Michelle Pfeiffer has Kevin Kline Syndrome

Michelle Pfeiffer has Kevin Kline Syndrome February 10, 2009

And now for a long and rambling note about something relatively unimportant and open to debate…

Reading this review of Cheri, an upcoming Stephen Frears film that stars Michelle Pfeiffer, I felt a momentary surge of hope. But I’ve learned not to keep that hope in check…

It started in 1986, when I saw Pfeiffer in Richard Donner’s Ladyhawke (which is, in spite of its soundtrack, still my favorite Donner film) and I fell in love. It wasn’t just that she was beautiful… it was that this was a perfect match of actress and character, an opportunity that made us all sit up straight and realize that this was why God made Michelle Pfeiffer… for roles and performances like this. Whereas most actresses would have just turned the character into “the pretty girl,” Pfeiffer actually made me care about Isabeau.

Ever since, I’ve been rooting for Pfeiffer to find that Next Great Performance… the role that people would talk about with reverence and nostalgia. I’ve been waiting for that thrill of seeing someone capture her particular strengths in an unforgettable way.

Alas, it hasn’t come. There have been some memorable turns: Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence was as close as she’s come, and I may come to decide that it really as a Great Performance. And then there are her striking supporting roles in Stardust and Hairspray. But where is The Great Michelle Pfeiffer Role? It seems inevitable. The day will come. The movie will be made. But by whom? And when? [UPDATE: Victor Morton had reminded me of Pfeiffer’s performance in The Fabulous Baker Boys. Sure, she was sexy and she proved that she could sing.But I’m not sure if that was The Performance I’ve hoped for.]

I’ve been experiencing the same sense of prolonged frustration with Kevin Kline. In A Fish Called Wanda, he was just too good to be true. And on many occasions since, he’s been impressive, including Dave, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and his small but endearing appearance in The Anniversary Party. The previews for The Emperor’s Club made me eager to see it, but then the film fell flat (at least for me). When will we see The Great Kevin Kline Performance?

Do these two actors need better agents?

Which actors give you a perpetual sense of unfulfilled potential, of greatness that just hasn’t found the right opportunity yet?

I’m not talking about Steve Martin, Harrison Ford, and Robert DeNiro–great actors who have already given us several iconic performances and then somehow lost their grip on greatness (or even goodness). I’m talking about actors who teased us with greatness… once… and then never came close to that again.

Like Charles Grodin in Midnight Run.


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15 responses to “Michelle Pfeiffer has Kevin Kline Syndrome”

  1. You know what? John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything. He is pretty OK and sometimes good in everything else, but he IS Lloyd Dobler.

    This is way late, but it suddenly hit me.

  2. I agree with your thoughts about Pfeiffer and Kline. The one I’m waiting for who like the other two isn’t around much anymore, Michael Keaton.

  3. Pfeiffer has had many good roles, but I think you’re right — she hasn’t been the lead and had the spotlight of the movie in any of them, really. It seems like most of her strong roles since then have been as parts of a strong ensemble. My favorite Kline role is from “Silverado,” but that’s pre-Wanda and he’s also part of an ensemble. But much like Pfeiffer makes “Batman Returns” (barely) watchable, Kline’s zen-gunslinger helps make “Silverado” much more than just a cool Western with baby boomers in it.

    On the other hand, he gets to go home to Phoebe Cates, so I find it hard to feel any pity for him.

  4. And I’m with Victor Morton on Pfeiffer’s performance in The Fabulous Baker Boys. But perceptions of what constitutes a “good” or “outstanding” performance can be so subjective. Sometimes a performer’s style in a particular role just won’t click with one person, where another person finds it fits perfectly.

    Some Kevin Kline brilliance, in my book:
    “Frixos” the butler in Princess Caraboo (an overlooked classic)
    “Bottom the weaver” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (dir. Michael Hoffman, 1999)

  5. I completely forgot Ruffalo was in Zodiac, which is weird because I yelled at everyone I could find when it got forgotten by the time the Oscars came around that year. Why did Benjamin have to be the movie that made David Fincher a mainstream name?

  6. Thanks for the “Rachel Getting Married” tip! I’d sort of glanced over that cursorily at Netflix. I didn’t realize Winger was in it — duly queued at the ‘Flix!

    I’m going to have to agree with you on Kline. He did some good work in “Grand Canyon” — but that’s a heavy-handed film I frankly didn’t like. I really liked him in the touching romantic comedy (another Kasdan film): “French Kiss.” I’d actually categorize that film as an underlooked sleeper. Meg Ryan’s cutesy girl thing gets a bit treacly at times in that one, but overall it’s a movie I’ve had a desire to revisit periodically over the years.

    Actually, I kind of disagree with your assessment of finding Pfeiffer’s character in “Frankie and Johnny” as someone who isn’t believable as a lonely person. Or more specifically, you had difficulty accepting Michelle Pfeiffer could be that sort of person. Why, because she’s beautiful? Actually, that’s the thing I find so compelling about the character. She is a lovely creature, but because of the emotional damage done in her past, she can’t allow herself to be loved. She dramatized that emotional handicap beautifully, I thought.

  7. Batman Returns *is* a mess, and yes, she is amazing in it… in a supporting role that makes me just wish the rest of the film would go away so it could be the One True Catwoman film. She deserves leading roles.

    Dangerous Liaisons… again, a supporting role in a movie dominated by the clash of the titans. But again, she was great, and that’s what fuels my frustration. Who will give her the spotlight she deserves?

  8. Daniel Craig might qualify. He’s done a lot of smaller, fine work, and his turn as James Bond has been nothing short of impressive, but he really has yet to find *the* Daniel Craig performance. Still, he’s in early stages of his career, but his project choice outside of Bond has been questionable.

    And if you’re going to bring up Michelle Pfeiffer, you have to bring up her turn as Catwoman in BATMAN RETURNS. A mess of a film, really, but nevertheless, she’s very, very striking.

  9. Have you seen “Rachel Getting Married”? Debra Winger is really, really good in it, and she’s perfectly cast as “mother of the bride and the basket case.”

    Also, yes, “Frankie and Johnny” was wonderful. I haven’t seen it in years, but I saw it several times when it was in theaters. You’re right, she was very good in that part, even if I found it hard to believe that anybody like Pfeiffer would be so lonely as she was.

  10. Ruffalo in Safe Men is great!

    And how about Pfeiffer in Dangerous Liaisons? I thought she was magnificent. Her turn as Catwoman was also unforgettable.

  11. Wow, great to see someone who loves “Ladyhawke” as much as I do, Jeffrey! You know, a Pfeiffer performance I never see mentioned is her turn in “Frankie and Johnnie.” I’ve always loved that film, and her character always moves me deeply.

    This is a great topic: “The Björn Borg’s of Acting” — actors who disappeared before their prime, or haven’t reached that pinnacle of excellence, yet. I’ll have to ponder this one…

    My favorite actress Debra Winger may fall into this category. She’s kind of slipped off the radar in recent times.

  12. Matthew Modine – delivered a great performance in “Full Metal Jacket” (although R. Lee Ermey and Vincent D’Onofrio had the showier parts) and hasn’t been nearly as interesting since then.

  13. Oooh, good call! I agree. He’s pretty good in Zodiac. And he was also good in We Don’t Live Here Anymore. But his career’s still young. I have a feeling we’ll still see something great from him.