' ' Cinema Romantico: 13 Best Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes Line Readings

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

13 Best Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes Line Readings

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been having a moment for a good long while now, winning six consecutive Outstanding Lead Actress Emmys for her HBO show “Veep”, the same show on which she has apparently graduated from Veep to Prez. I say “apparently” because I admit I have never watched it, needing too much time for movies. And while she deserves this moment and while I hope it continues on into forever, I will simply never be able to separate Julia Louis-Dreyfus from “Seinfeld” so significantly does that seminal sitcom still echo in my mind. I mean, I have probably said something Elaine Benes said at least once a week for the last 20 years, often these days to the delight frustration of my girlfriend. And so when Louis-Dreyfus announced last week that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, it scorched my heart. I have no doubt she will, like this blog’s beloved Kylie Minogue, tell cancer what to go do with itself, but we nevertheless felt a celebration was in order.

As Elaine, Louis-Dreyfus got a lot of good lines, sure, incredible lines, and even more incredible monologues, but the moments of her most significant actorly luminescence were when the lines themselves were not necessarily all that much to write home about and yet she still made them sing anyway, with inflections, with off-kilter emphasis, with facial expression addendums. Everyone knows “The dingo ate your baby”, sure, and many more know her hollering “Get out!” as she shoved whatever unlucky bloke may have been present, but for my valueless money, none of her line readings bested this baker’s dozen. Stay strong, JLD.

13 Best Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes Line Readings

13. “I spoke to Tim Whatley.” We start here because this is truly evocative of how Dreyfus could take anything – literally anything – and unearth gold, both with clever vocal modulation and physical behavior. Here she emphasizes “Whatley” with great gusto while simultaneously tilting her body to an almost 45 degree angle as she looks up at Jerry, spicing up a simple declarative statement into this zany delight. If sitcoms are an actor’s medium, this proves it. (See here.)

12. “It’s a story about love, deception, greed, lust and unbridled enthusiasm.” After myriad plot machinations, Elaine, needing to analyze a book she has not read to nail an interview for a publishing job, is forced to recycle the brief two sentence review of said book given to her by Kramer. But rather than play the moment with false confidence, Dreyfus opts for fearful hesitancy, as if certain she will be called on the carpet at any second, accentuated by throat clears she adopts as some sort of ill-conceived stalling tactic.

11.  “Do you like him like him?” When George asks Elaine to ask her friend and fellow drawing class attendee Paula (Christa Miller) if she likes him, Elaine asks if they are still in high school. This is funny, but the actual scene of Elaine asking Paula if she likes George is played by the actors like high school, wtih Dreyfus dialing up the too-cool-for-school vocal fry on this line to the hilt.

10. “Well, I’ve got to get going. I’m meeting a guy with grey sweatpants.” As, of course, Jerry’s ex, there were many moments when Elaine got to needle her former beau when he expressed infatuation for someone else, none better than his babbling about “the blonde in the blue sweatpants”, which Elaine parries with this line, with Dreyfus giving “grey sweatpants” the hilarious ring of murmured ribald mockery.

9. “Why is Mr. Costanza with a man in a cape?” I’ve never quite been sure that the whole Man In A Cape business had a payoff worthy of its brilliant set-up but nevertheless, when Elaine and Jerry first spy Frank Costanza chatting with a man in a cape (played by Larry David), Dreyfus’s query isn’t so much suspicious as quizzically dumbfounded. Infinite elements in my life can trigger a “Seinfeld” quote, but this might be the one line and line reading that I can think of apropos of absolutely nothing.

8. “During ‘Schindler’s List?’” This, of course, arrives on the heels of Jerry’s infamous “Schindler’s List” make-out session with his significant other, to which Elaine initially says, “You made out during ‘Schindler’s List?’” That one is just incredulous clarification, and while it is requisitely well-delivered by Dreyfus, it is the second one, after Jerry affirms what took place, where she goes next-level, reclarifying “During ‘Schindler’s List’”? by putting the emphasis very much on “Schindler’s”, as if thinking perhaps there was another movie with the word List in the title that he must have meant instead.

7. “We need a shortstop…real bad.” Elaine’s attempts to convert a gay man, Robert (Robert Mailhouse), to whom she finds herself attracted, leads to the anaology of “switching teams.” So, when Elaine gauges his interest, Robert explains he is a “starting shortstop”, leading Elaine to make said plea, with Dreyfus turning real bad not into a comic capper or a come on but a vigorous whisper so hysterical in its naked desperation that Mike Pence wouldn’t allow himself to be alone in the room with this line reading.

6. “Yeah, that’s right.” This was David Puddy’s famous line, unwaveringness made comic by Patrick Warburton’s impressively deadpan monotone. But when Elaine is made to say it to Puddy, Dreyfus doesn’t do an impersonation so much as adopt the deadpan monotone while changing out the unwaveringness for stunned disbelief. It is just something else.

5. “Listen, Natasha.” Damn, Elaine could put you down. Remember how George once admitted being a little bit scared of her? There are all manner of great Elaine Benes shots across the bow but for my money none bested her stereotyping salvo aimed at a smug saleswoman like Elaine was suddenly in a wayward Rocky & Bullwinkle sketch and was having none of it.

4. “They’re Jujyfruits. I like them.” This is said after Elaine’s ingesting of too many chewy, fruit-flavored candies has brought about convoluted calamity, and which Dreyfus gives the air of anguish that is not so much apologetic as embarrassed; she’d eat them all again.

3. “I’m bringing cake!”
This stems from Elaine and Jerry’s attempts to adhere to dinner party etiquette by getting a cake going, as it must, belly up, leading Jerry to wonder if they should just forget about the cake and Elaine shouting “I’m bringing cake!” at a frenzied decibel stricken with all the ills of social pressure.

2. “I’m George. I’m George!” This occurs at the end of “The Opposite”, when George, ignoring every instinct he has, becomes a go-getter while Elaine, in tune with this sudden shift in the universe, hits rock bottom, leading her to the obvious conclusion that she has become George, a line Dreyfus transforms into sheer comic terror.

1. “Ok.” There is no greater testament to the ability of Dreyfus then how she could take the simplest word and twist in such a way as to leave you in stitches, like this, “Ok”, which she says upon reluctantly agreeing to a date with Jerry Levine’s nameless Stationary Store Guy, and which Dreyfus makes as funny as any Groucho Marx line by draining all the life from her face and then saying it in the manner of someone who realizes they have just put on wet socks. (See here.)

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