights up or neighbor emerges while a group of men machine gun a house for what feels like an hour.
  • General laziness.
  • The pervasive feeling that it might never end.
  • The joke with the stuffed pig did not work. The set up, punchline and execution didn't feel at all in synch for what was, I can only presume, supposed to be a big takeaway gag. I mean, they even sent awards voters that very pig (albeit in miniature form).
Monty, who attacks stuffed animals on sight, was weirdly docile
when confronted with "the pig".

Lastly, I did not enjoy Morgan Freeman as Morgan Freeman or Helen Mirren as Helen Mirren because they both seemed to be phoning it in for a quick buck and both are capable of so much more. Seriously, do these two ever say "no" to an offer? Did any big-salaried actors make easier paychecks this year?

Even if you didn't see the movie... (you dodged a bullet --- thousands of them actually) do you like it when Mary-Louise Parker plays Mary-Louise Parker?


Will said...

I was watching Fried Green Tomatoes the other day, and I was surprised to see that Mary Louise Parker wasn't playing Mary Louise Parker. I guess I'm not familiar enough with her work to judge, but it sees like her range narrowed a bit around the time of Proof.

adelutza said...

I'll have to disagree on this one...although I completely agree that the movie shouldn't be talked in awards terms for anything, and that Bruce Willis for the last 15 years plays Bruce Willis . I had great fun watching the movie. And if I had to chose between this and , say, Iron Man I'll take Red at any time . But of course I know I'd be the only one to make that choice :-)

pomme said...

i saw "RED" in october and for me it's as "killers"(the stuff with Kutcher& Heigl YES i see many garbages) but with more action.

aclp said...

Nate, I love you and your blog, but you do seem to have some sort of personal bias against Morgan Freeman.

I remember you once saying that it seems to you that he always plays the same character and always delivers the same performance- Street Smart, Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemptio, Glory, Amstad, Million Dollar Baby, Gone baby Gone, Bucket List, Invictus, Se7en, Nurse Betty- do they all look like the same performance to you?

I think its funny that you think someone like I don't know, Anne Hathaway can do no wrong but you do seem to have something against an actor of Freeman's magnitude.

aclp said...

I remember him saying on "Inside the Actor's Studio" that he thought he was sometimes typecasted due to this sense of gravitas, dignity and depth that people get from him and that he tried to avoid it but doing diferent projects.

I dont think all his performances are the same at all, but maybe he is sought after for a specific kind of job- but then again, doesn't Hollywood typecast pretty much everyone?

J said...

I do also remember a clip of "Prelude to a Kiss" from a Tony Awards tape from '90 or so which I must have watched literally 1000 times (coolest 10-year-old boy ever) and she seemed to be playing a bit of a dimbulb, a little bit more naive than the cynics she specializes in now.

I love MLP because she can sell a line in that Maggie Smith way that has you rolling. I'll watch her (and Dame Maggie) in anything, but I will admit that what Nick Davis calls her "adenoidal irony" (paraphrasing 'cause I can't find the exact link) is hard to ignore these days. But I feel like that's a problem with casting in the film industry: once they find out what you do great, they run you into the ground with it and barely consider you for anything else.

For instance, I would have loved to have seen what she could have done with Barbara in "August: Osage County," where she could have used her comedic skills to mine some really heavy lifting. But Hollywood in their infinite wisdom elected to go with Julia Roberts instead. Which...kind of torpedoes my point about casting, but what can you do. :)

verninino said...

I've had such a huge crush on MLP for almost two decades, I suspect she made some kind of Faustian bargain; the minute she breaks character her star will cease to shine, and she'll get saggy.

So, don't change a thing Mary-Louise.

For the record, Monty does not limit his attacks to STUFFED animals.


J well the normal rules don't apply (casting-wise) if you're a mammoth movie star like Roberts. Those people can get cast even if they've never proven they can do a specific thing. (like, for instance, I'm BEWILDERED that Natalie Portman keeps getting cast in greenscreen epics because so far she's been terrible in them.)

Amanda He's just not one of my favorites is all. I don't dislike him. My favorite performance of his is probably Shawshank or Se7en. but I've never seen STREET SMART which i understand was crucial to the rep he built.

AnthonyDC said...

Yeah, I think "Fried Green Tomatoes" was the only time I remember her not doing Mary Louise Parker. Also, try to avoid Mary Stuart Masterson on "Law & Order: SVU." Painful.

Anonymous said...

@adelutza -- I wouldn't go that far but I would pick it over Iron Man 2. Then again, I'd pick just about anything over Iron Man 2: taxes, waterboarding, you name it.

And I always enjoy Mary-Louise Parker playing Mary-Louise Parker. She's just so darn good at it! George Clooney with a vagina, that one.

@Nathaniel -- Have you done a post yet about actors that people just don't get? Lord knows I've got too many to list here.

P.S. In Portman's defense: she pretty much agrees with you. :-)

Will (not the first one) said...

Mary Louise Parker is indeed always playing herself. I did enjoy her performance and the movie, though. The always awesome Dame Helen Mirren obviously had fun making the movie and so did I watching it.


badmofo -- if Portman agrees with that assessment than she needs to learn this little word we like to call "no". I wouldn't turn down millions to do something i was bad at -- so i get the impulse -- but when you already have millions YOU SHOULD.

