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Overheard: On Marisa Tomei 

Last night my girlfriend Kay and I saw Marisa Tomei in the revival of Wallace Shawn's 1979 play Marie and Bruce. (I'll tell you a bit more about it and how it compares to that very underseen Julianne Moore film in next week's theater column). As you walk into the theater, before the show starts, Marisa and co-star Frank Whaley are already on the stage, tossing and turning in bed.

Marisa aka Marie is obviously NOT sleeping. In fact, she's chain smoking in between fights with the blankets and jabs at her snoring husband. Two older women walk past me.

Elderly Woman #1: ... [unintelligible] My Cousin Vinny.
Elderly Woman #2: That must be so frustrating, to win the Oscar your first time in a movie and then... nothing!

UHHnnnhh. So I say...

'First things first, ladies. Tomei has had quite a healthy early-skeptics-defying film career... complete with two follow up Oscar nominations and, one might argue, ever increasing levels of respect for her endurance and range. Just because you haven't been to the movies since 1992 does not mean she hasn't been making them. And with major directors, too -- Aronofsky, Winterbottom, Lumet, Clooney .... Also: she can hear you. There's no music, she's already on stage, it's a small house, you are four rows away from her'

Well, that's what I said in my head. In reality I just gave Kay a sideways look and she fully understood my grievance. Then we mentally projected "Break a leg, Marisa!" up to the stage. But she didn't need the help; she killed it as usual. Don't you totally love her?

P.S. Also on the way in I heard theater patrons talking about how weird it is for Wallace Shawn that people always want to talk to him about Clueless (1995) since it's such a microscopic part of his career. (Perhaps these people knew him?) But, come to think of it, that must be true of all character actors who have showy parts in mainstream hits. That people wouldn't know everything else you've accomplished in life? [cue Princess Bride voice] "INCONCEIVABLE!"

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Reader Comments (18)

I'd love Marisa Tomei much more hadn't she stolen the Oscar from the hands of Judy Davis or Miranda Richardson... two of the best supporting actress performances of the decade from two of the most talented actresses of the last 30 years. (Although Marisa was quite funny and amazing in "My Cousin Vinny", she didn't come close to what Judy and Miranda achieved in "Husbands and Wives" and "Damage")

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStefano

Love the story Nat! What Marisa must hear in the bed every night! I'd mentally project to her that her Vinny performance was Pitch Perfect Comedienne and she deserved the win! Not that Judy Davis wasn't also deserving, but I love the fact her taking it is still talked about. The Academy needs to consider more comedy nominations, especially from women.

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCity_Of_Lights

I love Tomei -- her best performance is still The Perez Family.

Those older women are bitching about the fact she didn't become a movie star after winning the Oscar -- which is understanable since most Oscar winners think winning one means they've made it -- Cuba Gooding Jr -- Helen Hunt -- Gwyneth Paltrow

Who has a career post-Oscar win -- Hilary Swank, Kathy Bates -- I know I missing people?

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtfu11

I love Tomei's win, half because I think the performance is legitimately awesome and half because a win like that would never happen today. She was nominated for no precursors other than an MTV Movie Award. That would never, ever happen in today's world.

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSam Brooks

Oh, the Tomei discussion is still alive! I would have loved her to win on a weaker year but THAT particular race was so amazing... and her movie so inferior. I'm sure she won because the members just couldn't decide among the other nominees. I can't... even today!

Anyway, I can't wait for your Marie and Bruce upcoming post. I've seen both the play and the movie so I'm really interested.

PS Unfortunately, the concept "body of work" means nothing to most audiences. They just remember a couples of roles and that's all. I hate overhearing that sort of comments!

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Count me on the Judy Davis lovetrain for that year (I was knocked out by her range) but Tomei's win is not terrible by any means. Just very confusing, I've always felt. Comedy performances are ridiculously hard to score ANY traction for, in general, but a FEMALE comedic performances by someone UNDER 30 actually WINNING? Among those thespian nominees?! Never in this day and age. So bizarre. Even among the Academy's strange wins, this one still sticks out.

And yet, I have nothing but respect for Tomei for proving herself post-win and becoming a wonderful character actress now.

LOL Wallace Shawn. I love him. He will always be Diane Keaton's sex stud of an ex from Manhattan to me.

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark

You have actually SEEN the Julianne Moore movie Marie and Bruce? Wow, it never came out anywhere as far as I can recall.

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercinephile

You are so right - Marisa is SO talented, and awesome in Marie and Bruce.

