Having just seen Bernie, the most disappointing movie I’ve seen so far this year (because Linklater is my all-time fav director), a couple of hours ago, I have something to note about the titular character, played by Jack Black: Even though he’s technically the villain, he’s this really sweet and compassionate and likable guy that you can’t really hate him like you’re supposed to. This is one of the grievances I have with this movie because of the confusing and jarring development the character has; is he someone to root for or someone to hate?
Nevertheless, even with that fatal flaw, Jack Black is so good in this role that I can’t dislike his performance. It reminded me of The Wicker Man remake with Nicolas Cage. Cage is not the bad one here actually (yeah, I said it); only the writing required him to be hilariously bad so he isn’t to blame.
Also, Steve McQueen’s Shame. The always-reliable Michael Fassbender seems to get something really emotional out of a shallow and insipid character development.
What are your favorite performances from poorly-written roles?
I don’t know. I didn’t get the feeling that the writing was bad—maybe it was simple, but that’s a bit different. Sometimes characters can be basic, maybe even cliched, but the actor brings that character to life. Is Indiana Jones a well-written character? I wouldn’t say that, but I wouldn’t say he’s poorly written, either. Harrison Ford brings that character to life and hits it out the park, imo.
So, I think there is a difference between a poorly written or conceived character from a simple or basic character—i.e., a character that is more of a sketch that the actor fills out.
With that said, I’ll try to think of good performances in poorly written roles.
@jazzaloha: I felt that McQueen only put together what he thought would make a developed sex-addicted character and not do any research about it. I believe that what you think was the actor fleshing out a simple character is the flaw here: He shouldn’t have been simple in the first place. Ditto on Indy, though.
Bernie is not a strong film, but nobody will deny that Black makes it considerably more watchable that one would’ve imagined. He’s really excellent in it.
FWIW, if I’m not mistaken, McQueen actually did a bit of research on sex addicts.
He shouldn’t have been simple in the first place.
Oh, I don’t think the character is simple—he doesn’t have a lot of backstory, but that’s not the same thing as a “simple” character, imo.
@jazzaloha: He did? It doesn’t show.
Yeah, I believe he mentioned this in an interview I heard.
@jazzaloha: Let’s put it behind us…Have you thought about those performances yet?
Dude : Does it have to be a poorly written role, or can it be a great performance in a film I didn’t like??
Nothing has come to me, yet. I think I’m having trouble with what constitutes “poorly written roles.” The first thought that comes to mind is bad dialogue—as in giving a character bad dialogue to speak. Next, maybe a poorly conceived role would mean one where the writer seems confused about who the character is or includes characteristics that seem contradictory (and not contradictory in a realistic way—as real people often have conflicting characteristics).
Can you even think of poorly written characters, regardless if the performance was good or not? Maybe if you mention a few that would get the juices flowing. Oh, I think Darth Maul was poorly written…well, I don’t know if I blame the writing entirely. I think the filmmakers didn’t really do a good job of developing the character, though…I guess we could blame the writing.
Sorry, I know this doesn’t really help.
McQueen definitely did the research and spent time with addicts and I think that Fassbender did as well. So it’s really not a matter of writing, but of interpretation.
Anyway, this is still hard. A good actor can turn poor dialogue into something good even if what they’re sayi g is utter nonsense. It’ll at least sound good.
@bijou: Sorry, has to be a badly-written character…
@jazzaloha: Your latter thought on “poorly written roles” can suffice. My example would be Nicolas Cage from The Wicker Man. There was very bad writing used on Cage’s character, but Cage’s gonzo-ness tendencies seemed fitting enough to make me believe that the one at fault here is the writing and directing, not Cage’s performance like everybody wants everyone to believe.
@tommy: Your picks don’t have to be characters supplied with poor dialogue; just performances that you feel had any type of rotten writing but were able to transcend that rottenness and make the bad writing more clear for everyone to notice.
The thing about good performances from poorly written roles is that if the performance really is good you forget how bad it mus thave sounded on paper before someone had the insight and gumption to turn it into something more.
actually a lot of nic cage.
This is one of the grievances I have with this movie because of the confusing and jarring development the character has; is he someone to root for or someone to hate?
(Forgive me if I am misinterpreting you comment)
I don’t think Bernie was a great film or anything (although, we did enjoy it quite a bit—one of the best comedies we have seen in a long time, along with Jeff Who Lives at Home), but if Linklater was able to put the audience in conflicting emotional states, such as the one you described, then I would see that as a great success. People have similar complaints about Ethan Edwards in The Searchers and Cosmo Vittelli in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. The inability to pigeonhole or stabilize characters is difficult to be sure, but the best art creates those difficult and in-flux states of emotional confusion. If anything, I don’t think Bernie went far enough in this regard.
VAMPIRES KISS actually a lot of nic cage
This was a perfect vehicle for Nic Cage, in what I think to be a really good film. A lot of the problems people had with the movie (I think), was the fact that people did not know whether to laugh, cry, scream, or shut the tv off in anger—which again, I see as a good thing because it forces you into a contemplation that clear cut emotional/moral directions typically do not. (Not to say that that’s the reason you personally didn’t like the film. I will certainly agree that Cage is in a LOT of bad movies—we could not finish his last one with Guy Pearce. But if a director knows where to take him, like Herzog in The Bad Lieutenant, then he is fantastic).
Too bad the director of Vampire’s Kiss, Robert Bierman, never did much afterwards (that I have heard of).
People rate and love/hate roles, not performances. It’s definetely a negative, but even worse, that juries and critics seem to be similar. Tend to judge actors by their roles. Looking back, most of the oscars went out this way.
Denzel Washington is the king of this. He’s a great actor, and more or less every movie he’s in is mediocre at best, especially in recent times.
I find “Bernie” quite well-written. “Shame” suffers from premature ejaculation.
Dwight Henry in Beasts of the Southern Wild