Tuesday, March 4, 2008
If Only for an Hour
It’s strange to say, but Idina Menzel kind of creeps me out. Not because I find her unattractive or untalented, because it’s definitely not that. In some bizarre kind of way, I almost strangely find her a little too attractive. To be more blunt about it, to me she essentially comes off as a genetic amalgam of every woman that I’ve ever been attracted to yet have never had much interest in me. Okay, maybe a few others who did actually have some interest as well. And her role as Vera Rivkin in the film version of ASK THE DUST only serves to emphasize that feeling. As films about the struggle of writing in Los Angeles during the first half of the twentieth century go, it’s no BARTON FINK and doesn’t fully succeed in translating the essence of Fante’s prose onto the screen. There’s also the problem of leads Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek who never fully mesh together and even separately never seem to be fully inhabiting their roles. It’s not that they seem disengaged from the piece—like the film itself their work is well-meaning but it falls short. I’m glad that Robert Towne was able to make it, but I wish it were better.
These misgivings do not come into play whenever Menzel is onscreen. She appears fairly deep into the film and really only appears in two sections (more than just scenes) playing her entire role opposite Farrell. More than a few times now I’ve stumbled across the film on cable during her first section and found myself waiting around to view the rest of her role. As Vera Rivkin, a young woman working as a housekeeper bearing scars both physical and emotional, in her brief screen time she believably goes from comical to annoying to crazy to ecstatic to sad and ultimately heartbreaking. The true effect her character has on Farrell’s Arturo Bandini and his character’s journey is felt mostly when she is not even onscreen and that manages to give the film what power it does have. Much of her dialogue actually comes directly from author John Fante’s text in the original book but what she is able to get across just by her very presence shows that she understands the fear and sadness of the character more than she ever gets the chance to say. As crazy as she might very well be, the hesitant yearning clearly in her voice when she talks about reading Bandini’s story for the first time makes it hard for me not to fall for her. And it makes me want to be a better writer. A moment like that makes it seem like ASK THE DUST would be a lot more interesting if Bandini would forget about Salma Hayek’s Camilla and stay with this much more compelling wounded flower.
I never saw RENT on the stage, but I thought the movie was a crock. She’s fine in ENCHANTED but the movie isn’t very interested in her character and she’s clearly there more as a reference point to her musical background anyway. The songs from her album heard on her MySpace page don’t interest me, nice as her voice might be, she seems more interested in the stage than films and she’s also married to Taye Diggs. I definitely can’t compete with that. Her fanbase seems to be mainly teenage girls and gay men which means that her career aspirations clearly lie in a different demographic path than I tool around in.
So I’ll take her brief role in ASK THE DUST and hope for maybe another look at her talent and beauty at some point in something else that I would actually want to see. Her attractiveness has a soulful feel of depth and intelligence to me, to a much greater extent than certain popular actresses who are way overexposed these days. There’s something in Idina Menzel’s face, in her eyes, that I can’t ignore. But I won’t tell her that it kind of scares me too. I’ll keep it secret.