Friday, July 24, 2015

façade: steve m. & steve c.

credit © 2015 Jim Ruymen/UPI 
Steve Carell and his wife Nancy at the American Film Institute's 43rd Life Achievement Award tribute to Steve Martin at the Dolby Theatre on June 4, 2015

I call them The Two Steves.

Steve Martin and Steve Carell.

Although they are a good generation apart, they have a lot in common.  Both are good actors and sly comics, with a certain sophistication that sets them apart.  And the career trajectory of each man is noticeably similar.  I guess what I'm saying is that Steve Carell is the new millennium's Steve Martin.

Ah, yes, Steve Martin in the 1980s-early '90s.  Mr. Reliable.  One of the few reasons to go to a movie a couple decades ago.

There were such inventive, savvy screen comedies (listed in no particular order) as ... “Roxanne” ... “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” ... "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" ... "HouseSitter" ... “Parenthood” ... “L.A. Story” ... "All of Me" ... “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” ... “The Man with Two Brains” ... “Grand Canyon” and ... most audacious of all, a couple of screen musicals, “Little Shop of Horrors” and the singular “Pennies from Heaven."

Heck, I even love such underrated, little-seen Martin titles as “Movers and Shakers," “My Blue Heaven,” “Leap of Faith,” “The Lonely Guy” and "Mixed Nuts" - especially “The Lonely Guy” and "Mixed Nuts," both of which I'm convinced are primed for major rediscoveries/reëvaluations.

And these were all made when he was appearing regularly on television, as a recurring guest host on "Saturday Night Live," its resident "wild and crazy guy."

He was once on a roll.  But the good times rarely last.  Unexpectedly, during the 1990s, Martin segued into what I call his "toxic family-friendly" period - appearing in the wince-producing “Father of the Bride” duo and the unwatchable “Cheaper by the Dozens” twins.  Nothing seemed the same. I mean, need I mention “Sgt. Bilko” or the unnecessary remakes of "The Out-of-Towners" and “The Pink Panther (1 & 2)"?

Everyone eventually makes painful compromises for their jobs.  You go along to get along, as the saying goes, and actors probably know this better than anyone else.  As movie audiences have dumbed down, filmmakers have had to lower their standards.  (Movie critics have certainly given in, endorsing films that, a decade or two ago, they would have squarely dismissed - compromising so that their readers or, more to the point, their editors don't think of them as impossible-to-please elitists.)

But as the '90s closed, Martin bounced back.  The Oughts brought another string of stylish Steve Martin films, starting with "Bowfinger": "Joe Gould's Secret" ... "Novocaine"...  "The Spanish Prisoner" ... "It's Complicated" ...  and, even though they were major disappointments, "The Big Year" and the (Woody) Allen-esque“Shopgirl” (based on Martin's slim novel). "Bringing Down the House," on paper, seemed like it would be an embarrassment, but in performance, it somehow worked.

Carell, much like Martin, originally honed his talents on television, popping up as a guest player in assorted sitcoms. There were occasional bits in movies ("Curly Sue," his first film, "Bewitched" and Woody Allen's "Melinda and Melinda") and, then in rapid succession, came "The Office" on television and the movie “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” leading breathlessly to a smooth team-player turn in “Little Miss Sunshine” and a bravura star turn in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

His subsequent choices have been interesting - "Dan in Real Life" ... "Date Night" ... "Dinner for Schmucks" ... "Crazy Stupid Love" ... "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" ... "The Way Way Back" ... "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" ... "Hope Springs" and, of course, "Foxcatcher."

Carell hasn't quite yet hit the dry period of his movie career, although there was one 12-month time frame that included the groaners "Evan Almighty" and ... "Get Smart." Yes, Like Martin, he has his own dubious remake.

I’m hoping that these two represent only a blip, just a couple passing aberrations.

Note in Passing: Right now, matters look good for these farceurs extraordinaire. Carell has something called "Freeheld" coming up (with Ellen Page and Julianne Moore, his playmate from "Crazy Stupid Love"), and Martin has "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," an Ang Lee film (with Kristin Stewart). In the meantime, the American Film Institute's tribute to Steve Martin will be televised by Turner Classic Movies @ 8 p.m. (est) and 11:30 p.m. (est) on Thursday, July 30.


