Tim Grierson on Matthew McConaughey’s Comeback

Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike

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Of the many pleasures of “Magic Mike,” one of the principle ones is the sight of Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, the smooth-talking owner of the Xquisite, the strip club where Channing Tatum and Alex Pettyfer entertain the women of Tampa, Florida. In McConaughey’s inspired performance, there’s an element of the brazen showmanship that Tom Cruise exhibited as Frank T.J. Mackey in “Magnolia,” but Dallas’s bulletproof charm is all McConaughey’s. For too long, McConaughey was in danger of being not so much a star as a punch line: the beach-bum lady-killer who coasted on his looks in bad romantic comedies. But in the last few years, he’s focused on roles that have required much more of him. And he’s responded.

Most people’s first encounter with McConaughey was in 1993’s “Dazed and Confused,” where he played David Wooderson, a happily directionless stoner trolling for teenage girls. Wooderson has proved to be the template for just about every romantic/comedic role he’s taken on since, but early on it seemed like he had greater aspirations than just being the dude who wooed Jennifer Garner or Sarah Jessica Parker. In the mid-to-late-‘90s, McConaughey pursued a string of roles in serious or art-house films like “Lone Star,” “A Time to Kill” and “Amistad.” They weren’t all great fits. (In retrospect, the earnest “Contact” might have been better if director Robert Zemeckis had acknowledged from the beginning that having Jodie Foster fall for a New Age-y theologian who looked like McConaughey was simply ludicrous.) But at least they showed him taking risks, and even if he was a bit wobbly playing period in “Amistad,” it was hardly unseemly or embarrassing.

McConaughey didn’t stop taking serious roles after “Amistad” — he’s quite good in Bill Paxton’s little-seen 2002 horror-thriller “Frailty” — but the negative latter-day impression we have of McConaughey was first cemented thanks to the success of the 2003 romantic comedy “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” The film costarred Kate Hudson, and it featured the sort of absolutely silly plot that exists only in rom-coms: Hudson wants to prove she get a guy to fall in and out of love with her in 10 days; while McConaughey wants to prove he can get a gal to fall in love with him in 10 days. And so one of McConaughey’s biggest hits was born — and in the process solidified McConaughey’s onscreen persona as the hunky cad that women just can’t resist. Much of the ‘00s was spent cashing in on that persona in everything from “Sahara” to “Two for the Money” to “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.” Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, McConaughey’s natural charisma calcified into a smug Don Juan-like essence that wasn’t appealing. Whereas early in his career there was a pleasure in discovering McConaughey’s charm light up a film, now it seemed to be a cynical commodity. At first, his lackadaisical air was what made you like him — while everyone else on the screen was strenuously acting, he seemed to be having a ball — but eventually it just translated into what seemed like laziness.

Maybe it was turning 40, maybe it was the fact that 2009’s “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” didn’t perform all that well, but McConaughey has been showing us another side of late, and while it would be silly to suggest that he’s suddenly “taking his craft seriously,” he has been able to find that old spark that made him interesting in the first place.

The turnaround started with last year’s “The Lincoln Lawyer,” which on paper was just an average cops-and-lawyers thriller. But McConaughey’s performance as slick defense attorney Mick Haller gave the proceedings a resonance that complemented the story’s page-turning efficiency — it was pulp with a little soul. (You also wonder if being around such good actors as Marisa Tomei and William H. Macy helped shake McConaughey up a bit.) “The Lincoln Lawyer,” which was based on Michael Connelly’s novel, wasn’t a huge smash, but it was the kind of adult drama that gave McConaughey a platform to show off his chops without breaking a sweat. (As always, he played the cocky guy, but one you actually liked for a change.)

Since then, he’s costarred in “Dazed and Confused” director Richard Linklater’s dark comedy “Bernie,” and while his turn as an attention-seeking Texas district attorney was a little too hammy for my taste, it again highlighted an actor who wanted to change your perception of him. And now he’s back with “Magic Mike,” which I think is a revelation in how it shows McConaughey playing with his persona and twisting it. Dallas really could be David Wooderson’s more ambitious brother: They both love drugs, women and rock ‘n’ roll, but only Dallas has figured out how to make a living from such interests. Buff and tan, McConaughey’s Dallas isn’t as young as his boy-toy dancers, and you can feel that conflict inside this aging man-child, who isn’t quite ready to admit that his time in the spotlight is fading. Like McConaughey’s characters in “Lincoln Lawyer” and “Bernie,” Dallas wants the attention, and in all three performances there’s a poignancy to that desire because none of them can see how faintly ridiculous their lives are. (Much to McConaughey’s credit, he plays Dallas straight, which gives his absolute devotion to the craft of stripping a dignity it wouldn’t have had if the character was just played for laughs.) Whether intentional or not, these roles feel like McConaughey’s way of acknowledging that his time as a young Hollywood hunk is rapidly ending. But unlike his characters, he’s trying to evolve and find a new niche for himself.

That evolution continues. Later this month, he’s going to be in the dark crime thriller “Killer Joe,” where he’s received great reviews, and by the end of year we should see him in “Mud,” the latest from heralded indie filmmaker Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter”). You never know, McConaughey could still play opposite Kate Hudson or whatever new starlet comes down the pike. But the hope is that his recent critical success will remind him that he doesn’t just have to be that guy loafing around without a shirt.


Grow TFU

Adulting Like You Mean It

Commuters makes its debut on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Jared Warner, Nick Ciavarella, and Tim Dean were once a part of Murderfist, a group of comedy writers, actors, producers, parents, and reluctant adults. Together with InstaMiniSeries’s Nikki Borges, they’re making their IFC Comedy Crib debut with the refreshingly-honest and joyfully-hilarious Commuters. The webseries follows thirtysomethings Harris and Olivia as they brave the waters of true adulthood, and it’s right on point.

Jared, Nick, Nikki and Tim were kind enough to answer a few questions about Commuters for us. Here’s a snippet of that conversation…


IFC: How would you describe Commuters to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Nick: Two 30-somethings leave the Brooklyn life behind, and move to the New Jersey suburbs in a forced attempt to “grow up.” But they soon find out they’ve got a long way to go to get to where they want to be.

IFC: How would you describe Commuters to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jared: It’s a show about how f*cking stupid people who think they are smart can be.

IFC: What’s your origin story? When did you all meet and how long have you been working together?

Jared: Nick, Tim, and I were all in the sketch group Murderfist since, what, like 2004? God. Anyway, Tim and Nick left the group to pursue other frivolous things, like children and careers, but we all enjoyed writing together and kept at it. We were always more interested in storytelling than sketch comedy lends itself to, which led to our webseries Jared Posts A Personal. That was a show about being in your 20s and embracing the chaos of being young in the city. Commuters is the counterpoint, i guess. Our director Adam worked at Borders (~THE PAST!!~) with Tim, came out to a Murderfist show once, and we’ve kept him imprisoned ever since.

IFC: What was the genesis of Commuters?

Tim: Jared had an idea for a series about the more realistic, less romantic aspects of being in a serious relationship.  I moved out of the city to the suburbs and Nick got engaged out in LA.   We sort of combined all of those facets and Commuters was the end result.

IFC: How would Harris describe Olivia?

Jared: Olivia is the smartest, coolest, hottest person in the world, and Harris can’t believe he gets to be with her, even though she does overreact to everything and has no chill. Like seriously, ease up. It doesn’t always have to be ‘a thing.’

IFC: How would Olivia describe Harris?

Nikki:  Harris is smart, confident with a dry sense of humor but he’s also kind of a major chicken shit…. Kind of like if Han Solo and Barney Rubble had a baby.

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

Nikki:  I think this is the most accurate portrayal of what a modern relationship looks like. Expectations for what your life is ‘supposed to look like’ are confusing and often a let down but when you’re married to your best friend, it’s going to be ok because you will always find a way to make each other laugh.

