In the first few minutes of 2013's This is the End, a pesky paparazzo says it all - "When are you gonna do some, like, real acting, man?" he taunts, citing Seth Rogen's habit of generally portraying, for all intents and purposes, the same character in each movie. But we can't forget that Rogen also co-wrote the script, which points to a fundamental ingredient in the professional comedian - the ability to laugh at one's self. Plus, for me, the Rogen shtick hasn't gotten old. Other, more prolific actors and actresses are simply not blessed with such appeal.
The truth is that moviegoers have lowered their standards, which is unfortunate, because box office prices are only going in the opposite direction. As an audience, when we pay what we pay to go see a movie, it's time that we stop being satisfied with actors that don't act. While television thrives in what can only be described as the third golden age, I went to see a film in theaters the other day and the previews had me convinced that the film industry had died overnight. Part of this can be explained simply by the season - the serious, poignant movies generally favored by film snobs tend to gravitate toward the winter, preparing for Academy Award consideration. I maintain still that the issue is not quite so simple, however.
Our expectations are a huge piece of the puzzle. The phrase "sex sells" can be adapted to fit any and all of the asinine and uncomplicated facets of the biggest blockbusters. Hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of clanking metal sells. The same pool of Marvel superheroes that will be milked by the film industry at least through 2028 sells. The same horror movie premise sells.This perpetual mediocrity will continue only for as long as it is enabled. Producers don't enable, they perpetrate. Audiences, however, are enablers - and so are actors, who cannot be exempt from blame.
It is time that actors be challenged to rise above the shticks that made them famous, and actually perform. I need something to admire about Betty White besides her longevity. Something worth mentioning - the actors and actresses identified in this essay are not at all without the talent necessary to deliver quality performances. I simply complain that they don't harness it like they could.
Consider Melissa McCarthy. Obviously, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sees her talent, as she received an Oscar nomination for 2011's Bridesmaids, edging out Shailene Woodley's haunting display in The Descendants. But instead of seeing her in performances more akin to that of Jillian Bell in this year's 22 Jump Street, where every line is delivered with perfect comedic timing and grace without 100% reliance on physicality, what's next for McCarthy? This. To be fair, I haven't even seen Tammy. It could turn out to be 2014's best comedy. But take a look at the film's first trailer - a production company's primary opportunity to sell their flick. What exactly is featured in the trailer that is intended to get us in that auditorium? A couple solid minutes of Melissa McCarthy imploring us to laugh at the heavyset-and-pathetic shtick. This is just laziness and sloppiness, packaged and sold in the name of comedy, because Hollywood has gotten it in its head that that's all it takes anymore. As Vimeo's Tony Zhou put it, don't be satisfied with shit that's less creative than vine.
This epidemic has a couple success stories. Take Jonah Hill, pictured above. He could have easily made enough money for a lifetime carrying on with the Evan shtick - fun and good for a laugh, if not for delivery then for appearance. But instead of engaging in an indefinite game of moneyball, he does some real acting, including but not limited to: Moneyball. Before long, viewers raised on a steady diet of Jonah Hill comedies had no choice but to take him seriously as an actor, both of drama and comedy - even in the latter category, his performances aren't built on his looks. (For one thing, he's lost a significant amount of weight, but if I ever indicated that I find that at all relevant, I apologize.) But more importantly, he gets me laughing with good delivery, good comedic instinct, good timing. He's living evidence of the opportunities that present themselves when an actor drops the gimmick and actually acts. They don't even need the theatrical range of Bryan Cranston - I only intend to challenge actors to stand on their own two feet, not take a singular written role that works once and hold onto it for dear life.
I'll check out with another television comparison - for a decade, audiences have digested cable dramas of unprecedented quality, and after The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad, the response appears unanimous: we want more. More programming that is characterized by originality and intelligence. The demand was met - with shows such as True Detective, House of Cards, Justified (to name a few), no less. If moviegoers raise their standards in the same way, the idea alone that Hollywood will listen just makes it worth a try.