May 13, 2011

MRQE Rewind: SNL Players Go Dramatic

This Friday, SNL invades theaters. Current cast member Kristen Wiig stars, along with former member Maya Rudolph, in Bridesmaids, the newest production from the Judd Apatow camp. Also in limited release this weekend is Everything Must Go, a new drama starring Will Ferrell. Now, I'm sure there will be a few raucous belly laughs from the ladies' antics, but let's get serious! This is a big step for Kristin Wiig and Judd Apatow, helming a female counterpart to the predominantly male, juvenile comedy movies that Apatow has made his trademark.

And what about Will Ferrell? Arguably the man with the goofiest presence in our Ron Burgundy quoting era is now tackling some dramatic fare. This calls for a MRQE Rewind! Let's see how some of the SNL greats have fared in their efforts to expand their appeal, and draw more than the easy laugh. Some say that comedy is more challenging for an actor than drama. But when you're this funny, the drama may be the real challenge.

Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls (2006) -- MRQE Metric: 75

Let us start off with a comedy prodigy. Eddie Murphy started on SNL at the ripe age of 21! And he ruled comedy in the eighties, both on the tube and the big screen, with Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop and The Golden Child (a personal favorite). Eddie Murphy was always cool, and lightning quick, but throughout the 90s and early 2000s, he digressed into fat suits and bland family comedies. Then came Dreamgirls, the Bill Condon directed musical that cast Murphy as a Motown era soul singer that finds himself cast to the wayside. Not unlike his comedic fall from grace. Life imitating art! It was an affecting performance that garnered Murphy an Academy Award nomination. A nice excursion for Murphy...then he made Norbit.

Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love (2002) -- MRQE Metric: 76

The king of juvenile antics, with so many characters: Billy Madison, Bobby Boucher, Robbie Hart and Happy Gilmore, to name a few. Adam Sandler took his musical funny-man antics from the SNL stage to the box office register with freakish success that still has him cashing in on silly antics (although Grown Ups is certainly not on my Netflix queue). One of his biggest fans is Paul Thomas Anderson, who decided to cast Sandler in his first dramatic role in Punch-Drunk Love. Sandler delivers a surprising, and mesmerizing performance. He's a little crazy in this one, not unlike his zany comedy, but it works well in new light.

Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally... (1989) -- MRQE Metric: 84

Although Mr. Crystal was only on SNL for one season, it was all he needed to reach a larger audience. Billy Crystal has a universal, showman like quality that made him the perfect Oscar host for all those years. When Harry Met Sally shows off some of Billy's classic comedy chops. But, it also reveals a very sincere, emotional side to his acting. There are scenes where he is deadpan and you can't help but laugh, then there are scenes where he delivers surprising depth (such as the Giants Stadium talk, as well as the film's conclusion). He lost the Golden Globe that year in a tough race (Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, Steve Martin and Jack Nicholson, yikes). Any other year, Crystal would have been a lock.

Mike Myers in 54 (1998) -- MRQE Metric: 49

Another wacky, talented comedian that was part of the epic mid-90s SNL cast that included Sandler, Chris Farley, Chris Rock and David Spade. Myers became a superstar with the Shrek and the Austin Powers series and he hasn't really looked back. One is pressed to find a dramatic role in his latex and Cockney accent-filled career. However, if you were one of the few to see 54, you may have noticed Mike Myer's dramatic turn as famed club owner Steve Rubell. It's actually an impressive performance, for the simple fact that you forget it's Mike Myers. Sometimes, that's the best compliment.

Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction (2006) -- MRQE Metric: 69

And of course, there's Will Ferrell. Everything Must Go is his second dramatic undertaking, after his impressive first go-around as Harold Crick in Stranger than Fiction. Crick is an IRS auditor who discovers a narrative voice that only he can hear, dictating his every action. Ferrell is fun to watch in Fiction. Although, his understated delivery is nothing new (Jim Carrey did it to greater effect, and praise, in The Truman Show), there's an everyman quality to Ferrell that I think will make his newest outing interesting to watch.

Dan Aykroyd in Driving Miss Daisy (1989) -- MRQE Metric: 78

Dan Aykroyd is an alum from the famed SNL '75 class. In addition to Ghostbusters, and being one "Wild and Crazy Guy," Aykroyd has amassed a very impressive film resume that includes over 90 films. It takes a little sifting but he too has a taste for the dramatic. In Driving Miss Daisy, he played Miss Daisy's son Boolie; and his performance earned him his only Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He followed that up with a bit part in Chaplin, but overall he remains a maestro of comedy. Look for him in Ghostbusters 3, which may arrive as early as next year.

Maya Rudolph in Away We Go (2009) -- MRQE Metric: 66

Like Adam Sandler, Maya Rudolph has also attracted praise from director Paul Thomas Anderson. Unlike Sandler, Anderson decided to marry Rudolph and have children with her. The famed filmmaker is obviously a man of great taste. Miss Rudolph has unique talents in both comedy and drama. In her seven years on SNL, she produced a wide range of hilarious characters. In Away We Go, she dropped all of those characters in favor of a low-key performance as a young pregnant wife who travels the country with her husband (John Krasinski) looking for a place to raise their family. Some were surprised to see Rudolph in a romantic-drama. I actually saw her understated performance as an easy extension of her talents. I'm still waiting for her big-screen Donatella Versace biopic. :)

Christopher Guest in A Few Good Men (1992) -- MRQE Metric: 69

Where would the mockumentary be without Christopher Guest, the master of understated comedy? From Spinal Tap to Waiting for Guffman, Guest basically formed a comedy universe around his talents. And of everyone on this list, Guest inhabits his characters the most fully, working in a very subtle comedic range that's fascinating to watch. If had to choose one dramatic role, it would be his performance as Dr. Stone in A Few Good Men. Guest takes the stand in one courtroom scene, going toe-to-toe with Tom Cruise, and delivers a cold, detached performance as a military doctor.

Bill Murray in Lost in Translation (2003) -- MRQE Metric: 84

There's only one Bill Murray, a comic genius who brought new edge to comedy along with the fellow freshman of SNL '75 (including John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Chevy Chase). It's hard to describe Murray. Unlike the other comics on the list, Murray didn't make his star with too many characters or popular sketches. His appeal is rooted in his own unique brand of improvisation that makes him so much fun to watch. Even in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation, a romantic-drama in a mold all its own, Murray's portrayal of a jaded movie star is both endearing and somewhat heart wrenching. Murray works a very subtle acting instrument. Watch closely as he shifts from comedy to drama in a scene with ease. He makes it natural. Like I said, there's only one Bill Murray.

Chris Rock in New Jack City (1991) -- MRQE Metric: 62

Chris Rock was not as successful as his counterparts during his three-year SNL run. It would take a few years for him to build his reputation as the greatest stand-up comic to come out of Studio 8H. And early on, there were a few minor parts in feature films. None are too memorable, except for his turn as Pookie in New Jack City. Rock plays a drug addict to impressive effect in this drug crime thriller from the early nineties. His performance is certainly worth a look. If anything, it provides a nice sample of his work for his inevitable Kennedy Center career retrospective. That's far down the line however. Chris's career is one of the hottest on this list.

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