Movies

Five Films That Prove Cameron Diaz Can Act

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There's more to the star of Bad Teacher than a toothy grin.

In There's Something About Mary, Cameron Diaz portrayed the Farrelly Brothers' fantasy ideal of the perfect woman: hot, goofy, and non-threatening, an approachable sex symbol for the Age of Geeks. It was a charming performance, but after that promising breakthrough, Diaz played the same bubbly part so often that it became a schtick. (Sofia Coppola mercilessly parodied her in Lost In Translation.) This week, Diaz plays against type as the drunk, irresponsible title character in Jake Kasdan's Bad Teacher, and it looks good — which got us scanning her filmography for evidence that she can actually act. Here are five films that prove there's more to Diaz than just a toothy grin and a happy bouncy butt.

1. My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)

For most of P.J. Hogan's classic anti-romantic comedy, Diaz is yet another perfect fantasy blonde. But once she catches interloper Julia Roberts trying to steal her fiance, Diaz reveals an unexpected vein of steely determination beneath the frothy façade. In a memorably fierce scene, she tears into Roberts ("some two-faced, big-haired food critic!") with enough righteous indignation to convert a room of bystanders into the rom-com equivalent of a torch-wielding mob.

 

2. Being John Malkovich (1999)

Immediately after establishing herself on the A-list with My Best Friend's Wedding and There's Something About Mary, Diaz made a bid to be taken seriously, dirtying up for this bizarrely offbeat role. Disguised beneath frumpy brown locks and a drab personality, she earned the critical respect (not to mention BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations) as a mousy wife who reinvents herself with the help of a famous actor/puppeteer's body and the love of a good woman (Catherine Keener).

 

3. Vanilla Sky (2001)

Diaz played a ballbusting businesswoman in Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday and an ogre in Shrek, but her scariest performance to date was also the best thing in Cameron Crowe's loopy, uneven brainteaser. As a suicidal spurned lover who wipes the smile (and most of the skin and cartilage) from Tom Cruise's pretty face during a vehicular manslaughter attempt, she's frighteningly credible in a dark inversion of her usual dream-girl persona.

 

4. In Her Shoes (2005)

After scoring another Golden Globe nod (and the street cred of working with Martin Scorsese) for Gangs of New York, Diaz surfed along on sequels for a couple of years before delivering one of her best (and most underrated performances) in Curtis Hanson's adaptation of Jennifer Weiner's bestselling novel about sisterhood. As Maggie, the pretty party-girl sister of Toni Collette's successful, judgmental Rose, Diaz works in a quiet register to portray the sadness and resolve of a woman grappling with her own limitations while the rest of the world alternately ogles and judges her outward appearance.

 

5. My Sister's Keeper (2009)

Critics were divided about Nick Cassavetes' button-pushing, leukemia-themed tearjerker. But the film's worth watching for Diaz's deliberately unlikable turn as an obsessive, unyielding matriarch — a role she pulls off with all the ease and assurance she usually displays in her daffy comedic work.