Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Kentuckian who can't play a Wisconsonite

The funniest thing to me about The Tourist, opening Friday, is that Johnny Depp plays a widowed math teacher from Wisconsin.

In what universe?

With his gaunt, fashion-magazine looks, his artfully bedraggled hair and his neatly cropped beard and soul patch combination, he looks a lot more like the playboy son of an Italian billionaire than a guy who might wear a piece of cheese on his head at a Green Bay Packers game.

But then, if he looked like a real widowed math teacher from Wisconsin, he wouldn't be a very good match for the equally inaccessible hotness of Angelina Jolie. They asked, but Kevin James just wasn't available.

What a long way for a boy from Kentucky to come.

And that's what's so funny about it -- Johnny Depp is not the progeny of French beatniks or Spanish guitar players or some other combination of exotic, beautiful people who would explain his oh-so-continental feel. Nope, he was born in Kentucky to a waitress and a civil engineer. And though they were/are probably beautiful people -- they produced Depp, after all -- they weren't fancy. In fact, if they hadn't moved a bunch, ultimately ending up in Florida, we might know Johnny Depp as having a southern twang.

But this Kentucky boy has come so far that not only does he no longer seem believable as a character from the midwest, he barely even seems believable as an American. Someone European, maybe -- someone from an out-and-out fantasy world, much more likely. And this is not a knock on Depp or his acting abilities. It's just that he has so associated himself with otherworldly roles that he has become kind of an otherworldly person.

And in this sense he is the perfect person to play opposite Angelina Jolie, who is becoming increasingly less able to play a human being. Jolie's best role these days is a kind of android, a mannequin come to life -- perfectly beautiful, and incapable of expressing a human emotion. Has Jolie done good work in her career? Definitely. She's been convincing from time to time. But she has become so synonymous with international stardom and glamor and beauty that she is not really capable of playing a sympathetic human anymore. There's something cold and robotic about her. It's kind of the same problem that Megan Fox has -- she's too beautiful to be accessible.

But I actually do have minor hope for The Tourist. Not enough to see it in the theater, especially not during a busy movie season that figures to get a whole lot busier in the coming weeks. But hopeful enough, and that's based mostly on the director with possibly the longest name in the history of movies: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (that's 29 letters), who directed the 2006 best foreign film winner The Lives of Others. The big Hollywood gloss of this film does not necessarily resemble the smaller scale of that film, but we generally give people the benefit of the doubt when they've made one great film, thinking that those same sensibilities could produce another.

And Johnny Depp could also convincingly play a midwestern math teacher, but I have my doubts.


The Movie Snob said...

This is spot on. I have to agree with you on both counts. Had n idea Depp was playing a Wisconsin math teacher... That makes this ridiculous movie somehow more absurd.

Vancetastic said...

Thanks MS. I found myself wondering whether they are going to "tease" the unlikelihood of the role he's playing by giving the character a Wisconsin accent. But that seems unlikely.