“I don’t get this. If you find a performance unconvincing can you only feel that way by using hypotheticals? Do we really have to bring in hypotheticals to express that performances didn’t work?”
If you say to yourself, “this didn’t work” isn’t that implicitly connected to some sort of statement (even if it’s not actually articulated) about what would have worked better?
In a way, but one doesn’t have to a clear alternative in mind when saying this. Most of the time if I see what I think is bad acting, I’m not thinking of good acting alteranative. I just believe it’s bad acting.
Yes—and I don’t mean this as an insult or anything, Jazz—but you seem to favor films that are dramatically conventional and fairly broadside in execution, so I wonder if it’s not largely a matter of Murray’s still rubbing against that sort of expectation the wrong way. I have a somewhat similar but inverse issue with Buster Keaton in some of his sound films. He was so good without using his voice that the addition of his voice sometimes make it seem like he’s straining when he was finally able to us his voice.
…so I wonder if it’s not largely a matter of Murray’s still rubbing against that sort of expectation the wrong way.
I think there is something to this. Given Murray’s other roles—e.g., outgoing, larger-than-life, etc.—I may have trouble seeing Murray outside of his normally zany persona. I had a similar problem with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt and As Good As It Gets. Does the problem lie with me or with the actor? I’m not sure. (How does one answer this?) Myabe this is what you mean by the Keaton example.
But I will say that part of what makes his serious performances great is the underlying comedy (even if it’s subversive or understated) that lies slightly beneath. I’m thinking of Broken Flowers or Lost in Translation, for instance.
Ok yeah, now that I’m actually reading the comments on this thread, I’ll acknowledge that Greg said it before me:
“Regarding Murray, i would suggest that one of the things that makes him effective, for those of us who find him so, is that there is an undercurrent of a sort of wry humor or melancholy that works into what is understood as traditionally dramatic work.”
“Does the problem lie with me or with the actor? I’m not sure. (How does one answer this?) Myabe this is what you mean by the Keaton example.”
Right, I think there are some situations where it’s just impossible to untangle your initial subjective conditions when you encounter something from the more objective (or, if you prefer, intersubjective) qualities of a work. An old friend of mine can tell you a remarkably detailed story, almost without fail, about when/where/with whom he first heard a piece of music, and this context almost always has significantly colors his appreciation of a song.
Matt said, Right, I think there are some situations where it’s just impossible to untangle your initial subjective conditions when you encounter something from the more objective (or, if you prefer, intersubjective) qualities of a work.
Yep. I would say this is especially true for acting—especially one subtle acting. How does one evaluate acting in an intersubjective way (that is, not something almost completely subjective)? To me, the only way is to look for some consensus. If a lot of people seem to respond to a performance, that would be an intersubjective basis for judging a performance. Barring that, I’m at a complete loss.
Perhaps because I (indirectly) identified with his characters, I found Murray’s performances in Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers completely convincing and was captivated by both. It seemed to me like Steve Carell was trying to go in this direction, and it didn’t work nearly as well.
I also loved Murray in Get Low and the Wes Anderson films.
As for comedy, Groundhog Day is among my favorites, but I also loved his work in films like What About Bob? and The Man Who Knew Too Little (I only know one other person who really likes that film the way I do).
As for Shakespeare, I prefer a subtle reading, but I admit that version of Hamlet was spotty at best.
Still, all in all I think any film with Murray is worth a shot.
Are you saying because Murray had such a strong presence (or had such a strong identifiably persona) as a comedian that it was difficult for you to see him tackle more serious material? Your comparison to Jack Nicholson seems to suggest this.
I suppose this is an interesting question – can an actor who has a very strong persona doing one thing transition to something else and be successful? Murray and Nicholson are good examples, as is Jim Carrey (although some people would say Eternal Sunshine was good in spite of Carrey trying to play serious).
For me, I’ve never had a problem watching an actor with a strong persona try to do something different. Bill Murray, Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Will Ferrell – all of them have played serious roles convincingly. I don’t believe that only subtle or more nuanced actors who don’t have larger than life personas can play the comedy and drama spectrum. I think anyone can, so long as they’re good actors and working with the right material.
Good comedy acting is one of the more difficult tasks an actor can take on, so far from being a detriment, comedians tend to excel when talking dramatic roles. Bill Murray is the poster boy for this and Jim Carrey’s dramatic work has surpassed his skills as a comedian. Adam Sandler (once) and Steve Martin have also done this well.
Are you saying because Murray had such a strong presence (or had such a strong identifiably persona) as a comedian that it was difficult for you to see him tackle more serious material?
Yeah, I’m thinking this might be the case.
I suppose this is an interesting question – can an actor who has a very strong persona doing one thing transition to something else and be successful?
I think this is possible, too. Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine is a good example of this for me. He’s plays a character that is almost the exact opposite of his comedy persona(e). But are there not times when the transition doesn’t seem to work? And if so, is it wrong to attribute this to a failure in the acting?
I think I prefer Carrey’s comedic performances over his dramatic ones. (Strangely, I don’t love his comedy, but I find it original or at least more interesting than his dramatic performances.) Which dramatic performances did you like over his comedic ones?
A part of me feels that we give comedic actors a little more credit and leeway when they move to a dramatic role. So we’re more impressed with a goofy comedian like Sandler when he’s in Punch Drunk Love, for example. I thought he was fine in that, but not exceptional. But the fact that the role is so different from his typical ones, makes his performance seem more exceptional than it is. I’m not saying this is true, but I wonder about this.
