' Cinema Romantico: Who Is the MVP of Beautiful Girls?

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Who Is the MVP of Beautiful Girls?

I was listening to an episode of Bill Simmons’ podcast in which he was chatting with Wesley Morris at SXSW and toward the tail-end of the conversation they briefly touched on Ted Demme’s 1996 film “Beautiful Girls.” I have a deep, unbinding affection for “Beautiful Girls”, a film for which I fell hard, a long time ago in a dormitory I hated at the University of Iowa far, far away.


It perked me up, however, because I have long yearned to pour over the considerable “Beautiful Girls” cast to reasonably determine its MVP. And it partly perked me up because Bill Simmons is notorious for analyzing every last particle of the MVP debate when it comes to his beloved National Basketball Association. I pulled up an old Simmons article from 2006 in which he boils his criteria for selecting an NBA Most Valuable Player down to three bullet points. 1.) Ten years from now, who will be the first player from this season that pops into my head? 2.) In a giant pickup game with every NBA player waiting to play, and two fans forced to pick sides with their lives depending on the outcome of the who would be the first player picked based on the way everyone played that season? 3.) If you replaced every MVP candidate with a decent player at their position for the entire season, what would be the effect on their teams' records?

That information is, of course, very basketball-centric in verbiage, yet you can easily extract its most vital components in terms of cinema. Nineteen years after 1996, who is the first actor that pops into my head? In a giant pickup game between great movie characters So I decided to take this information, my exhaustive knowledge of “Beautiful Girls” and my wholly subjective opinions of it and, at long last, initiate my quest to officially determine its Most Valuable Player.

Who Is the MVP of Beautiful Girls?

NR. Mira Sorvino. I’m a definite Mira Sorvino fan. I support her Oscar win, wish to God that more people would see “Union Square” and that her career had gone better places than “WiseGirls”. You just wish she got more to do in this film than sit in a beauty salon chair and be counseled by other women. You also wish she’d just go off and sock Matt Dillon in the face. Sharon Cassidy (and what a name), we hardly know ye.

10. Noah Emmerich. “Beautiful Girls” is populated by men who can’t commit but Emmerich’s Mo can. He’s the antithesis of so much of the male moping. Yet even though Emmerich plays the part with a wondrously sweet countenance, his performance is never the one that most stands out in memory. Perhaps because of all the males his has the firmest grasp on who he is, which is always less interesting.

9. Pruitt Taylor Vince. His fragrantly named Stinky Womack may exist primarily on the periphery, but he's not a peripheral character. “He's a proprietor. He's got all the lingo down.”

8. Annabeth Gish. The Harry Lime of “Beautiful Girls”. As the current squeeze of the film's more or less main character, Willie (Timothy Hutton, to come), she is set to arrive by film's end, and not afforded much of an inner life because she's mostly just an emblem with just Willie must emotionally wrangle. And yet Gish, in her few brief sequences, finds something by exuding that sensation required of every quality significant other wherein she (or he) is willing to set herself (or himself) aside in an hour of their beloved's need.

7. Matt Dillon. It's not so much that Dillon transcends the archetype of a faded high school football star still seeing the homecoming queen on the sly even though they’re both in relationships and pining, as he must, for the way things were so much as he fits snugly into it with a convincing gravitas.

6. Rosie O’Donnell. She’s like the mid-movie oracle, turning up to deliver the monologue functioning as the thematic antithesis to the late-movie monologue giving the film its title. When it comes to verbiage, O’Donnell packs serious velocity, and you often wish more movies knew how to harness it. And that’s why even if she’s mostly reduced to lingering on the movie’s edge, when she has her moment, she seizes it, and in spite of the kind of contrived staging of it, she reduces that contrivance to rubble. “And you guys, as a gender, have got to get a grip.”

5. Max Perlich. In no way is Perlich’s part that vital to the story and yet, I confess, his righteously offbeat line readings and Tagging-Along-And-I’m-Completely-Cool-With-It nature has always lingered more in my mind with great fondness. You put most actors into this role and they would either turn into supporting part roadkill or overcompensate in a way that’s wrong for the part. Perlich walks the line. He's that guy who's just always, you know, there.

4. Timothy Hutton. He's the film's center of gravity, the nucleus, the straw that stirs the drink, primarily downplaying and allowing room for all these wondrous actors around him to be-bop and skat.

3. Michael Rapaport. If there is a definition of Full Rapaport, this part is it. It's a nor'easter of Rapaportness.

2. Uma Thurman. Two Christmases ago when my best friend and I returned to our hometown and wandered the streets long after dark, stopping at bars that didn’t exist when we lived there and strolling past old haunts coated with invisible symbolism, we kept saying one thing over and over, comically but slightly – just slightly – seriously. “We’re trying to find Uma Thurman from ‘Beautiful Girls.’” We didn’t, of course, because she doesn't exist. Yet, Uma made her exist, an authentic apparition. Long may she haunt.


1. Natalie Portman. Nineteen years later is no different than nine years later or in the moment – when it comes to “Beautiful Girls”, Natalie Portman’s Marty, short for Martin, named for a Grandfather she never knew, pops into my mind first (and probably second). And in a knuckle-dragging to-the-death cinematic character brou-ha-ha, there is no question that if you’re the representative in charge of sending a lone combatant that you send Marty. And if you tried to put a different actress into Portman’s part, nope, nuh-uh, forget it. Maybe you could talk me into the young Evan Rachel Wood but even that wouldn’t work because it would take everything in a direction the rest of the film would resist. The whole deali-o crumbles if ya ain’t got Natalie. That she genuinely and simultaneously embodies both an “old soul” and a teenager and makes a strange flirtation with an older guy much more poignant and sweetly tragic than creepy is a testament to the talent that is not merely considerable but distinct. Hoist the trophy.

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