Thursday, February 11, 2010
The Wuss in the Willows
Back in November 08, I lamented how our cinema's once-golden child, Leo Di Caprio--he who wowed us in WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE and the BASKETBALL DIARIES--had fallen into the Hollywood aging child actor bear trap, wherein the same baby face that made him a heartthrob as a youngster becomes a liability when he's just too old to 'pass.' Where other actors in his same pretty boy straits veered off from the shallows into ambiguous depths--playing villains, cross-dressers and amoral pirates; getting all their pretty punched away in brawls--Leonardo hath locked onto a rigidness of moral fibre that would make even the Lone Ranger wince. Since he became a huge star with TITANIC, Leo's roles have grown more and more inflexible. Nowadays he makes sure every character he plays is:
A) The good guy
B) Straight (even in BASKETBALL DIARIES, he's only repulsed when pulling tricks in the Men's room - and is only seen receiving, never giving, if you know what I mean)
C) Seriously under-appreciated or unloved (dead parents, dead kids, dead-end job) and/or traumatized
D) Tough (symbolized by tattoos, crewcuts, muscles and the fiercest facial hair he can muster)
E) Morally upright and sober (though this is often ridiculously played both ways, as in THE DEPARTED wherein he risks being ostracized by ordering straight cranberry juice at a gang-run bar, but is a supposed to be a Xanax-addict)
D) a compassionate, non-objectifying lover --whether there's any room or use for it in the script or not, he must have a (straight) love interest, preferably played by a total hottie. She may be dead and haunting him in flashbacks or ghostly visitations.
E) Ideally he'll get to have a cool accent, either Irish-Boston or South Ah-friggin.
As I noted above, many of Leo's fellow under-grown adult child actors have since purged themselves of the "aww pretty boy / can't you show me nothing but surrender" syndrome*. Tom Cruise, for example, recently absolved himself for all wrongdoing with his balls-out-on-the-floor shoutaholic in TROPIC THUNDER (not to mention his similar role in MAGNOLIA a mere decade earlier).
Meanwhile, guys who started out kind of doe-eyed pretty-- Johnny Depp, Mickey Rourke, Matt Dillon come to mind--have actually dared to toy with their Tiger Beat origins. Can you imagine Di Caprio mincing like Keith and Mick's love child in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN trilogy? Or playing THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY? Or getting pummeled out of recognition in real life ala Mickey? Nope? Why not? Can't you see what RIPLEY would have looked like if Leo starred in it? He'd have probably had it rewritten to make Ripley a (straight) innocent victim of circumstance. His lovers would die of natural causes so he could cradle their heads in his arms and scream "Damn yoooou!" in pitch-shifted low yowls.
Leo's characters can never make fun of themselves; they have no outside perspective on their glum sanctimony. Meanwhile, if he could prance around, or snivel, or laugh, or punch out a woman while wearing a bear suit, or just play an ambiguous opportunist (even taking Matt Damon's role in THE DEPARTED or Crowe's in BODY OF LIES) he'd re-establish his Oscar worth. Instead he stands alone, holding onto his dimestore glower (right).
To his credit, Leo doesn't fall back on Christian Bale-style deep throat talking, and he did send up his bratty crystal-drinking modelizer image in Woody Allen's CELEBRITY, back in 1998, when he was still young enough that he was supposed to seem adenoidal, plus... that was the same year as... TITANIC. Has the star of Leo fallen since then? Well, not quite. It's more like it's been affixed to Scorsese's, and sometimes two very big rights make a little bit of a wrong. I did enjoy THE AVIATOR, GANGS OF NEW YORK and INFERNAL AFFAIRS' BOSTON VACATION, but Leo was, frankly, the worst part of all three of them. Now he's starring in another Scorsese film opening this weekend, a thriller called SHUTTER ISLAND. Oh man, I can just tell by the trailer he's still in this holding pattern of little boy in big man clothesism.
There, see him up op in the middle? Compared to that "normal" looking cop on the left, and even the smartly dressed detective on the right, doesn't Leo seem strangely.... "off"? Like his clothes are too big? Like he has to put them back in dad's closet before dad comes home at five? Like that tacky green and white tie had to fight past three stages of re-writes? Like he's trying too hard to seem like a big, beefy working class copper? Beefy working class coppers don't try! They just is.
I suggested in my earlier post that Leo abandon his mission of saintliness by trying his hand at a giggling psycho ala the great Richard Widmark's characters in ROAD HOUSE and KISS OF DEATH. I'll suggest it again. Leo! Follow Widmark! What's up next, Leo? Teddy Roosevelt??? How, I wonder, will your writers will sidestep Roosevelt's infamous 1909 safari wherein he "killed.... 512 big game animals, including six rare white rhinos." Leo, my star, my golden child, if your version of Teddy kills even one animal, I'll eat my hat. Come on, Leo. Shoot a white rhino and prove me wrong!
PS. 5/23/16 - I had forgotten the vehemence with which I railed on Leo's choices here. As some know, I completely took it all back and fell on my face for years ago in awe of his courageous ballsy performance as the evil plantation owner in DJANGO. (see here)
In other words, ladies and gentlemen: shoot a white rhino he did
I'm still leaving this original post up though, for historical context (I made a similar retraction or two over the years, like with SCOTT PILGRIM)
* Patti Smith, ("Land," Horses)