Sunday, February 17, 2008

HE'S A TIGHT-ASS! HE'S A SADIST! HE'S AN ABSENTEE LANDLORD! WORSHIP THAT? NEVER! Jim Emerson takes at great moments in overacting history:
Sometimes Big Acting can be quite enjoyable. Other times, of course, it can be cringe-worthy, irritating, risible, embarrassing. Only you can decide which is which.

Take for example the story of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in "Mommie Dearest" -- she of "No wire hangers!" and "Eat your meat!" (both precursors of "I drink your milkshake!"). Pre-release publicity reports claimed that Dunaway was giving a serious dramatic performance. But from the very first screenings it was painfully (yet fasciatingly) clear that somebody was going off her rocker -- but which actress was it: Crawford or Dunaway?...

In Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," Jack Nicholson plays a guy who, as one wag said about Daniel Plainview in "There Will Be Blood," starts off insane and goes even more insane. The End. But this raises the question: Isn't "too much" precisely the point in some movies? One of my favorite scary-funny moments in all of cinema is when Jack Torrance puts his hands over his face in alcoholic anguish and desperation, then drops them and, startlingly, gazes straight into the camera at an off-screen bartender: "Hi Lloyd. Little slow tonight, isn't it? Hah-hahahahahahahahaha!" (Let's not forget Shelly Duvall's famously frazzled and hysterical performance, either.)

So, friends, your favorites in the overacting department? My first nods go to Al Pacino -- admittedly an obvious choice -- for "Scarface" and the source of this post's title, "The Devil's Advocate," in which you just have to accept the over-the-topness of his performance (and Keanu's silly accent) and enjoy the ride. I also think William Hurt's small role in "A History of Violence" is a masterpiece of bombast, and for a final initial nod on the comic side, Nicolas Cage in "Honeymoon In Vegas" (not that I couldn't have chosen five other roles of his). His discussion with Sarah Jessica Parker on the implications of holding a straight flush is, like, unbeatable.

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