Movie Web Monday: Each week, I'll look at a specific actor's roles across three good movies. The third movie will in turn tie into the first movie of the next week's actor, whose third movie will continue the pattern. I will go through actors and movies at this rate, with the following limitations in mind: every movie(or television show) invoked will be one I either own, or wish to own; no movie or actor will be invoked twice. So sit back and enjoy as you fall into the nerdery's movie web. (Oh, and I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, telling you just enough to know if you'll enjoy the movie)
Rachel Weisz: Nerd-bait, over-bite and all.
This week the movie web features a woman, for the first time since Sigourney Weaver. And while Rachel Weisz doesn't have the same immeasurable nerd-cred Weaver does, the Brit can claim one status that the older New Yorker can't: Weisz is all kinds of nerd-bait in a lot of her roles. Being nerd-bait often involves several things: usually it involves exaggerating the flaws associated with nerds; having a penchant for pairing up with dorky nerd-types for no apparent reason; wearing zero-prescription glasses, usually perched at the tip of the nose in an imperious librarian's fashion. As for the first qualifier, see below for a nice cross-section of timid, passive, bookish character-types. On the second count, Weisz has played love interest to Ben Stiller, Keanu Reeves (twice), and Vince Vaughn. Gugh. With standards like that, I'd say that if you are reading this blog, you could probably play Weisz's romantic counterpart on-screen. And see The Mummy for the third qualifier in spades.
Movie: Envy (Own it) Light Spoilers
In a film with a number of implausible elements thrown in your face, the first, most subtle gag comes in the first shot of the film. Rachel Weisz plays Debbie Dingman, wife of Ben Stiller's character Tim.
Really? I mean, it's one of the most twitchy, spastic, freak-out self-destructive character actors of modern comedy paired up with the put-together and classy Weisz? It's dropped in the first scene and never comes up in the plot itself--in fact, at points they feel like a very natural couple, despite the factors conspiring against them. They could have easily played it up like the marriage between Will Ferrell and Eva Mendes in The Other Guys, but instead Envy makes the urbane decision of leaving their casting humor in the casting process and out of the script.
It's also worth noting, that while Weisz is the only principal in Envy who isn't considered a comedy actor, she stands toe-to-toe with the rest of the kinetic bunch and makes for some of the funniest moments. The funniest moments, of course, always go to the disturbingly quirky Christopher Walken, who will ever haunt my dreams as The Continental, but that's a whole other story. Debbie is the put-upon wife, who has to endure not only being married to dedicated white collar bum Tim, but also being caught between their friends and her husband's jealous dementia. The dramatic caliber of Weisz's acting chops adds a crucial bit of wry humor to a movie that often rests on wacky twists and people snapping out fecal expletives. For instance, at one point when Tim is coming particularly unglued and insists she see the bum he just shot, a sauced Debbie blearily follows only to find...nothing. Weisz dryly comments, "You know, sometimes I don't get your jokes. And you know something? I don't think it's just me." Perfectly embodying the funny side of their peculiarly strained marriage, it's one of those lines that makes you giggle in anticipation of hearing it upon subsequent viewings. Another one comes when Tim confides the truth about his accidental equine-slaughter, and asks Debbie if he should ask their gobs-rich friend for forgiveness:
It's one of those goofy lines in the movie that makes it feel almost inaccessibly cartoony, but Weisz reels you in with a terrified delivery throughout the scene as she panics at the thought of losing the sweet life. So, while Rachel Weisz isn't a huge part of the plot or humor of Envy, she adds an indispensable maturity to a film revolving around a fortune based on doody. Also, at a few points, her airy American bimbo-wife voice vaguely reminds me of Jennifer Tilly--not sure if that's a good thing or bad thing--but it was there the last three times I watched this flick.
Movie: The Mummy (Rent it)
The movie in which one cannot deny Rachel her nerd-bait status*. Similar to her contribution to Envy, Rachel Weisz brings a completely unique acting palette to the cast of The Mummy. Playing Evelyn, a character so strait-laced that she also constitutes a lot of the humor in the first act of the movie, Weisz feels a little less natural in that function. However, she does excel at being the adorably soft-handed librarian-type who both saves the day in a breezy gown and serves as the climax's old-school damsel in distress. And the romantic chemistry between Evelyn and the leading man Rick O'Connell (played by Brendan Fraser) is definitely Indiana Jones fare without developing into slap-slap-kiss territory, as depicted in the first act with the following:
Actually, both of the principal actors stepped into more uncommon roles in The Mummy. Weisz added another actioner to her credentials, and Fraser flirted with being a powerful leading man for a bit. But what Weisz really adds to The Mummy, which even sets it apart from the Nazi-stomping glory of Indiana Jones or the older, classic Egypt cult classics, is the sage intelligence she portrays so well. And when the movie is presenting such an unrealistic view of archaeology and ancient Egypt, coming off as adroit and sage is quite a feat.
*This might be colored by my first viewing of The Mummy. As a very young teen, I first watched it with a handful of nerd compatriots at a friend's house. As we often did, we simulated the theater experience by dimming the lights, turning the volume two notches too high, and spilling Mountain Dew and Slim Jims on the floor. Every scene in which Rachel Weisz graced that buzzing analog screen generated more comments from the bunch of us than the virtually naked gold girl in the film's prologue. That is the power of nerd-bait.
Movie: Enemy at the Gates (Own it)
Enemy at the Gates is one of those movies that is so awesome it's hard to acknowledge its rough historicity. I mean, it's about a sniper duel that ostensibly affects the entire outcome of one of the more critical battles of World War Two. The first scene involves a ridiculous chain of kills that make the phrase "one shot, one kill" seem inadequate. And the Soviet Union is populated with Brits speaking the Queen's English. Alright, so that last part is just stylization license, but the fact is that, for such a sensational movie, Enemy at the Gates is surprisingly close to the source material. Rachel Weisz, playing Russian rifleman-turned-operator-secretary (nerd-bait ahoy!) Tania Chernova is one of the added sensational elements. And I mean that in the sense that she plays a over-dramatized part and in the sense that she does a great job with it. As the sweet, smart girl that both of the main characters dote upon, Tania has to be completely oblivious to the conflict to not qualify as a selfish harpy and still be likably capable enough to be tolerated in a movie populated with at least twenty heads exploding from sniper rounds. And Weisz succeeds in that portrayal. As an added bonus, her scenes of romantic chemistry with Jude Law (playing the main character, Vassili Zaitsev), the self-deprecating and affected sniper, feature some of the most sweetly eccentric lines of flirting and pillow talk I've ever seen. For instance, when Vassili tells Tania that he doesn't need to survive the war because he's not that useful to the Soviet Union as a civilian--which he relates to being a wolf as compared to a useful donkey--she replies in a softly conspiratorial voice:
That and the cuddly day-after talk of snoring is absolutely realistic and endearingly portrayed. It's just the sort of idiotic stuff that you say to someone you love that really falls flat without the proper emotion behind it. Weisz and Law supply that emotion, having a great chemistry that doesn't compromise either character's independence. Tania in particular feels like a dynamic character throughout the movie. While it seems that Vassili does very little between scenes (other than pot-shotting Nazis by the score), Weisz's portrayal of Tania grows and changes throughout the film in such a way that helps to convey the passage of time throughout the siege of Stalingrad.
Movie Web Monday will continue next week with a new actor, picking up with some other prolific player from the last movie listed above.