Monday, August 13, 2012

The Talented Mr. Jenkins

I’ve been moved by the performances of Richard Jenkins.  There’s something so honest and real about the man.  His acting is so natural and effortless that you don’t see the acting.  He’s the Everyman able to portray any character with complete believability.  With over 70 films to his credit, Jenkins has portrayed everything from a gay FBI agent, to a dead mortician to a sexist father to a judge. 

I think about his recurring character on the HBO hit Six Feet Under and how he’d appear unpredictably at different intervals of the other characters’ lives.  Likewise, his appearance in certain films has been unpredictable to me either because I didn’t know that Jenkins was in the movie or because his performance was so impressive that it actually elevated an otherwise mediocre film. It would be easy to write about the great films that Jenkins has starred in – Flirting with Disaster and The Visitor – but I’m going to focus instead on the performances Jenkins has delivered that have elevated otherwise mediocre or underrated films.

The first that comes to mind (probably because I watched it most recently) is Eat, Pray, Love, the Julia Roberts-led vehicle based on the 2006 memoir by American author Elizabeth Gilbert.   Jenkins stole all of the praise from co-star Julia Roberts who divided critics who were either underwhelmed or unimpressed with her performance.  Instead, Jenkins was lauded across the board as representing the best moments in the movie.  The scene in which Jenkins shares the grim story of what brought him to India in search of enlightenment are the best five minutes in the film.  Director Ryan Murphy fixes the camera on Jenkins through his entire monologue and it’s a very wise and effective move as it allows the scene to play out with Jenkins in full focus.

In Dear John, Jenkins plays father to John (Channing Tatum), a member of the Army Special Forces who returns to the Carolina coast in the spring of 2001 and falls in love with a college student named Savannah (Amanda Seyfried). Dear John is predictably sweet, sentimental and sad, but not particularly memorable or special apart from a scene-stealing turn by Richard Jenkins as an obsessive coin collector who Savannah believes suffers from a mild form of autism.  Jenkins, as John’s quiet, taciturn, strangely-mannered father is the film’s lone redeeming feature.

In Friends with Benefits, Richard Jenkins is just one member of a surprisingly charming cast that does well with the thin material they’re given.  Mila Kunis is vibrant, Justin Timberland is charismatic, Woody Harrelson is wildly energetic, the too-rarely seen Jenna Elfman is a treat to watch, Patricia Clarkson shines and Richard Jenkins moves me once again.  Like in Dear John, Jenkins portrays a father with a mental affliction.  He has Alzheimer's.  Jenkins finds the perfect balance in portraying his character’s moments of clarity and coherence along with the times he struggles with the effects of his disease.  He makes brilliant, insightful observations about relationships and life and then walks around without his pants on and frequently forgets that his wife left him a decade ago. 

In Shall We Dance, Jenkins plays a private detective hired by a suspicious wife (Susan Sarandon) to follow her husband (Richard Gere).  This is a role that didn’t require a great deal of range or even great acting, but Jenkins still managed to turn in a splendid performance though the role demanded very little of him.  In one scene where he meets his client and she asks him why he thinks that people marry, he says that he believes that people marry for passion.  His client disagrees and says that she believes that people marry because we need a witness to our lives.  Jenkins’ character sits silently as he listens to her, his eyes focused on her with attentiveness and compassion and it’s in this very simple act, sitting silently, where Jenkins displays his gift for acting; the type of acting that doesn’t look like acting at all.

What films do you think benefitted from the presence of Richard Jenkins?  Let us know in the comments section.


  1. Oh, excellent post! I absolutely adore Jenkins he is one of those scene or even movie stealers. I saw Shall we Dance? this weekend, it was really charming film but him and Tucci both took it to greater level. I really loved his work in Burn After Reading, Let me in, Eat Pray Love and dozens of other films I can't recall right now but when Jenkins appears on screen he always bring in wonderful acting.

  2. Thank you! I absolutely adore Jenkins too. He elevates every film he's in. He's likable and believable and he's never once turned in a bad performance. I hope he gets more lead opportunities like he did with "The Visitor" because he deserves it.

  3. The Visitor is my favorite of his films. Other ones that benefited from him being in them include: Let Me In, Friends with Benefits, Rumor Has It, and Hannah and Her Sisters.

    1. The Visitor is my favourite Jenkins film too.

      Those are other great mentions.


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