IFC: Is the exciting life of NYC twentysomethings a sweet dream from which we all must awake, or is it a nightmare that we don’t realize is happening until it’s over?

Tim: Now that i’ve spent time living in the suburbs, helping to raise a two year old, y’all city folk have no fucking clue how great you’ve got it.

Nikki: I think of it similar to how I think about college. There’s a time and age for it to be glorious but no one wants to hang out with that 7th year senior. Luckily, NYC is so multifaceted that you can still have an exciting life here but it doesn’t have to be just what the twentysomethings are doing (thank god).

Jared: New York City is a garbage fire.

See the whole season of Commuters right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


C'mon Fellas

A Man Mansplains To Men

Why Baroness von Sketch Show is a must-see.

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Mansplaining is when a man takes it upon himself to explain something to a woman that she already knows. It happens a lot, but it’s not going to happen here. Ladies, go ahead and skip to the end of this post to watch a free episode of IFC’s latest addition, Baroness von Sketch Show.

However, if you’re a man, you might actually benefit from a good mansplanation. So take a knee, lean in, and absorb the following wisdom.

No Dicks

Baroness von Sketch Show is made entirely by women, therefore this show isn’t focused on men. Can you believe it? I know what you’re thinking: how will we know when to laugh if the jokes aren’t viewed through the dusty lens of the patriarchy? Where are the thinly veiled penis jokes? Am I a bad person? In order: you will, nowhere, and yes.

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Huge Balls

Did you know that there’s more to life than poop jokes, sex jokes, body part jokes? I mean, those things are all really good things, natch, and totally edgy. But Baroness von Sketch Show does something even edgier. It holds up a brutal funhouse mirror to our everyday life. This is a bulls**t world we made, fellas.


Oh Canada

After you watch the Canadian powerhouses of Baroness von Sketch Show and think to yourself “Dear god, this is so real” and “I’ve gotta talk about this,” do yourself a favor and think a-boot your options: Refrain from sharing your sage wisdom with any woman anywhere (believe us, she gets it). Instead, tell a fellow bro and get the mansplaining out of your system while also spreading the word about a great show.

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Dudes, that’s the deal.
Women, start reading again here:

Check out the preview episode of Baroness von Sketch Show and watch the series premiere August 2 on IFC.


Happy Tears

Binge Don’t Cringe

Catch up on episodes of Documentary Now! and Portlandia.

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Photo Credit: GIFs via GIPHY

A brain can only take so much.

Every five minutes, all day, every day, ludicrously stressful headlines push our mental limits as we struggle to adapt to a reality that seems increasingly less real. What’s a mind to do when simple denial just isn’t good enough anymore?

Radical suggestion: repeal and replace. And by that we mean take all the bad news that keeps you up at night, press pause, and substitute it with some genuine (not nervous, for a change) laughter. Here are some of the issues on our mind.

Gender Inequality

Feminist bookstore owners by day, still feminist bookstore owners by night, Toni and Candace show the male gaze who’s boss. Learn about their origin story (SPOILER: there’s an epic dance battle) and see what happens when their own brand of empowerment gets out of hand.


From Candace’s heart attack to the rise of the rawvolution, this Portlandia episode proves that healthcare is vital.

Peaceful Protests

Too many online petitions, too little time? Get WOKE with Fred and Carrie when they learn how to protest.

What Could Have Been

Can’t say the name “Clinton” without bursting into tears? Documentary Now!’s masterfully political “The Bunker” sheds a cozy new light on the house that Bill and Hill built. Just pretend you don’t know how the story really ends.

Fake News

A healthy way to break the high-drama news cycle is to switch over to “Dronez”, which has all the thrills of ubiquitous adventure journalism without any of the customary depression.

The more you watch, the better you feel. So get started on past episodes of Documentary Now! and Portlandia right now at IFC.com and the IFC app.

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