Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Ben 'n' Denby

It's nice to be back. I hope I wasn't missed too much.

Anyway, I just read a curious piece on Ben Stiller in The New Yorker. It certainly was Ben's year and critic David Denby takes notice. In 2004, Stiller starred in no less than four hits (Along Came Polly, Starsky & Hutch, Dodgeball and Meet The Fockers) not to mention a flop (Envy) and a cameo in another hit (Anchorman).

Few would have predicted this short, not exactly handsome actor who never quite made it on television would go on to be one of the top comic stars of his generation. But I think Denby misses the boat. He thinks the fumbling, mortified heterosexual character Stiller has made famous is popular because it appeals to teenagers. I think the appeal is far wider than that. Also, the comedies that made Stiller, such as Flirting With Disaster (1996)(which Denby likes) and There's Something About Mary (1998) will live on, and even weaker work shows a bit more than mere gross-out comedy. And he has some range, even when he resorts to caricature; Denby claims Vince Vaughn stole Dodgeball from Stiller, but that's because he had the lead, while Stiller supplied laughs as the comic villain.

A few oddities. In discussing Stiller's TV career, Denby, mentions his work on Saturday Night Live and MTV, but not his best-known work, the 1992 Fox series The Ben Stiller Show.

Then Denby claims Bill Murray and Steve Martin have had longer careers than Dan Aykroyd and Martin Short because they learned to give more nuanced performances. I doubt it. Steve Martin, for instance, has almost disappeared as a star a few times, only to return when he got a film that, while it appealed to the audience, showed less talent than he actually has (e.g., Father Of The Bride, Bringing Down The House). Meanwhile, Short and Aykroyd had (and have) decent careers, but fell off the star list for the same reason so many others do--too many weak scripts. (I wonder what Denby thinks of Chevy Chase? Mike Myers? Adam Sandler?)

The strangest part comes near the end:
"Americans today can't abide even the suspicion that they're being outclassed, and Stiller doesn't outclass anyone. Such handsome smart guys as Alec Baldwin and George Clooney bring a touch of cynical awareness to everything they do; they aren't comics, of course, but it can't be a coincidence that Baldwin and Clooney haven't quite become stars. The intellectual bite they bring to their roles may make people uneasy."
It's true Americans like regular guys, Jimmy Stewart, Tom Hanks, et al. But to claim George Clooney, who's been in huge hits such as The Perfect Storm and Ocean's Eleven, is not a star, is just weird.


Blogger Skip James said...

Does it need further comment that the elitism of the "Americans today can't abide even the suspicion that they're being outclassed" comment? Do movie reviewers all go to snob school before they are allowed to critique their first film? I suspect I am not being outclassed by this Denby guy.

9:18 PM, January 18, 2005  

Post a Comment

<< Home

web page hit counter