Sunday, June 6, 2010

The best food to act with

So I didn't heed my own cautionary warning about Splice, and went yesterday on a two-hour early departure from work. (Hey, I'm not the one who's actually pregnant.)

I'm still processing what I think about it. There was a lot to like, some to be puzzled with, and even a little bit to just plain laugh at. Overall, though, I thought it was a worthwhile effort whose strengths outweighed its weaknesses.

If you've read me much, though, you know that I probably don't want to talk too much about the movie itself -- but rather, one teeny, tiny, inconsequential thing that the movie made me think about.

That's right, Splice reminded me that movie characters staying late to work on projects always eat Chinese takeout from those little white boxes. Noodles, preferably. And they always use chopsticks.

Know what I'm talking about?

In any situation where movie characters are working late to solve a problem -- to go through legal briefs with a fine-toothed comb, to cram before the big test, or in this case, to try to splice human DNA with animal DNA -- the food of choice is Chinese noodles in a white takeout box. Adrien Brody's character was the one consuming them in this movie.

And I think it's a bit of an acting crutch, though a crutch I definitely enjoy. Acting with any kind of food is kind of a crutch in general, along with acting with a cigarette (which I wrote about here). In fact, I'd argue that Jeff Bridges chomped and chewed his way to an Oscar this past year in Crazy Heart. There wasn't a scene in that movie when he wasn't masticating a sandwich or swigging down a bottle of Bourbon.

It may not be a conscious thing, but we definitely notice it on some level. And it seems to add a certain vibrant quality to the performance.

But just any food won't do. Eating pizza, for example, is not very visual. It's just bite, chew, bite, chew. Nothing special about that. The sandwich can be a bit more visual, especially in the hands of someone like Bridges, or especially if it's an overstuffed cheeseburger. Commercial actors get huge mileage out of taking shark bites out of massive burgers.

But Chinese noodles ... they are an art form in and of themselves.

First off, they involve several exotic props. One is the white box, as universal a food-related prop as the pink rectangular box of donuts, or the blue coffee cup with the Grecian design you get in New York. Then there's the chopsticks. With a box in one hand and chopsticks in the other, the actor doesn't need to worry about what his hands are doing. If he chooses to gesture with either one or the other, all the better.

Then there's the food itself, noodles. The actor can eat them a number of different ways. He can stuff in huge matted clumps of noodles, or he can slurp them up like Meryl Streep in Defending Your Life. It's even better if he can eat them distractedly, while he looks at a monitor or examines the report being presented to him by a colleague.

And I think this last really gets at why the Chinese noodles are such a popular prop -- they seem to enhance and lend validity to whatever activity is going on. They are an efficiently packaged food that can be eaten in multiple sittings and reheated with only minimal compromises to their original desirability. They're the perfect food for a determined protagonist involved in serious work that just may save the world. Or at least, one small corner of it.

So bring on your theorems, your equations, your formulas and your fine print. As long as you make sure to also bring me a box of that lo mein, and a pair of chopsticks.

No comments: