Friday, September 28, 2007

In all Seriousness- When Comedians Take on Serious Roles.

[Paragraph1] The thought of Will Ferrell taking on a serious role may make us laugh, even if this isn’t his intention. Mr. Ferrell, whose resume is filled with roles cast to reveal his bottom side, has decided to take what has become the familiar exit from comedy in his newest performance in Stranger Than Fiction. These days there are but a few in the world of comedy that don’t take a detour into serious drama. Most comedians aspire to playing it straight by taking on these somber faced roles that highlight their talents as actors. This transition has been seen many times before; Robin Williams went from a zany alien (Mork & Mindy) to a murderer and stalker (look up title). Again we see it with Jim Carrey from a dumb guy with a bull hair cut (Dumb and Dumber) to an earnest lover (Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind). In a notable conversion, Tom Hanks struggles from doing silly comedic roles (Big, Splash) into being seen as a quality actor in his dramatic roles (Philadelphia, Saving Private Ryan). Even at the top of his comic career, Mr. Ferrell is the newest comedian to transform into this realm of seriousness. But the question is, why convert?
[Paragraph 2] Comedians commonly strive toward the more reputable career path of dramatic acting. Those who have prospered on their talents in comedy normally desire to be taken more seriously. This evolution begins with a comedian taking a risky choice of casting generally in an independent film or with a Hollywood newcomer like in Stranger Than Fiction, which features first time screenwriter, Zach Helm. If the comedian is successful, those many years of making funny faces in the mirror or working on impressions get tucked away in their portfolios. A dazzling gift for nuance can be bloomed from their knack of good comedic timing, which can be transferred into dramatic timing to form prosaic actors.
[Paragraph 3] Mr. Ferrell has gained a cult following by those with a taste for his particular comic creations. Viewers can appreciate his labor in creating impressions that are filled with frequent outbreaks of crying or laughing. These comic tendencies amount to his winning formula for producing characters deemed funny by the general public. In his first big screen motion picture, A Night at the Roxbury, Ferrell played Steve Butabi, a spoiled side kick to fellow comedian Chris Kattan (Doug Butabi). This persona of an unbalanced man-boy is one of the character types he has created. Synchronizing head bops to dreadful techno and showing brotherly love in times that really count, such as when he is rejected by woman after woman in posh Hollywood clubs. This kind of character proved to be the beginning of his career as a typecast comedian. Mr. Praised by a younger demographic, Mr.Ferrell performed similar characters in years to come like Frank the Tank (Old School), Ron Burgundy (Anchorman) and Ricky Bobby (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby). It seems that to consider Mr. Ferrell in a dramatic role, viewers would have to take a complete leap of faith.
[Paragraph 4] Perhaps, Mr. Ferrell may feel a need to return to his career’s foundation, which was of acting and not comedy. Ferrell attended the University of Southern California, graduating with a degree in sports information. Following graduation he started off as a sportscaster on cable television. Ferrell decided that he wanted to follow his dream of becoming an actor. He enrolled in some acting courses at a local community college, but when he joined a small improvisational group his career took a turn towards comedy. There he was an instant smash as a comedian even from the beginning. His interest landed him an invitation to the famous improv comedy club called The Groundling in Los Angeles. Mr. Ferrell’s dream of acting was side tracked by his career as a comedian, but now he has a second chance to establish a career as a serious actor with his newest film.
[Paragraph 5] However, for most comedians, it takes a great effort to escape being cataloged as a comedic actor. For one famous example, Tom Hanks struggled to transition from a comedic actor to a romantic actor and finally to a dramatic actor. Remembering Hanks in drag as a costar in the 1980’s sitcom Bosom Buddies is a strain. Nevertheless, through this experience he developed his comic timing and unique witticism, which are crucial skills in his subsequent acting career. Hanks started off making many unsuccessful comedies but, finally became celebrated when starring with Daryl Hannah in the Disney comedy Splash!. This role became a hit and introduced him to future leads. It wasn’t until he starred in Sleepless in Seattle, that he earned acclaim for his transition to a romantic role. By the mid 90’s Hanks had earned critical respect for his roles as an AIDS patient in Philadelphia, where his career as a funny man disappeared in a flash. Hanks recent movies have low critical appeal, but Empire Magazine as 17th out of "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" in October 1997 for his wide range of many different ranges of acting.
[Paragraph 6] Other comedians, like Adam Sandler (Little Nicky, Happy Gilmore, or Billy Madison), have been less successful, possibly because we don’t want them to escape these endearing goofball roles. Director of Punch Drunk Love, PT Anderson, perhaps saw the darker side of Sandler, expressed in his comedic chatter, and wanted to show that these could be transmuted into a dramatic role based around all of his eccentricities. Although, his dramatic role as a maladjusted loner with an anger problem in Punch Drunk Love was critically praised, he still struggled to transfer over to more dramatic roles. Because his performance in Spanglish was a flop, critics forgot about his dramatic talent. When casted appropriately Sandler sails, when he is not, like in the movie, Spanglish, we see no flexing of his talent. Through his role in Punch Drunk Love we know that Sandler’s claim to fame lies in his sweet, tender, loving, and sometimes-comedic fury, which he will be forever pigeon holed in comedic roles.
[Paragraph 7] While Sandler has the talent to escape comedy, Jim Carrey may not. In brief, his talent as a comic is seen through the roles that exhibit him as a gleeful menace. His defining showcases for his definitive humor include Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and his maniacal role as cable repairman in The Cable Guy. Carrey attempted to increase his appeal to his viewers by taking on his first serious role in The Truman Show, which undermined him in being a suitable a serious actor. Even in Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, his best movie to date, revealed that his acting range was minimal. If nothing else, Carrey takes on interesting roles that serve to maintain his credibility as a performer.
[Paragraph 8] Perhaps the medium is the problem of the modern comedian. Whether it is from stand-up to improvisational comedy, the comedians of the past 30 years may be not properly suited for expressive versatile roles. It seems that quick wit would be not useful in the silver screen and more appropriate in late night appearances or sketch comedy shows. Some of this generation’s funnymen may simply not have the artistic expression of cinematic television.

