Last Friday I went to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I didn't expect much even though I like Jason Segel. The thought of another comedy about a self-loathing/pitying sensitive meathead turned me off, and I thought the trailers were shaky. But Segel is ideally suited for the role, he was shrewd enough not to over-play it (his woe-is-me rendition of "The Muppet Show" had me in stiches) and I enjoyed the movie a good deal. Russell Brand and Kristen Bell were both winning and Mila Kunis was fine as the down-to-earth wild child. But there was something missing in Kunis' performance. Like I said, she was fine, but not inspired.
The part was limiting--it was more of a fantasy than a real-life character--but she didn't add anything to it. If anything, it showed her limitations as an actress--she's all big eyes and pursed lips, like a young girl, not woman. Which is a shame because there was an opportunity for something more. At first her character seems innocent, later it turns out that she's had a volatile past. But the movie doesn't turn--like it did when Ray Liotta showed up in Something Wild and the movie really became threatening, wild. Which is also fine.
But it got me to thinking about actors who go beyond the limitations of the script, who bring more to the table. I'm thinking of Debra Winger in Urban Cowboy or Officer and a Gentleman. Maybe there should be a VORS (Value Above Replacement Script) award. For me, no actor has consistently been better than his material than Gene Hackman. Some great actors can be miscast, but that never seems to be the case with Hackman. But he's been in some lousy movies. Still, he is always credible, authentic, and has the ability to make magic out of bad material. Not every great actor can do that.