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An Appreciation of Anna Faris

An Appreciation of Anna Faris (photo)

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Anna Faris may finally be getting her due. After years of fearless and sparkling work in lowbrow spoofs and indie doodles, she’s starring in and executive producing a big Hollywood comedy, “The House Bunny.” Whether it’s worthy of her talents is yet to be seen, but it definitely heralds a new stage in her circuitous career, one in which she can start calling her own shots. If given the chance, she’s capable of out-dumbing Judy Holliday and out-ditzing Carole Lombard, or at least give them a run for their heiress money.

With the Apatow boys dominating the comedy circuit, there’s been little room for feisty female comediennes. Apatow’s art is based on absurdist riffs on macho man-children, the women serving as sullen straight gals. There are some exceptions, of course (Kathryn Hahn’s sex-starved wife in “Step Brothers,” Molly Shannon’s boozehound in “Talledega Nights”), but they simply serve to prove the rule. And that’s why Faris is such a bracing talent, with her brash physicality, slow-burn timing and endlessly expressive eyes that promise the kind of screwball pluck that David Denby is constantly mourning as lost in his New Yorker columns. While I’m much fonder of Apatow and the severely underrated Adam McKay than Denby, he’s right about the disappearance of the comic actress. Performers like Faris, Amy Adams and Isla Fisher are enormous talents, but there’s no room for female clowns when teenage males are the targeted customer.

08212008_annafaris4.jpgPlucked from relative obscurity in Washington state to star in Keenan Ivory Wayans’s “Scary Movie,” Faris started her career in the raunchiest way possible. As a parody of the virginal scream queens that came before her, Faris’ Cindy Campbell was so pure that she shaved her tongue — though not the massive tuft of pubic hair beneath her electrified chastity belt — and she was funny because Faris played the insanity straight. Faris never oversells a joke, but lets it build around her until her incredulous puppy dog eyes expand to capacity and await the rapidly approaching punchline. With such comic instincts, she’s been compared to everybody from Lombard to Goldie Hawn. David Zucker, the director of the third and fourth “Scary Movies,” told Sara Corbett of the New York Times that “to do good comedy, you have to be smart, and Anna is smart. You could have an actual dumb blonde playing the dumb blonde role, but she wouldn’t have nearly the range.”

Faris was a brunette for the first two “Scary Movies,” and kept the dark hair for 2002’s indie “May,” where she plays the vamp, though a dotty one at that. Her Polly is a lesbian lothario with a thing for the title character, the mousy May (Angela Bettis), and her overeager come-ons are hilarious bits of bravado. She’s the devilish highlight in an otherwise uneven Carrie take-off.

It was with 2003’s small role in “Lost in Translation” that Faris established herself as the dumb blonde for the oughts. Stealing every scene she’s in with bubbly small talk banality, her shallow actress seems like a lot more fun than ScarJo’s morose misanthrope. The film has aged poorly, steeped in condescension towards modern Japan as well as Faris’ character Kelly. Kelly shows kooky vivacity in her few scenes on screen, pimping a power cleanse and belting out “Nobody Does it Better” as the main couple sneak on by. But watching it now, I’d much rather linger with Kelly’s screwy antics than bathe in the anomie of the rest of the film’s curdled hipsterism.

08212008_annafaris3.jpgAfter this star-making performance… she didn’t become a star. Her small role in “Brokeback Mountain” aside, she soldiered through some middling fare in supporting roles, dishing an emasculating monologue in “Waiting…” (2005), nabbing a recurring role on “Friends” during the sitcom’s final season, and suffering through “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” (2006) as the doting third of a love triangle between Luke Wilson and Uma Thurman. It wasn’t until 2007, with Gregg Araki’s barely seen “Smiley Face,” that Faris displayed the full range of her talents. On screen for the whole film as stoner/slacker extraordinaire Jane, she manages a true comedic tour-de-force. Slouching through the film’s shaggy dog tale with slack-jawed grace, Faris hoods her eyes and slows down her delivery as she makes her way from Los Angeles to Venice, CA. There are a series of stunning sequences here, including an acting audition turned pot bust and an incoherent Marxist call to action, where every intonation is pregnant with humor as she shifts her patter from a slow murmur to a guttural shout. Every scene carries a surprise. It’s the kind of high-wire act that wouldn’t feel out of place in a screwball classic like “Twentieth Century,” only if the weed was replaced with champagne.

[Additional photos: “Scary Movie,” Dimension Films, 2000; “Smiley Face,” First Look International, 2007]


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.