[Paragraph 9] An example of success in both genres is Bill Murray. He turned to acting in more serious roles later in his career and has the luxury of not having to choose one genre at the cost of the other. Of all of the many performers to hurdle into films from television sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live, Mr. Murray has been most noted for shift into roles of both low-brow mockeries to clever adult dramas. Mr. Murray’s recent turn to dramas of midlife disillusionment has been lucrative. The secret behind this transformation is that the characters that he plays are much different than the roles in his previous comedic roles (Ghostbusters, Groundhogs Day etc.) The roles he plays in now (Broken Flowers, Lost in Translation) still offer insight into the being of Murray’s melancholy and unassuming charm of his straight-faced matter-of-fact humor. No matter what genre Mr. Murray plays the roles never lose their Murray appeal, but only add to their made-up lives.
[Paragraph 10] Which takes us back to Ferrell. In Stranger Than Fiction, there are still hints of the slapstick Ferrell, but they are few. Ferrell plays a solemn IRS auditor Harold Crick, who finds out through a dry British voice over that he is the main character in Kay Eiffel’s (Emma Thompson) novel entitled “Death in Taxes.” Eventually, the female voice declares that Mr. Crick will have to face his imminent death. The best scenes of Ferrell’s dramatic acting are those paired with Dustin Hoffman who plays a literature professor who is unable to counsel Ferrell, but instead is trying to figure out whether Ferrell is in a comedy or tragedy. Ferrell in these scenes shows restraint, basically making Hoffman seem like the comic and Ferrell like the realist. Ferrell’s tone of voice is calm and assertive, unlike any of his other characters on screen. He sits perched with perfect posture, answering poignantly the questions that Hoffman is using to determine if Crick will live happily ever after or die as a hero. Through Crick, Ferrell becomes to his viewers a normal man with obsessive compulsive tendencies of counting how many strokes he brushes his teeth, but he is well-spoken and expresses real human concerns for himself and the people in his life. The film may have a cliché message of live your life to the fullest, but Ferrell hits upon the fact he can excel when given the right dramatic role.
[Paragraph 11] Will Mr. Ferrell succeed in following Mr. Sandler’s or Mr. Murray’s footsteps with his future dramatic acting roles? We know now that Ferrell acting persona is well transmuted into drama. Though, it is hard to speculate until we see his next performance and whether or not he is poorly cast like Mr. Sandler causing him to be stuck in nothing but comedic roles. Stranger Than Fiction caused the critics to believe in Mr. Ferrell in dramatic roles. Perhaps now, there will be a good chance that his next movie will be his defining career masterpiece like what took place in Mr. Murray’s role in Lost in Translation. If Mr. Ferrell becomes the next Anthony Hopkins with any luck there will still be room for the man-boy roles we all have came to love.

1 comment:

Owl Hat said...

I thought that Carrey was great in The Majestic as well as in the Truman Show. I can see your point in that the roles did stretch his acting abilities a bit.