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Tim Grierson on the Critic-Proof Charm of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

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When you see posters advertising his movies, he’s identified as Dwayne Johnson. But nobody calls him that. We all just call him the Rock. There’s something incredibly telling about that. One name — the one we see on posters — is the name of an actor, a movie star. The other — the one we all prefer — belongs to his old life, when he was more of a cartoon character than a real person. But even Johnson seems to understand this reality, even embrace it. He wants to be an action hero, someone taken seriously in Hollywood, but his movies are almost beside the point. He’s bigger than the movies he stars in. And he’s definitely better than them.

Friday sees the release of “Snitch,” which will start screening for most critics this week. I haven’t seen it yet, but I find myself optimistic that it’ll be good. There is no reason I should feel this way. When you look at his recent output, it’s a mixed bag. He’s fun in brief comedic roles in “Get Smart” and “The Other Guys,” essentially spoofing his own tough-guy persona. But then you have the utterly terrible family fare like “Tooth Fairy,” where he was billed as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and the so-so action-drama “Faster” where his grit mostly went to waste. Most times, I walk out of his films liking him but not liking the film much at all. Even when the film he’s in is a dog, he’s incredibly charismatic, and he’s funnier than just about any other pure action star out there. Outside of Jason Statham, there’s no movie star for whom I so consistently give the benefit of the doubt, no matter how many times he’s disappointed me.

Before he was an actor, he was a wrestler. A fairly successful one known as the Rock. He looked the part with his rippling muscles and cocky demeanor. But he also seemed to understand that most people know wrestling is fake, and so he walked a delicate line, acknowledging the absurdity of the whole thing while at the same time playing into the make-believe. His film career really hasn’t been that different. He knows we all call him the Rock and that his movies aren’t high art. He plays the tough guy, but a tough guy who gets that tough guys are kind of a joke. He won’t deny you the pleasure of enjoying him as a tough guy, but he also doesn’t take it so seriously.

This isn’t to suggest that people who go to his movies think of them as knowing self-parodies. Judging by the commercials for “Snitch,” the movie looks very much like it’s in the same vein as “Faster,” positioning Johnson as an action hero who’s comfortable with drama, albeit that of the B-movie kind. The guy’s clearly ambitious, and he’s willing to try anything. He’ll do inspirational sports movies (“Gridiron Gang”), he’ll do nervy indie dramas (“Southland Tales”), and he’ll do the franchise stuff (“The Scorpion King,” “Fast Five,” “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”). But his appeal lies in his ability to not seem like a comer: Whether it’s on his Twitter feed or in his “Saturday Night Live” appearances, he works the aw-shucks self-deprecation with such sincerity that if he’s faking it’s his best-ever performance. He’s been on the big screen for more than 10 years now, and yet he’s still able to keep our expectations in check. We may not like his movies but, weirdly, we don’t blame him. He’s that one kid on the baseball team who’s really likable and fun to be around, and who cares if he can’t hit? You just enjoy being with him.

That can’t last forever, of course. Eventually audiences will get tired of him, or a newer actor will swoop in and steal the parts that he used to get. But for now, Johnson is unique among movie stars, and that uniqueness is worth celebrating, even if it does mean sitting through junk like “Journey 2.” Frankly, at this point the movies are just an excuse to have him around in the culture cracking jokes and being all Rock-like. There are plenty of movie stars with more depth than him. But there aren’t many who seem to enjoy their stardom as much as he does — and make it so enjoyable for the rest of us.

You can follow Tim Grierson on Twitter.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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