I love her so much that I hate making this thread about Wally, but I have to: He is a very good friend of the theatre where I work (he was the recipient of the award we give out every year for extraordinary commitment to language or something like that a couple years back), and so he one day called the office for house seats. My good friend our company manager, took the order, and when we were going through the house seat requests later in the day, I got super excited when I saw his name. The company manager had no idea who he was, so I said he was a playwright who also acted in movies. I threw out My Dinner With Andre. Nothing. I tried The Princess Bride. Nada. The voice of Rex in The Toy Story movies. Close, but he still mostly had no clue. Which is what he said, and I mentioned Clueless. Then the light bulb went on.

Poor guy. His plays are really underappreciated outside theatre circles.

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

cinephile - I did! I saw last mont on Cosmo TV.

April 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Peggy Sue - so was it any good? And Moore? I am always sceptical about her in comedies / comedic roles. That's why I am really on the "maybe so" side for Crazy Stupid Love - in romantc comedies she often tries much too hard to be funny (Laws of Attraction, Trust the Man). It's even visible in her performance in The Kids Are All Right - where she has great moments, but primarily in the dramatic scenes. It's a very inconsistent performance.
However I found her hilarious in Cookie's Fortune and The Big Lebowski, and even some of her dramatic roles, Safe and Boogie Nights, have (heartbreakingly) funny moments. But I think she needs the extreme comic roles -- the Julia Roberts roles just don't fit her.

April 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercinephile

I’d rather have my Marisa Tomei won the first time and got 2 nominations after that than having two young actresses who won for their career peak, like Paltrow and Witherspoon and got...nothing after that.

In the opposite, it must be so frustrating for those old ladies to hate on an Oscar winner who is at her 50 and still have that body to flaunt on a dancing pole in The Wrsetler.

April 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMikhael

cinephile - Maybe we should wait for Nathaniel's next post but.. you're so right!

l'll just say the movie didn't work at all for me even though I think Julianne's very good with neurotic characters.

April 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I LOVE Marisa'a win, sure In was on the Vanessa Redgrave/Helena Bonham Carter train but Mona Lisa Vito is a character for the ages, I think and Marisa has done excellent work since.

I do wish she could get a plum leading role, though.

April 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

I am baffled at how people still remain confounded by Tomei's Oscar win. She was an ingenue who gave a scene-stealing, crowd-pleasing performance that virtually defined an otherwise lackluster film. As for the topic at hand, I am constantly informing people that certain [character] actors' careers extend far beyond what public knows them for most.

April 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H

"I’d rather have my Marisa Tomei won the first time and got 2 nominations after that than having two young actresses who won for their career peak, like Paltrow and Witherspoon and got...nothing after that."

SEE!!! Paltrow is just like Marisa, these girls are so bounded to their so called stolen oscar wins that people cannot see anything else of their carees. Paltrow since then worked with amazing directors like Wes Anderson or Anthony Minghella and had awesome perfomances in movies like Two Lovers, Proof or even in Iron Man, but still that Oscar win is the only thing people can remember. I guess that's the problem of winning an Oscar so early, you have already achieved the Top in the business, anything else is just not enough for the crowd.

It feels so wrong to name these girls to talk about Oscar curse, why can't people name Mercedes Ruehl? I guess that nobody even remember she is an Oscar winner.

April 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDanilo S.

I just think you don’t need to follow your Oscar win by working with great directors. I just want to see great performances. I am so ready to be awed, surprised, amazed, anything by Paltrow’s performance after her win but I don’t see it. But I personally think she’s great in The Royal Tenenbaums.

April 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMikhael

You haven't seen Two Lovers, have you? Amazing work there. And to me, in '04 she was SO deserving of an oscar nomination for Proof, specially when they had a spot for Charlize Theron (zzz), Judi Dench(zzz²) and the Lady with a chin for the win

ps: Reese is so weird (ugly?), how she turned into an america's sweetheart is a huge mistery to me

April 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDanilo S.

whatever stefano... where are those two british actresses now? marisa tomei is the most underrated actress in hollywood and the fact that she was roger ebert's choice to win the oscar for the two other films that she was nominated in after vinny was a big slap on the face to those ( yeah, that includes you, douche) who disregard marisa's amazing talents!!! i'm glad she has several promising films coming up this year plus that sorkin pilot for HBO. what say you, stefano? and to those two grandmas who were clearly jealous that marisa looks younger than their grandchildren ha

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