Tuesday, August 19, 2008
There are bigger stars with more substantial roles in Brideshead Revisited and Tropic Thunder; hell, Tropic Thunder features no less than five A-list leading-man movie stars. But the slightest, skinniest dudes on the screen are the ones who held all my attention. I don't remember thinking much one way or the other about Ben Whishaw after I'm Not There (his version of Dylan got the least screentime and no real storyline), and I never saw that Perfume movie he did with Tom Tykwer (it's in the Netflix queue now, though), but he lights up the screen in Brideshead as Sebastien Flyte, the idle-rich proto-party-boy whose mother (and her Catholicism) guilts him to death due to his alcoholism.
In what little I'd seen of Whishaw before, I'd come away with a mental image of a wan, sad-faced twig. And he certainly brings that to bear in Brideshead...eventually. What impressed me about his performance before his face went all slack. He projects a hell of a life force for such a tiny boy -- he can brighten up that frowny mug and light up a room. It's easy to see why Charles Ryder is so drawn to him. It makes the later scenes, where Sebastien's spirit is finally broken by alcohol and the Virgin Mary, all the more tragic.
As for Baruchel, I have to first run through my usual spiel (just so no one forgets): I called this one long ago. Before Knocked Up, before Million Dollar Baby, before Undeclared, before that ill-advised legal dramady with Don Johnson. Apologies to people who know me in real life and can probably recite the end of this sentence along with me because I've said it so many times but...way back to his role as Vic the Zeppelin fan in Almost Famous is how long I've loved Jay Baruchel. And after years of seeing his co-stars get famous and make headlines and win Oscars, my hope and expectation is that he'll finally be getting his due. Because, simply put, the kid is awesome in Tropic Thunder, stealing scenes from no less a performer than Robert Downey Jr. and blowing everybody else clear off the screen. Sure, it's essentially the same Nervous Kid role he's been playing for years now, but he's honed it to perfection, for one thing, and for another, the movie is smart enough to capitalize on Baruchel's capacity for pure-hearted befuddlement. In the truest sense of the word, he's the film's hero. The hero of the biggest movie in America. I told y'all so!
You know, it's days like these that I really miss Fametracker. Moreso than usual. Because this situation totally calls for a 2 Stars, 1 Slot. The obvious connection between them is Woody Allen: Atwell starred in Allen's Cassandra's Dream earlier this year, while Hall shines in the just-opened Vicky Christina Barcelona. Both actresses have only been acting in features for a couple of years now. Both are stunningly beautiful; Atwell's movies have tended to hone in on this quality, while Hall's have strived to cover it up. The question that Fametracker feature would ask was: Do we really need the both of them? And my answer, in this case, is...probably not. I don't necessarily dislike Hayley Atwell, but she hasn't brought a ton to the table thus far. She was the least interesting presence in Cassandra's Dream and she's the least interesting presence in Brideshead Revisited too. I suppose I can wait until this fall's The Duchess to make an official ruling, but with Dominic Cooper, Kiera Knightley, and Ralph Feinnes on hand in that movie, I'm not holding out much hope.
Rebecca Hall, on the other hand, is totally delightful. She held her own opposite Christian Bale in The Prestige, and she was maybe the best part of Starter for 10, and given the fact that that movie starred James McAvoy and the aforementioned Dominic Cooper, that's saying something. She really shines as the Vicky in Vicky Christina Barcelona, and the only downside of the Grand Theft Movie that Penelope Cruz pulls in the film's final third is that it overshadows Hall's endearing performance. Still, this is a rather easy call. Advantage: Hall.