The best work from our favorite star of terrible comedies.
Despite some questionable career choices, Anna Faris may wind up following in the A-list footsteps of Cameron Diaz (the very actress she parodied in Lost In Translation with such dead-on, guilt-inducing precision). Why? Because the goofy blonde star of this week's rom-com What's My Number? has great moments in great movies, and even when the movies are bad, she's still pretty great in them. Consider the evidence:
1. Cindy's explosive sex in Scary Movie (2000)
After watching Faris blasted to the ceiling by a geyser of man jam in Scary Movie, your first thought probably wasn't, "Now there's a promising talent." On the other hand, by pushing the gross-out envelope way beyond Cameron Diaz's "hair gel" scene in There's Something About Mary, Faris proved she was pretty much game for anything. She also established herself as "one of the guys" in comedy's boys' club (long before Bridesmaids helped to cement equal-opportunity raunch in the mainstream). Dumb as the Scary Movie franchise was, Faris always managed to rise above her surroundings.
2. Kelly's annoying karaoke in Lost In Translation (2003)
A supporting role in Sofia Coppola's critically-acclaimed blockbuster gave Faris both indie cred and mainstream respectability. As a Diaz-type movie star in Tokyo, the actress hinted at a range beyond the dopey persona of Scary Movie. Her deliberately unlikable Lost In Translation character is no rocket scientist, but she's bright, sparkly, and aggressively charismatic. Yet the harder she works the "fun" in a hotel karaoke bar, the more we'd rather sneak off with the moody cool kids played by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. It's a complex performance delivered without vanity.
3. LaShawn's double date in Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Faris displayed her range again as LaShawn Malone, a chatty ranch wife stuck with a husband who wouldn't listen to her "if he was going deaf tomorrow." Nearly unrecognizable beneath her puffy bouffant and down-home accent, the actress doesn't play for laughs (despite the broadly drawn nature of the role). At the same time, she provides a welcome bit of levity in the midst of Ang Lee's earnest social drama, all while hinting at the frustration beneath her character's cheery façade.
4. Jane zones out in Smiley Face (2007)
While Faris has the chops for drama, she clearly feels most at home in off-kilter dark comedies like Gregg Araki's stoner classic, about a ne'er-do-well actress whose life spins out of control when she ingests a baker's dozen of pot-infused cupcakes. The comedienne brings likable conviction and deadpan insanity to the one-joke premise (she's sooo stoned!), even when she's just staring into space, marveling at the wonders of lasagna like a sexy Garfield.
5. Shelley soaps up a car in The House Bunny (2008)
And, yes, in addition to all her other virtues, Anna Faris is also sexy, even when when playing a character who uses a scary demon voice to help her remember things. Playing a "bunny out of water" in her first major bid for above-the-title stardom, the actress mines her own sexiness for laughs while soaping a car in this high-concept vehicle about a sheltered Playboy Playmate who winds up living with a group of nerdy sorority girls. Some starlets build whole careers out of tight bodies and hot-pink bikinis (c.f. Simpson, Jessica), but Faris has a way of simultaneously exploiting and subverting her own sex appeal.
6. Controversy mounts in Observe and Report (2009)
On the other hand, it's possible Faris may simply be too idiosyncratic for Diaz-style A-list status, and will have to "settle" for a career in offbeat projects like Observe and Report. In one much-discussed scene from that film, her drunk, apparently unconscious character is mounted by Seth Rogen's security guard; she then yells, "Why are you stopping, motherfucker?" when he pauses to consider if his behavior constitutes date rape. It's a morally queasy moment, and many criticized the film and Faris for appearing in it. What's Your Number? is much safer material. But if it bombs, and Faris winds up with a career of edgy indie fare rather than romantic comedies and CGI action spectaculars, would that really be such a bad thing?