' ' Cinema Romantico: Of Course! the Ballad of Shea Whigham

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Of Course! the Ballad of Shea Whigham

“All the Real Girls” (2003) was the first time I saw Shea Whigham. That was David Gordon Green’s second feature film, though it was the first one I’d seen, and it was predominantly a showcase for his demonstration of mood, Zooey Deschanel’s verbal idiosyncrasies, and the western North Carolina locations. All that made an impression, absolutely, but so did Whigham in playing Tip, best friend of the main character Paul (Paul Schneider). Whigham’s performance was as physically expressive as Deschanel’s was verbally. Indeed, though his character initially comes across like a cocky kind of good ol’ boy, the dainty way Whigham has Tip hold his omnipresent tall boys and suspiciously side-eye Paul whenever they talk about his sister, or about any girls in general, elicits the idea that he is not being entirely honest within himself about who he is without ever actually having to say so. And if it’s true that any part Deschanel plays instantly becomes hers because of her singular aura, just as its true of her and Whigham’s “All the Real Girls” co-star Danny McBride, it is true of Whigham too.

This all occurred to me in the space of, like, seven seconds, I swear, during “First Man” (review to come). That’s wonderboy Damien Chazelle’s flick about Neil Armstrong, who is played by Ryan Gosling, though I was even more taken by Kyle Chandler’s casting as Deke Slayton because, between this and “Carol”, I really find myself compelled by Chandler’s ability to embody a certain kind of mid-20th century American Male archetype. And as I thought about that, I thought about whether or not Chandler might be in the running for Cinema Romantico’s end-of-the-year Random Award for casting. But then I thought, “Nah, that’s still Shea Whigham for playing Joe Cronin in ‘The Catcher Was a Spy’” for the way Whigham so effortlessly embodies the gruffness typically inherent in the Baseball Manager. And just as I thought that, hand of Lauren Bacall, who should turn up onscreen in “First Man” but, yes, Shea Whigham as Gus Grissom. Of course! I thought as I figuratively smacked my forehead. “Of course Shea Whigham is Gus Grissom!”

Whigham, I realized, is an Of Course! guy. That, to paraphrase, Daniel Day-Lewis’s Hawkeye is a breed apart from your That Guy!, or your Oh, Him, or your Hushed Tone “It’s [so and so]” – like, the time in “Big Fish” when I literally heard the audience around me murmur in hushed tones “It’s Steve Buscemi.” No, with Whigham it’s this immediate recognition of part and actor, like the way in “Man on Wire” when Philippe Petit just sent the postcard of the World Trade Center to his pal Jean-Louis who simply remarked “Of course” – as in, of course, they built those two towers so Philippe could tightrope walk between them. Why else would they have constructed the tallest buildings in the world?

Of course Whigham is the snitch in “The Lincoln Lawyer.” One wrinkle of his nose and Whigham’s got snitch written all over his face.

Of course Whigham is the brother in “Silver Linings Playbook” who failed to visit his brother in the mental hospital because mental hospitals really creep him out. Another actor would have made this line too obviously a lie or too much of a jittery truth. But Whigham makes it sound like a truth told by someone who would have gladly lied anyway.

Of course Whigham is the guy who turns out to be in the trunk of the eponymous automobile the two kids steal to take for a joyride in “Cop Car.” When the trunk opens and it’s Whigham it’s like the moment in “Seinfeld” when Jerry, George, and Elaine all nonchalantly shrug when the news announces Kramer is the one helping Steve Gendason flee in the White Ford Bronco because that went without saying.

Of course Whigham is the Captain of Jordan Belfort’s yacht in “The Wolf of Wall Street” who is forced to navigate the boat through a storm from Italy to Monaco so his employer can avoid crossing the border. You would not look at Whigham, granted, and think “The Love Boat” or Captain Jack Sparrow. But to hear Whigham reluctantly roll with an order he seems to know he can’t refuse by quietly trying to convince himself it’s no big whoop even though you can tell he knows it’s a huge deal is like realizing right after Bob Dylan sings “Just then the whole kitchen exploded from boilin’ fat” that it was the most obvious thing in the whole world.

1 comment:

Wretched Genius said...

I remember seeing him in Tigerland (Joel Schumacher's only good post-80's film) back in 2000 and thinking he gave a wonderfully loathsome performance that was unfortunately (though understandably) overshadowed by a young Colin Farrell giving the performance that launched his Hollywood career. So it has brought me great joy to see him become a consistently-utilized character actor.