“If you’re creating anything at all, it’s really dangerous to care about what people think.” — Kristen Wiig

Today is the birthday of one of the greatest actors working today.

I can’t seem to stop mentioning Kristen Wiig in my writing. I mention her even if she isn’t the main subject. She’s my favorite. I am in awe of what she can do. She’s the closest we have to the great character-actresses-as-leading-ladies of the 1970s. There’s a reason she cast Jill Clayburgh as her own mother in Bridesmaids. Wiig is the artistic/creative daughter of Jill Clayburgh. With a little Madeline Kahn and Cloris Leachman in the mix, forming her own witches’ brew of genius.

So here’s an archive of the pieces where she comes up, either at the center, or peripherally:

Let’s talk about back-ting. Scenes where actors convey everything with their backs. A very niche obsession but I wrote about it for Film Comment. Wiig has a HELL of a back-ting moment in Hateship Loveship, a movie I highly recommend. Incidentally, along with the back-ting moment in Hateship Loveship, she also has a HELL of a “mirror moment” – which I didn’t mention in my big “mirror piece” for Oscilloscope, but maybe I should do a part 2, because I just scratched the surface with the topic.

Hateship Loveship (2014)

I reviewed Hateship Loveship for Ebert and the film was such a pleasant discovery. So many people still haven’t seen it. Check it out!

I also mentioned her prominently in another Film Comment piece, about women who “came up” in comedy, either improv or sketch comedy, who are also phenomenal dramatic actresses, some of the best, really, especially in terms of depth of character development. People with this background go deeper than most. And while Bridesmaids is obviously hilarious, Wiig is – at the same time – giving a very deep performance showing loneliness, disappointment, heartbreak, panic. That character is a fuck-up.

This very small moment:

That whole SCENE, really … I have lived it. I have been her. Repeatedly. Not so much anymore, but when I was at the stage in my life when everyone was getting married. I flushed with recognition during that scene. I wish people understood that what she does in that scene – create a panic attack/hot flash on camera, in real time, her wildly sad eyes gleaming out of her wildly laughing face … this is a Madeline Kahn level brilliance, and since I consider Madeline Kahn to be one of the few sui generis geniuses of the acting art, you know I mean it. The structure of the scene is there – Wiig knows what the moment requires – and when the moment arrives, she just jumps off the cliff into the midst of it, letting her talent and instinct do the rest. It’s SUCH a sad moment but it is simultaneously so funny. Very very few people can do that.

So she can do that and then she can do Garth and Kat.

Or the pure LUNACY of “Liza Minnelli tries to turn off a lamp”.

… and on and on and on.

Back to what I said about Bridesmaids, because this is part of Wiig’s gift, and also part of what I wrote about in that “female comedians” piece. Young actresses often want to be liked. Their entire early career is about trading on their likability. Being adorable ingenues, with the movies totally on their side. The women I love don’t care about that in the slightest, and Wiig is such a good example. Bridesmaid was a monster-hit comedy but notice how BADLY her character behaves – to everyone – how BADLY she fucks up – and yes, it’s funny – but she is also in the process of torching her own life to the ground, due to her own misery. This is not an isolated example in Wiig’s work. I must mention Skeleton Twins, because her character is next level “fucking up”. (I wrote about Skeleton Twins here.) Look at what the character does. Talk about torching her own life. She’s with this genuinely nice husband (Luke Wilson) and she cheats on him left and right, hooking up in bathrooms with strangers at the drop of a hat. She can’t stop herself. It’s compulsive. She pretends she’s off the pill because her husband is under the delusion that they both want a baby, and she can’t just come out and say, “I can’t be a mother, I don’t want to be a mother.” Lies upon lies upon lies. Horrible lies. Lies you can’t walk back. And yet … you understand her. At least I do. She’s totally fucked up. It’s amazing she’s still alive. Look at her mother. Look at her twin brother (Bill Hader). Neither of them can just settle down and accept stability, even happiness. They both walk around in a state of suicidal ideation. At the end, you’re not even sure if they’ve come out on the other side. They are all each other has. Her relationship with her husband was a way for her to pretend that she could be normal and happy, and also safe from her worst impulses. She lied to herself AND her husband. The marriage hasn’t changed her, it has just made her more secretive and devious. And so she “acted out” and ruined everything.

