Jan 22 2009
Every so often, a comic actor goes through a crisis of faith. Maybe they feel they’re being pigeonholed into roles that involve fart jokes and being hit in the balls too often, or maybe they just want to see what else they’re capable of. Sometimes this can be a trainwreck, but for these eight actors, it’s gone pretty well at least once. Here are a few comedians who held a straight face effectively for an entire film.
Why P.T. Anderson chose Happy Gilmore to star in one of his films, I have no idea, but it turned out pretty damn good. As an emotionally stunted businessman in Punch Drunk Love, Adam Sandler made us forget all about his goofy past, at least for two hours. Sandler also tried to be more serious in films like Spanglish (ugh) and Reign Over Me (ugh to a slightly lesser extent), but Punch Drunk so far has been his dramatic tour de force. Now what’s he doing? Bedtime Stories? Sigh.
Bill Murray has had wild swings back and forth between outrageous goofyball and serious actor. He’s ventured into drama a few times, with Broken Flowers, Ed Wood, and most noteably Lost in Translation, where he played a rich lonely actor who bonds with Scarlett Johansson in Tokyo, which scored him a Best Actor nom at the Oscars. Only a few other comedians can say the same.
For someone whose career started so long ago, I’m still pretty impressed that Steve Martin is able to sell himself as a leading comedic man to this very day. His brief dip into drama was in Shopgirl, which was adapted from a novel that he himself wrote. Not bad. It was generally thought of as an art house movie, but most thought his performance as a bored businessman was right on.
Bill Murray’s Ghostbusters counterpart also scored a big Oscar nom for his supporting role in Driving Miss Daisy. He took other stabs at drama, but they ended up being in unfortunate places such as Pearl Harbor, so Miss Daisy will probably be his most memorable straight role. That’s all well and good, but I’d rather see him crossing streams or dancing the blues than trying to act all serious.
Probably the most over-the-top comic on this roster, Jim Carrey has had varying degrees of sucess trying to play it serious. He failed horribly in The Majestic, was great in Eternal Sunshine (if you consider that a drama, I don’t), but above all else he was spot on in The Truman Show, where he played a hapless worldwide celebrity quite literally trapped in a bubble.
Steve Carrell’s carrer is still in relatively its early stages, so he’ll probably have more drama ahead on the horizon, but his most serious role to date was in the black comedy Little Miss Sunshine where he played a gay, suicidal author trying to deal with his insane family. Sure the film itself is a comedy, but look at that picture and tell me that’s not a drastic personality change for the man.
Here’s the thing. I actually like Robin Williams much better as a serious actor. He was amazing in Good Will Hunting, One Hour Photo and Death to Smoochy, in the later two playing some truly ****ed up characters. Sure he’s great in comedies like Mrs. Doubtfire, but I’d rather see him play a psychopath any day of the week rather than have to suffer through Patch Adams 2.
Pegg is relatively unknown to the American masses still at this point, but his two comedies, Shaun of the Dead and Hott Fuzz were both wide released instant classics that anyone with half a brain saw. The question mark after his name is because we know he’s going to be in J.J. Abrams upcoming Star Trek movie, but no word yet on if he can pull the role of Scotty off, or even worse, if he’ll just be throwaway comic relief in the film. But I have faith, that like these other legends of comedy before him, Pegg can step up to the dramatic plate when he needs to. Guess we’ll find out soon.
Kal Penn in The Namesake – But he’s not particularly funny to begin with.
Vince Vaughn in Into the Wild – One of the most random cameos of that year.
John C. Reily in Magnolia - Part of the ensemble.
Will Ferrell in Melinda and Melinda – Yes, Will Ferrel was in a Woody Allen movie, for some reason.
Owen Wilson in Behind Enemy Lines – But it sucked.
Luke Wilson in 3:10 to Yuma – Blink and you’ll miss him.
Ben Stiller in Nothing, nothing at all – Branch out a little, man.
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