Saturday, January 23, 2016

SNL Comedy Stars Get Serious

I'm always fascinated when a performer known for comedy challenges him or herself and plays the other side of the coin.  Often, those comics slam across a solid dramatic performance.  I recently read that Molly Shannon, formerly of Saturday Night Live, moved Sundance Film Festival audience members to tears with her work in OTHER PEOPLE.
 A report in the January 21st issue of Variety has this:  "As the credits rolled on the film, loud sobs echoed across the Eccles Theatre as many members of the crowd stood and cheered..."  Kyle Smith, New York Post film critic, wrote that the performance could mean an Oscar nomination for Molly Shannon -- and the film hasn't even opened in theaters yet.
In Other People, a gay man moves to Sacramento to take care of his mother.  She's terminally ill with cancer.  Shannon plays he mother.

I'm not surprised she got a good response tackling more serious material.  I saw Molly Shannon do a dramatic turn in an indie movie a few years ago that totally knocked me out.  She was quite moving.  In this post, I recommend DVDs in which SNL graduates played it straight and did good work.

We go to the West Coast for YEAR OF THE DOG, a modestly-budgeted 2007 movie.  Shannon plays the very likable Peggy.  Peggy is in her early 40s and has an office job.  She's a good friend, a good sister and a good employee -- but she has no romance in her life whatsoever.  What Peggy does have is a dog.  That's the love affair in her life.  We see that she's really pulled away from life due to disappointment after disappointment on concentrates of her dog -- because her pet's love is something she can count on.  That is, until her dog dies.  Peggy's rather plain life falls apart.  There are laughs in this film but Shannon also taps into Peggy's dark side.  That's what makes her performance so human and so poignant.  She plays the lonely woman's heartbreak.  Here's a trailer for Year of the Dog.

Former SNL stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig take on dramatic material as an estranged brother and sister in 2014's THE SKELETON TWINS.  How I wish this indie feature had gotten more attention from moviegoers than it did.  It's one of my favorite films of that year.                                                                                                                       
 Those two actors are so effective and so truthful in their performances.  It opens with Milo, the brother, attempting suicide.  His sister, Maggie, is about to overdose on pills when she gets a call that her brother is in the hospital.  She coaxes Milo to come live with her and her husband.  Maggie's marriage isn't as happy as even the husband thinks it is.  Milo is gay.  He sees his former lover, very well-played by Ty Burrell from the hit sitcom Modern Family.  The former lover is not really good for Milo's fractured emotional state.  Milo and Maggie must confront what caused the rift in their relationship.  They must come to understand and, in a way, heal each other's wounds.  Here's a trailer for The Skeleton Twins.

Bill Hader has a monologue.  Milo talks about being gay in high school.  Hader put tears in my eyes during that scene.  I knew exactly how Milo felt.  I think you'll be very impressed with Bill Hader Kristen Wiig and Ty Burrell in The Skeleton Twins.

You probably think it's impossible to care about a man who works for the IRS.  You may change your opinion watching SNL graduate Will Ferrell in STRANGER THAN FICTION.  Ferrell is understated and serious here, not like in his hit comedies like Anchorman and Talladega NightsStranger Than Fiction wasn't a big box office hit.  However, it holds some of his best big screen work.  The story is surreal.  He's an IRS employee, an unmarried man, who hears narration in his his head.  He hears the story of his life unfold.  No one else hears the voice.  His job is pretty much his life.  Then he hears the narration that he's going to die.
You can just imagine how that shakes things up in his head.  Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah and Maggie Gyllenhaal co-star in 2006's Stranger Than Fiction.  Here's a trailer.


To me, this is a Will Ferrell high point.  It was a revelation to see him do dramatic moments with such subtlety.  Never before have tax tips been so touching.  Actor Tom Hulce is also in Stranger Than Fiction.  Hulce played the title role in 1984's Amadeus and got an Oscar nomination for playing the naturally brilliant and somewhat of a party boy composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  The film won 8 Oscars including Best Picture of 1984.

Tom Hulce was also in 1978's comedy hit, National Lampoon's Animal House.  He played "Pinto."  Nowadays, he's less a pinto and more of a bear.  Hulce won a Tony Award as a lead producer of the 2007 Broadway musical success, Spring Awakening.
There you have it -- three DVDs in which former comedy stars of Saturday Night Live take on a challenging dramatic role and do some mighty fine acting indeed.  And I'm really eager to see that new Molly Shannon movie, Other People.

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