Saturday, January 03, 2009

Olivia Thirlby in The Wackness (2008)

This is part of StinkyLulu's now-legendary Supporting Actress Blogathon. Enjoy.

Josh Peck was the kid that got pushed overboard (and don't pretend you didn't cheer when it happened) in Mean Creek. He was a big lad, but The Wackness, a story of predictably very wacky goings-on, sees him as Luke, a fairly thin drug-pusher in an early-90's era hip-hop-obsessed New York. Very often films with such malevolent and apparently braindead characters follow a similar formula, which usually involves said characters achieving relativity and forming some sort of reluctant mini-cult by the end of it. The Wackness has a lot of that "How can you be timid and so blunt?" relativity but understands its own kind by making each character appear dependent upon being liked and appreciated.

Olivia Thirlby serves as the love interest to Josh Peck's drug-ravaged and numb-brained non-entity, and one questions, initially, how she could be intrigued by someone as dull, socially-awkward and utterly different to her as Luke essentially is. Thirlby, who featured somewhat in last year's mega-hit Juno, was the title character's best friend, trusted to throw her two cents in but keep the boat afloat. In The Wackness, Thirlby's Stephanie, placid, easy, eager as she may first seem, rocks several of our male characters' boats but waltzes off into the distance a la Natalie Portman in Closer; troubled, even regretful, but forever and preferably a figure of desire.

When a man loves you, you know. A lot of men are set up so that naturally such gestures of honesty feel painful and often desperate -- at least in my experience. Thirlby reacts to Luke's declaration of love with such disdain. Not because she's disgusted by him, or love, or commitment, but rather fiercely devoted to a generation and social movement that wanted to shrug off commitment, and assertive with the knowledge that she is so much more evolved as a person than he is. At that age you do tend to pick the easier option, and so Thirlby effectively acts as the heartbreaking wake-up call to a very confused and unconventional protagonist.

What's great about the film, and her performance, is that you can imagine this story being told from other people's perspectives with the same vigour: through the eyes of Ben Kingsley's stoner, crisis-ridden doctor, and through Thirlby's teenage bombshell. She identifies with us by putting Luke as the centre of her curiosity, then dispenses with him in the intolerable way we might adopt if he wasn't the centre of The Wackness' cinematic braindead world. This braindead world is often worth exploring, but her performance, a fluctuating charming one, feels like an unexpected dose of CPR; to someone that doesn't want to be resucitated and something that doesn't need resucitating.


Sally Belle said...

Olivia Thirlby will be a long lasting star. I think she will out stay Ellen Page. She is trained and worked hard to get here...she's not gonna blow it with any angst or regrets.

I have been trying to get my exec producers to consider her for the film I'm co producing for a year now! They won't look at her because she is seen as a supporting actress only!

Olivia...please, break through already! We need you girl! Haven't seen The Wackness yet, but I also loved Thirlby in Snow Angels this year.

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