Sheila said...

Whatever one thinks of "Cheaper By the Dozen" (not very much, sez me) and "Father of the Bride" (which I like for the chemistry between Martin and Diane Keaton), Martin has done a pretty balanced job of making one movie for himself and the next for the box office. Making least-common-denominator films has given him the power to make "The Spanish Prioner," "L.A.Story, "(______your Martin title here)" that we love. He's smart in that he knows that he's too old to understand the twentysomething market he owned 25 years ago with "The Jerk," "The Lonely Guy" and "The Man With Two Brains." Just reading the words "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" makes me laugh. (Did you know that one was Edith Head's last credit?) About Steve Carell, too early to judge...but, as you say, he's been making interesting choices so far.

JH said...

FYI. Carell did some good work early on as Uncle Arthur in "Bewitched" and in that small bit in Woody Allen's "Melinda and Melind," (both with Will Ferrell, incidentally). I'm trying to overlook "Bruce Almighty," although he was very good in it. In my memory, "Evan Almighty" was his first starring role in a movie, where he actually had to carry the film.

joe baltake said...

Sheila- I agree wholeheartedly with you about Martin's chemistry with Diane Keaton in at least the first "Father of the Bride" film, but still, the material is way beneath both of them. And J.H.- Thanks for also mentioning Carell's connection to Will Ferrell in "Melinda and Melinda" and "Bewitched," a trivia point I overlooked.

b. tompkins said...

Joe, I agree with Sheila that it is way too premature to measure Carell's success on the big screen. The guy has only made about six films.

joe baltake said...

B. Tomkins! Huh? I list more than six Carell films here. Actually, he's made 22 that have been released to date - and that's essentially in a 10-year period.

Brad said...

Where's "The Jerk"???

joe baltake said...

For some reason, Brad, that title never popped into my mind. I like it well enough - not crazy about it - but it should have been mentioned in light of the fact that it was Martin's first film and also his first with Carl Reiner.

Vanessa H. said...

I didn't see the Martin :Father of the Bride" because that was when he was going through his Worst Movies Ever Made period. How about the one he made with Queen Latifah?!

Sharon said...

LUV both Steves. This blog entry reminded me of movies I greatly enjoyed, made by both comedians. Steve Martin projects an appealing and believable sweetness in his comedy, and once again, you are right that Steve Carell has the same qualit y. Very endearing gentlemen. There are so many wonderful Steve Martin movies, special favorites are Leap of Faith and Little Shop of Horrors. Jim enjoyed L.A. Story. Like one of your commenters, I start laughing just repeating the title, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. Martin has many other good ones, though. He was so poignant and endearing in It's Complicated, perhaps not a funny man, but a very lovable one. That movie ended well.

Haven't see as many Carell movies. Loved him in Get Smart, maybe not an offering up to your standards, but a movie that I enjoyed, probably from being a fan of the old Get Smart TV series. Little Miss Sunshine, gosh, what a heartwarming movie of a family that was a tick or two away from "normal," yet every bit as strong, wise, and loving as Father Knows Best. I also found him very appealing in Dan in Real Life and Evan Almighty. As a Christian, the trials he endures were warmly funny. All of us struggle, if we're honest, with the challenge of f ollowing our faith without long robes, sandals, beards or the simplicity of Biblical models and this movie was excellent at combining old fashioned tenets and modern day life. I loved it! Thought Morgan Freeman was perfect as God.

Never saw the remakes of Pink Panther or Father of the Bride, though. Some of us are too fond to the originals to even get near a revision, no matter how well done.

Kiki said...

For me, The Spanish Prisoner was Steve Martin's best movie (with the oh so scary Ben Gazzara) just like Jerry Lewis when he was in the movie with Robert DeNiro as Rupert Pupnick.

Marvin said...

FABULOUS WONDERFUL TERRIFIC A+ MESMERIZING discussion of careers of both Steve's. Thanks so much, Joe!

Chelsey said...

What a clever piece. You always find interesting connections I would not see otherwise