Skeleton Twins was marketed incorrectly and I wish these idiots would learn that they are shooting themselves – and their movie – in the foot. Skeleton Twins is not a wacky comedy starring two SNL alums. There are funny scenes – two, really – but other than that, it is a serious family drama. And she is brilliant in it. When she screams by herself in the car, screams and weeps, because she fucked up again and she can’t stop fucking up … we’re not at ALL in a comedic realm. Many people find characters who make the right choices redemptive. They say things like “life-affirming.” I am not suggesting those people are lying or shallow or wrong. But when they start assuming that that’s the ONLY way a character can be “redemptive”, that any character who does unforgivable things is a “bad example” and needs to be shown to be a “bad example”, and the character should be judged in the same way you judge a person in your friend circle … well, no. I’m gonna fight you on that. My opinion is just as valid as yours and not only do I find fucked-up characters redemptive – I reject the whole concept of “redemptive” as the be-all and end-all of art. SOME art is “redemptive” but it’s not a REQUIREMENT. Art has many purposes other than making people feel hopeful. We all need to “feel seen” and I “feel seen” by the character in Bridesmaids and the character in Skeleton Twins. I have torched my life. I have behaved badly. I have acted out. I have made it my business to make happy people feel guilty about their happiness. I don’t do this anymore, I grew out of it, but I have done that, during those very bad years. I am not proud of it and I will not defend it but to ADMIT that so-called “good” people can behave really really badly is not somehow an “endorsement” of bad behavior. ENOUGH with whether or not something “endorses” something else. Look out when political language like “endorsement” seeps down into emotional personal life. It’s a sign of tyranny and fascism. Look it up. So no: bad behavior shown onscreen does not “endorse” said behavior, but it DOES admit the truths and complexity of the human condition. And Wiig is all about that.

And finally, I reviewed Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar. It was so much fun writing that review (and seeing the movie). SILLINESS. Pure SILLINESS. Not a serious moment in it. Pure escape. A REFRESHING TONIC.

I haven’t even mentioned Welcome to Me. What an uncompromising film. It doesn’t cop out. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. I kept waiting for the cop-out, the redemption. Nope. (Same thing with Charlize Theron in her best performance in Young Adult.) I need to write about both of those films. They excite me.

I’m happy she’s out there. Any time she shows up in something, you know it’s gonna be good.

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4 Responses to “If you’re creating anything at all, it’s really dangerous to care about what people think.” — Kristen Wiig

  1. HelenaG says:

    I’m a HUGE Kristen Wiig fan because of you Sheila. Every time you post this for her birthday, I watch all the clips and immerse myself in the brilliant way you describe her acting. Originally, I saw your review of Hateship Loveship on Ebert and watched it based on that review. What a HARROWING film! I haven’t seen it in years, so I just remember bits of it but her performance just destroyed me. The scene where she thinks, based on those awful letters, that he’s into her and she comes onto him…I do not think I have ever seen anything so acutely painful. It is imprinted on me now, forever. Like one of those horrible things you’ve seen or experienced or know about. It’s just there now. That quote of hers that you used at the top says it all. Her genius is in her understanding of that.

    • sheila says:

      HelenaG – I love to hear your thoughts about her and am so happy I turned you onto her, or at least onto her brilliance!

      // The scene where she thinks, based on those awful letters, that he’s into her and she comes onto him…I do not think I have ever seen anything so acutely painful. //

      It’s almost unwatchable. You just cringe away from it – ugh. so good. She goes so deep too – that’s the thing. 9 out of 10 actresses would have played that on a certain level – it’s the level they could go to, and they could play it fine. But on some level they would be protecting themselves from the REALITY of that moment – actors protect themselves unconsciously all the time, and part of the work of being an actor is figuring out how NOT to protect yourself. She is just so good, so absolutely unconcerned with protecting herself – I mean, look at that Liza turning on a lamp thing!! Her amazing talent as a dramatic actress comes from the same lunatic and free place as whatever the hELL that Liza sketch is. It’s the same bravery! The same not caring!

      It might not even feel “brave” to her. It’s just how she does it!

      Thanks again for your comment!

  2. Bill Wolfe says:

    “Any time she shows up in something, you know it’s gonna be good.” Yes. (With the possible exception of the second Wonder Woman, which had an awful script. But *she* was still good, never backing off from showing us how wounded her character was, always seeming to announce, “F*ck redemption, I want vengeance.”)

    If Madeline Kahn was her spiritual mother, then I think Carole Lombard may have been her spiritual grandmother. This comes to mind having just seen True Confessions on TCM, where Lombard’s character is not so much a compulsive liar, but rather a person who makes up stories because these “lies” are so much more entertaining than real life. The scene where she and Edgar Kennedy make up possible scenarios to explain the central murder of the plot is hilarious, and I can absolutely picture Wiig playing this scene in a re-make.

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