You see it everywhere: the Starbucks barista that goes outta their way to put the little leaf on your latte as dozens humph about missing meetings, the guy who takes notes on the weekly call without being asked, the neighbor who shovels the driveway for someone who can’t in the dark early morning.
Or, as in the flick Her Smell (shout out to ridiculous titles), Elizabeth Moss holding down the fort amid shaky scenes and fractured storytelling. Moss, rollicking as a punk rock queen sloshing her way through hard times, holds the picture together. Half the movie seems to be spent waiting for her to arrive, as the other characters look around and mutter about their anxieties, and you’re right there with them because if Moss doesn’t trash the scene in two seconds you’re gonna switch this drama right back to Marvel and superhero whack-a-mole.
And, you know, I kinda wish she hadn’t shown up. In real life, those half-way heroes that make a crappy situation bearable are wonders. In film, tv, and literature, though, I’ve come to loathe that one particular piece that elevates something from skippable to intriguing. Time is limited, and I’d rather toss off than add things to my viewing platter.
Why, then, even consider something on that edge?
Because a great character is a great character, and a great performance deserves attention. Moss elevates her character from a cliche to a scene-dominating presence that’s both scary and fascinating to watch, to absorb, and to reflect upon. Especially as a writer, looking at an act like that and saying hey, how is she (or the screenwriter) pulling this off?
Figure that out, the combine with a coherent, compelling story for that character to revel in, and that’s how legends get made.
Or, at least, movies I’ll want to watch again and again.