>>Which dramatic performances did you like over his comedic ones?<<
I’m thinking of The Truman Show, but especially Eternal Sunshine, where he took an “everyman” character and made him distinct, while still relatable.
agree carrey is actually better at drama, or at least more tolerable. his comic persona is mostly unwatchable for me at this point. tho i kinda liked i love you, phillip morris :P
That’s funny, I totally forgot about Steve Martin. I think maybe because by now I don’t even associate him as strictly a comedian, I forget that he started out that way (although to be fair, he’s been a thoughtful smart guy long before he did standup).
@ Jazz -
“But are there not times when the transition doesn’t seem to work? And if so, is it wrong to attribute this to a failure in the acting?”
Yeah, there are definitely times when this doesn’t work. I don’t think Adam Sandler has been particularly successful in this (although Funny People is probably his best attempt) nor Jack Black. And so yes, sometimes it’s just bad acting and like you said, sometimes it’s the inability of the viewer to get beyond a performers’ strong persona (I know a lot of people had a hard time with Jack Black in Margot at the Wedding – one complaint being that he seemed to be acting in a different movie).
So I guess it really just depends. I don’t think it’s the fault of the actor if the viewer can’t see them for anything other than what they’re known for. I mean, that’s a bit unfair. Although if an actor is truly determined, they will continue to try to break free from that persona – this seems especially true for comedic actors who want to go serious. They are always lambasted the first time they try it – think about how long it took Jim Carrey to be taken seriously (I recall there being a lot of criticism when he did The Truman Show, which was probably his first “thoughtful” film). Ditto on Robin Williams.
Remember his part in Coffee and Cigarttes? I think that was one of his best performances.
It’s strange that in contrasting Murray’s comedic style with his more sober, impassive (reactive) dramatic style, no one has mentioned the two films in which he has played a gangster. In Mad Dog and Glory and the recent Passion Play, Murray has a added a layer of malice and menace to his normal jovial surface which is rather startling to behold. Both films are fairly negligible but in Mad Dog it’s interesting to see Murray and co-star Robert De Niro play against type. De Niro, although a cop, is somewhat of a nebbish here and Murray is actually rather scary. I like Murray as a bad guy. His smile is cold and his affability is threatening. I would love to see him in the hands of a capable director with a good script. He could be unforgettable.
Don’t forget his performance as “The Writer” in Andy Garcia’s The Lost City!
Here’s a question: if The Truman Show had been Carrey’s first film, how do you think people would perceive that performance? I thought he was fine—but not exceptional—in that role.
I don’t think it’s the fault of the actor if the viewer can’t see them for anything other than what they’re known for. I mean, that’s a bit unfair.
But again, is the problem the viewer’s unwillngness or the limitations of the actor? I really don’t think I’m consciously opposed to seeing Murray outside of his comedic roles. I had no problem accepting Carrey or Williams in dramatic roles (and I actually liked Williams in dramatic roles just as much as comedic ones). Here’s a better example, perhaps: Tom Hanks. I remember him in the TV show Bosom Buddies—and he was actually a good comedic actor. When he made the transition to serious dramatic roles, I had no problem buying them.
But not all actors can do this. They have limits and roles that they can’t play well. With comedic actors, I get the sense that they’re cast in dramatic roles because as long the performance is decent, the performance will seem impressive. Personally, I think this happened when Carrey did The Truman Show. I also think it happened with Albert Brooks in Drive. Both performances are fine, maybe even more than fine, but they seem even better because they go against type. (Btw, a similar thing happens with pretty female leads taking on roles that make them look ugly—e.g., Charlize Theron in Monster.)
I’ve always wondered about Mad Dog and Glory, especially for the role-reversals.
>>Here’s a question: if The Truman Show had been Carrey’s first film, how do you think people would perceive that performance? I thought he was fine—but not exceptional—in that role.<<
Jazz, my guess is that his performance would received far more acclaim had he not been the man previously known for Ace Ventura type antics. That’s a tough role to play. Truman has lived his entire life in the programmed fake environment, except he doesn’t know its programmed and fake. As a result he’d have to end up a little odd, but he also has to be a credible “star” of this mega-reality show. Carrey’s key dramatic roles are not showy, but requires walking a fine line as an actor. For me, this is much more compelling than the overly broad comedy that made him famous.
“Both performances are fine, maybe even more than fine, but they seem even better because they go against type.”
I agree with this, especially with Brooks because it was sooo against type. With Carrey in The Truman Show, it was against the zany Dumb and Dumber persona which might have added something. I don’t know if it would have been more impressive if it was his first film because the performance wasn’t a home run for me. I mean, when I think of his best performances, The Truman Show is good but it’s not the first one that comes to mind.
Speaking of Dumb and Dumber, the reverse could be said for Jeff Daniels. I think he handles comedy extremely well, even though I don’t normally think of him as a comedic actor (although he’s not strictly a dramatic actor either – more in between I suppose).
Jazz, my guess is that his performance would received far more acclaim had he not been the man previously known for Ace Ventura type antics.
Maybe I should watch the film again. I didn’t think his performance was bad, but I didn’t think it was exceptional, either.
Daniels is a versatile actor. I really like him. (He even played an effective villain.)
“Remember his part in Coffee and Cigarttes? I think that was one of his best performances”
Yeah, that’s a hilarious part. It’s really amusing to watch that Wu-Tang Clan guy prescribing him a remedy against his cough and him drinking coffee right out of the coffee-pot :) The whole chat is fun. Damn,I love that film!