' ' Cinema Romantico: Solving A Great Miscasting Conundrum

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Solving A Great Miscasting Conundrum

Recently I watched “High Fidelity” twice in two days (for reasons that will not be discussed - they are private and probably pathetic) and this duo of rewatchings reignited a long standing internal debate.

The film, based on Nick Hornby’s exquisite book and directed by Stephen Frears, is just about perfectly cast. John Cusack as music obsessed, growth stunted Rob Gordon is beyond compare. His record store cohorts, “the musical moron twins”, are flawlessly portrayed by Todd Louiso and the ever histrionic Jack Black. Marie LaSalle, the alluring singer songwriter with whom Rob has a temporary fling, is brought to life by an exemplary Lisa Bonet. (In his book “31 Songs” Hornby reveals LaSalle was based in part on her.) The character of Ian has always felt just a bit over the top for my taste but Tim Robbins does precisely what the script asks of him and does it well. Lili Taylor is spot on as Sarah, Joelle Carter is just fine as Penny and Iben Hjejle, a Danish actress, inhabits Laura entirely. But the key character of Charlie Nicholson, I’m afraid, is betrayed by her chosen actress.

Catherine Zeta Jones.

Now I should admit I’m totally, 100% biased as I’ve never been a fan of Ms. Zeta Jones. (It's like asking me who deserved the split national championship of the 1990 college football season more - Georgia Tech or Colorado. Uh, Georgia Tech. Obviously. Not those ruffians from Boulder.) She was good in “Chicago”, I’ll admit, though I’m not certain it was really worthy of an Oscar. She was serviceable as the Obligatory Love Interest in “The Mask of Zorro” because she just needed to look gorgeous. She didn’t weigh down “Ocean’s Twelve”, a movie I love and which I would have loved even more if Zeta Jones had been replaced in her role by...wait for it...Monica Belluci. Oh, hell yeah. Imagine that! Monica Bellucci opposite Brad Pitt? Can you imagine those two going toe to toe? All the sultriness would cause the room to feel like a combination of Savannah, Georgia in June and a Billy Dee Williams Colt 45 commercial.

(Other recent great Miscasting Conundrums include Katie Holmes, as much as I still liked her at the time, in "Batman Begins" who should have been replaced with Rachel McAdams which, I guarantee, would have made that film just about flawless and Jack Nicholson in "The Departed". You can blame the latter on the the part being overwritten but, from what I've read, it was overwritten because of Jack himself. His hypothetical replacement, though, I still haven't figured out. Can anyone help me? Who should have stepped in for Jack?)

To establish, Charlie Nicholson is the #3 on Rob’s All Time Top 5 Most Memorable Break Up List. As he puts it in one of the movie’s hundreds of killer lines: “Some people never got over ‘Nam or the night their band opened for Nirvana. I guess I never really got over Charlie.” He meets her as a sophomore in college and we see in flashback how he places Charlie on a pedestal, making her the answers to his problems, such an incredible woman that for the two years they date he can never really bring himself to admit that he deserves. “I became obsessed that she would leave me for one of the men in her design department.” (Pause.) “Then she left me for one of them.” But when we catch up with her again in present time Rob comes to realize that, in fact, she is a “horrible person” who “never listens to anyone” and “talks s---“ all the time. He had edited it all that out.

Zeta Jones just doesn’t have the bat speed. This girl is a big deal in the grand scheme of things. In his book “Killing Yourself To Live” Chuck Klosterman writes about this girl (though he’s not "writing about this girl", writing about this girl): “There is always one person you love who becomes that definition.” Now Rob has discovered that definition is false. This is heavy lifting for the actress and, unfortunately, Zeta Jones has always just been a hand model.

So who? Who could have been cast to make Charlie Nicholson all that which she needed to be? Well, on my second viewing, as Zeta Jones slid The Pretenders tee shirt over her frame, I had a vision - a vision of someone else sliding on that Pretenders tee shirt.

Jennifer Connelly.

Oh, hell yeah. Jennifer Connelly’s got the bat speed. Jennifer Connelly could convincingly portray - both in looks and in smarts - the woman that becomes your definition of love. Jennifer Connelly could appear “elegant and exotic”. She would be just as authentic bulls----ing about Gene Simmons early in the film as she would be bulls----ing about a bottle of Barolo at an (ick) dinner party late in the film. Imagine her saying the word “sparkier”. Boo. Imagine her dropping the f-bomb eight times fast when Rob asks why she left him. Yah.

Yup. That’s how it should have gone. It didn’t but that doesn’t stop “High Fidelity” from being a great movie. It is a great movie. It just could have been one tiny smidgen greater. It’s like Bruce putting “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” on “The River” instead of “Loose Ends”. You can dream but it’s too late to do anything about it now.


Wretched Genius said...

I disagree completely. Zeta-Jones was perfectly cast. The whole point of the character is that she's a shallow, aloof hipster who is incredibly hot and just smart enough to sound like she's saying something profound, when most of what she's saying is naive bullshit. So all Zeta-Jones needed to do was play herself, which she does. Upon reconnecting with her, Rob realizes that he can't stand her. The problem with Jennfer Connelly in the role is that she's just naturally so nice. That niceness leaks into every performance she's ever given. It would be unlikely for an audience to see her as someone that Rob could ever get tired of. Zeta-Jones comes across as someone who could suck you into her world without you ever realize just how awful that world is until you're outside of it again.

As for who should have been in the Nicholson role: James Caan. He could play the endearing father figure that Matt Damon looks up to, but turn dangerous and violent on a whim. And he just naturally looks like he's been worn down by a hard life, which was a major part of that character.

I could also see Pacino doing if, if he kept his performance in the same vein as his Donnie Brasco role, and avoided the "Hoo-Haw!" persona he has been using for the majority of his 90's-00's roles.

Nick Prigge said...

That's an excellent rebuttal. I think I'm just so predisposed to not liking her that I couldn't stand her right from the get go so I never got sucked in in the first place.

Therefore, I guess, this is a problem that only exists for me. Damn you, Catherine Zeta Jones.