There is always a moment for me, early in any movie rather than late, where I ask myself if the storytelling is going to be good (or memorable, or quippy, or smart). Sometimes I am fooled into believing that it’s going to be great, as in The United States vs. Billie Holliday, where the movie starts out fine, gets bad and worse the longer I am sitting there, watching it crumble despite Andra Day’s fabulous performance. With Miranda July’s Kajillionaire, I knew that the story it was about to tell me was going to be a keeper, and I was not wrong. If you see Richard Jenkins standing at a downtown L.A. bus station, how can you not think of the pilot of Six Feet Under? The movie could easily be based on a graphic novel along the lines of Ghost World, and three streets along, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia might be unfolding.Continue reading
I was prepared not to be a big fan of The Shape of Water. It looked twee and self-indulgent, and several people whose tastes I trust were lukewarm on it at best. The Hellboy movies didn’t do much for me, nor did Pacific Rim – but worse, I’d never really warmed to Guillermo del Toro’s biggest critical darling, Pan’s Labyrinth. I liked Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, and I have a clandestine soft spot for Blade 2‘s comic book operatics, but more often than not I’ve liked del Toro’s endearing enthusiasm and the aesthetics of his films more than the films themselves.
Imagine my surprise when I really enjoyed The Shape of Water.
While watching Olive Kitteridge, the 2014 four-part HBO miniseries, I kept thinking back to Six Feet Under more than once. Both are HBO, both feature Richard Jenkins, and while SFU has a lot to say about death and dying, OK deals with depression and suicide. Before you quit reading: it is surprisingly upbeat and wise about it. All right, upbeat is probably the wrong word, but it is not as dark and… well, as depressing as you might think. It’s a well-told story about a Maine family, so there is also good reason to think of John Irving’s stories. The series never goes for broke with guns and gore, but skates over thin ice while hinting at the dark waters underneath. Continue reading
There are the stars, the big names, the recognisable faces, the Brads and Georges and Scarletts. Then there are those actors who may not be gorgeous and glamorous but who are great actors and win awards. And then there are those actors whose faces you recognise, whose names you may not remember immediately but seeing them always makes you like a film that little bit more, because it’s got Whatshisface and Whatshername in it. Unless, of course, you are a film geek and sigh contentedly whenever you see good old Whatshisface, mouthing the man’s IMDB link to yourself.
One of the actors that I always enjoy seeing, even in middling and even decidedly dodgy films, is Richard Jenkins. He is probably what is called a “character actor”, which more often than not seems to translate into “We want to say something nice about this guy but he’s not a hunk nor is he a tortured genius.” He can be utterly amazing, as in The Visitor, a film that could have been unbearable Oscar bait but ended up subtle, poignant and quietly devastating, an achievement that was in no small part due to Jenkins’ performance.
However, as good as the actor was in The Visitor, it’s Six Feet Under that best encapsulates why I love Jenkins. He’s good at playing dignified, often melancholy and sometimes stodgy everymen, but when given the chance to let loose he has a goofy, subversive energy, a Coenesque quality that is unmatched. (He’s been in three of the Coen brothers’ films, but what I best remember him for is his turn in The Man Who Wasn’t There: “Riedenschneider!”)
Jenkins has the face of a slightly disappointed man exhausted by life, but he has that gift of pulling off quirkiness without that precocious, grating quality that indie quirk often takes on. There’s a scene in the first season of Six Feet Under, where main character Nate finds out that his deceased father Nathanael Fisher Sr., undertaker and proprietor of Fisher & Sons, had a secret room above an Indian restaurant that no one in his family knew about. As Nate imagines what his father may have got up to in this room, we see several scenarios: Nate Senior playing solitaire, Nate Senior shaking his booty to a groovy record, Nate Senior having it off with a hooker, Nate Senior shooting at passers-by with a sniper rifle. It’s a tricky scene, and I can’t imagine anyone other than Jenkins pulling it off as he does, deadpan and perfect.
The AV Club, as so often, has a fun and informative interview with Jenkins in their “Random Roles” series – well worth checking out for anyone who finds themselves to be quite a fan of Late Nate.
While I still don’t see why there needs to be a US remake of Let the Right One In, it seems that at least they’re getting an interesting cast. Richard Jenkins, Nathaniel Fisher Sr. (and Walter Abundas, Scarlett Johannson’s narcoleptic dad in The Man Who Wasn’t There – “Reidenschneider!”) himself, will be playing the old man who is the girl vampire’s familiar. My problem is that when I look at him, I see sardonic Late Nate, always just a moment away from an inappropriate remark – but at least they’re getting someone who has repeatedly proven himself to be interesting and different.
But will they be able to match the sheer horror of all things Swedish?
P.S.: When I read the headline (“Richard Jenkins cast in Let Me In“), I was sure it was either a romantic comedy or an indie drama. Perhaps both. Obviously child vampires and indie rom-com can go together pretty nicely. Or something.