OtherRobert said...

You didn't even enjoy Helen Mirren running in the snow? I want to turn it into a GIF and fake-marry it. It's hilarious. She can do the sexy saunter better than most actresses half her age, but is incapable of moving faster than a sexy saunter. I'm actually laughing right now picturing her run.

Alex said...

I'd be willing to stick up for Mary-Louise. I think her earlier performances (Fried Green Tomatoes, The Client, Boys on the Side) are vastly different from a lot of her more modern work. Her best performance, by far, as Harper Pitt in Angels in America I think is in a class of it's own. Best Supporting Actress performance of the Aughts. I think her two major TV outings on Weeds and The West Wing have polar opposite characters.

Derreck said...

I thought RED was pretty great. It was good ol' mindless fun. I totally agree about MLP though. There was no difference in what she did in this film and what she does in Weeds. She might as well have been Nancy Botwin in the film. But she did what she does best and provided a good amount of laughs.

Plus, there was a big lack of Helen Mirren in the film. There was so much potential for sheer badassery when it came to her performance, but she wasn't in the movie nearly enough. Morgan Freeman too to a certain extent.

and Karl Urban was obviously set on 'smolder' during the whole film.

J again said...

Alex - I have to disagree. I love MLP tons, and I love Weeds and TWW, but the only difference between Nancy Botwin and Amy is that one sexy ballbuster went to law school and the other sexy ballbuster became a trophy wife.

/3rtfu11 said...

Nathaniel, see 1988’s Lean on Me for one of the best Morgan Freeman performances ever.


Other Robert -- if you make such a gif i promise to post it here. I let that slip me by while watching the movie but now that you describe it like so i am giggling. TRUTH.

Derreck -- I think we need more Urban in bigger roles.

Alex -- i love her in Angels too but i think all the mannerisms are the same from then onwards. Not saying i don't enjoy her. I totally do.

Bryan said...

I constantly found myself waiting for when Mary-Louise Parker would come back onscreen. However, I've seen very little of her work, so perhaps her tics and mannerisms haven't started to bug me yet.

I also love your refusal to call any of the characters by their character names. "For some reason, everyone keeps calling Cher 'Tess'." lol

And yes, Karl was smokin'.

Daniel Armour said...

Saw RED in October and enjoyed it in a disposable sort of way. In the case of Ms. Parker, RED and the Assassination Of Jesse James are the only two things I've seen her in and they were very different roles, so I can't say whether I like her acting style or not.

As for Bruce Willis, I thought he played against type in Unbreakable and was very good. Unfortunately, he hasn't done anything nearly as good since (neither has M. Night Shyamalan but that's another story).


daniel -- i like bruce willis in general. i have weird negative feelings about unbreakable but i think i get why people like it.

but it'd be cool to see willis really stretching again. i loved him doing the goofy comedy in death becomes her for example.

Lucky said...

I agree completely. I love MLP but she always plays herself, same expressions, same mannerisms. It works, but she doesn't have much range.

Does anyone remember her in The Client? She was TERRIBLE in that one, laughable.

Glenn Dunks said...

"Did any big-salaried actors make easier paychecks this year?"

Emily Blunt and Jack Black in Gulliver's Travels. An even easier buck because all they had to do was stand in front of a green screen and lazily recite their dialogue.

Janice said...

I finally saw Angels in America this year (the HBO version) and enjoyed it tremendously, but watching Harper I kept thinking - Nancy Botwin, but more depressed. (And I never for one second believed she was a Mormon wife from Utah.) Whereas Justin Kirk's performance was vastly different from "Uncle Andy"

Anonymous said...

@Nathaniel -- Isn't that why Portman turned down Gravity, though? There could be another reason - that thing's an actress repellent after all - but I seem to remember an interview not too long ago where she urged all actors to get formal green-screen training and practically cringed when the host brought up Star Wars. I would've laughed had her embarrassment not been so palpable.


badmofo -- if that's so why is she doing THOR? at least Cuaron will expect you to do some real acting.

I do wonder why actresses were so nervous about GRAVITY though. is it just the fear that if it flops your career is over as the headliner? or is the character not interesting? or is the budget going to the f/x and not the lead actress?

adri said...

I saw Red, and my favorite part was watching Karl Urban smoulder. Red wasn't much of a movie but if it gets enough play, maybe Urban will start getting the better roles he deserves.

For a Bruce Willis throw-away movie this year though, I prefer Surrogates (both Rosamund Pike and Radha Mitchell!).

Anonymous said...

You expected people to come OUT of their houses when they see a bunch of men shooting machine guns? What were YOU smoking?


anon -- haha. good point. wouldn't someone at least turn the lights on. or call the cops? they were out there forever!

Anonymous said...

@Nathaniel -- I'm beginning to sound like her attorney LOL. But she's said that the only reason she chose to do Thor was to work with Kenneth Branagh. How that applies to him and not Cuaron is totally lost on me but okay...


badmofo -- haha. wow. yeah. but lots of actresses have bad taste so...