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A More Perfect Union April 23, 2010

Posted by monty in comedy, TV.
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Despite my general disdain for James Cameron’s Titanic, I’ve always been a huge fan of Kate Winslet.  In fact, she could star in a half dozen sequels to Titanic, and I’d still come down firmly on her side just for her portrayal of Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s to her immense credit that, post-Titanic, she didn’t snatch up every big paycheck that came down the line at the expense of her artistic integrity.  Instead, she’s stuck mainly to her indie roots, with only the Nancy Meyers-directed comedy The Holiday her only true foray into Hollywood convention (and even that one’s a little perverse by trying to pass off Jack Black as a romantic leading man).  Her other projects have all been stubbornly independent: Quills, Little Children, Holy Smoke – even movies like Finding Neverland and Revolutionary Road, despite their prestige and big-name casts, haven’t been terribly mainstream.

And then there’s her appearance on Ricky Gervais’ brilliant Office follow-up, Extras. For those who don’t know the plot, Extras focuses on a pair of the titular background actors, Andy Millman (played by Gervais) and Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jensen).  The show isn’t quite as uncomfortable as The Office, but it still explores some of the same territory, as the harmlessly self-centered Andy and the hapless Maggie try to get a line or two while on the set of their latest movie, usually to humiliating effect.  The beauty of the show, however, is due to its celebrity cameos.  David Bowie, Ben Stiller, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Daniel Radcliffe, and others show up in various episodes and poke vicious fun at their public personas.

And that’s where Kate Winslet comes in.  In the series’ very first episode, Andy and Maggie are extras on the set of a Holocaust-themed movie.  Andy plays a German soldier, Maggie plays a Jewish refugee, and Winslet plays herself playing a nun who hides the Jews in a church.  In one of the episode’s subplots, Maggie reveals she has a new boyfriend who likes to talk dirty on the phone, but Maggie doesn’t know how to respond.  In a feat of comic derring-do, Winslet shows up to give her lessons.

(The following video of the first ten minutes of the episode is very funny, but if you only want to watch the shorter clip in question, watch from 5:00 to 7:20.)

Then, toward the end of the episode, Winslet checks in with Andy and Maggie to see how the phone call went.

Winslet’s performance is great for a variety of reasons, but for me the pleasure comes from seeing an actress often known for playing straight-laced characters in period movies (Sense and Sensibility, Quills, Finding Neverland, Jude) give lessons on masturbatory dirty talk.  And of course there’s an extra layer of subversion as she does it in a nun’s habit.  Winslet has shown hints of comic flair before, but her work here is so terrific (some of which admittedly has to be credited to Gervais, who has a knack for making everyone shine) that I wish she’d take the plunge and do a full-fledged comedy.  Stick her in Judd Apatow’s next movie, or let her star in something with, say, Zach Galifianakis or Paul Rudd or Steve Carell.  I’d be first in line.

*****

Current listening:

Josh Ritter – So Runs the World Away (2010)

Last movie seen:

The Crow (1994; Alex Proyas, dir.)

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