When I looked up her filmography, I saw that Keener had made a slew of films before her Oscar nominated turn in 1999’s Being John Malkovich, and I’d actually seen a few – The Real Blonde, Out of Sight and 8MM. Given how little I remember of her actual roles in those films, I’d wager that they were either minor roles or roles that didn’t allow her to shine. Keener was also, throughout the 1990s, the queen of American independent cinema and appeared in smaller films that weren’t distributed widely or seen by larger audiences, including myself. For me, Keener burst onto the scene in a big way and impressed me so much in the unlikeliest of vehicles – The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
It’s one of my favourite Judd Apatow films because it’s not merely a crude sex comedy. It’s well written and surprisingly smart, insightful and sincere. On the surface, the film could easily be labeled a raunchy buddy comedy, but it delves so much deeper and offers so much heart and humanity amidst the sex talk and crude humour. But the best reason the movie works so well is because of the incredible chemistry between Steve Carell and Catherine Keener. They both have such a deep understanding of their characters and thus create between them a believable bond and a relationship that we care about. Keener is natural as Trish, and never for one moment do we question the authenticity or sincerity of the things she says or does – she’s a vivacious, single-mother and she really likes Andy. She doesn’t get lost or overshadowed amidst all of the testosterone in the film, but delivers perfectly-punctuated punchlines with glee, adds class to the film, and bookends both with her authentic and endearing laughter. In Virgin, she displays her versatility as an actress and her gift as a great comedienne.
Keener has appeared in 14 films since 2005, among them Capote and Into the Wild, two fantastic films. She’s a versatile character actress, who brought to the roles of literary icon Harper Lee in Capote and hippie Jan Burres in Into the Wild, what she succeeds in bringing to every character she portrays – freshness and a faceted characterization that creates engrossing appeal. Consider how different the roles of Trish, Harper Lee and Jan Burres are and how successfully Keener sets each apart from the other. I’ve never been able to simply say, oh, it’s Catherine Keener in another movie, but rather, Harper Lee is played brilliantly by Catherine Keener or, in Trish, Catherine Keener has created such a cool chick. The character always comes first because Keener gets lost completely in every role she plays. She’s among my favourite actresses because she’s so captivating and exciting, and because she always makes me think when I see her name attached to a film, “Awesome, Catherine Keener’s in this!”
What are your favourite Catherine Keener films? Let us know in the comments section.