Somewhere in Moriarty's brain lay every single episodic second of Saturday Night Live. Why do you think he turned to EVIL? He's demented. Obsessed. And ya know... As long as he's happy... we live in a safer world. I just want to say, here's a movie that I have... Officially heard NOTHING about, but now... has to appear on my radar screen... Dang you Moriarty... I feel like a character in PUSHING TIN cateloguing all these damn blips!
Hey, Head Geek...
Maybe it's the rain in Los Angeles tonight... it always makes me happy. Maybe it's just the plethora of good news here at the Moriarty Labs. Maybe it's because movies are actually really good these days. Whatever the cause, the result is the same -- I'm having way too much damn fun at the theater lately.
Earlier this evening, for example, I was flying solo, looking for something to occupy me. All of my henchmen were busy, and I somehow found myself in Old Town Pasadena. I saw that they were assembling what looked like an NRG line, so I decided to hop in. Using my powers of hypnotism, I took a pass from someone, talked a ticket out of one of the NRG drones, and breezed into the theater just before showtime. A little more hypnosis got me my favorite seat, just in time for the movie to begin.
Going in, I had no idea what I was even going to be seeing. As the opening credits played, though, I saw a lot of names go by that made me happy -- Will Ferrell, Mark McKinney, Tom Green, Harland Williams -- but there were two names in particular that jumped out and made me sit up, pay close attention.
The first name was Molly Shannon. Folks, I love Molly Shannon. I think she's a gifted, brave performer who frequently hits some insane highs on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. I don't love her writers on the show always, but she never phones it in. She never just walks through a sketch. She seems to treat every scene, no matter how many or few lines she has, like the most important one of the week. It's performers like her, Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, and Chris Kattan who make the show interesting even in off moments. Making her the center of a film is something that's been a long time coming, and when it hit me that SUPERSTAR is in fact the story of Mary Katherine Gallagher, I got really interested.
The second name that really struck me was Bruce McCulloch, who directed SUPERSTAR. I'm used to seeing Bruce on the other side of the camera. I loved his work on KIDS IN THE HALL, and I noticed back then that he was responsible for many of the short films on the show. He had a confident comic hand as a director then, and I've been dying to see DOGPARK, the independent film he made last year. Like Dave Foley's THE WRONG GUY, McCulloch's film seems to be missing in action. That means I saw this, his second film, first, and now I'm absolutely rabid about getting my hands on that first movie.
In the early days of SNL, Lorne Michaels had one of the most gifted groups of comedy writers in the business. He pulled people from NATIONAL LAMPOON, from Second City in Chicago and Toronto, and from any other source he could. There were different factions of writers inside the show -- Belushi and Aykroyd, Franken and Davis, Michael "God" O'Donoghue all by himself... and then there were Rosie Schuster and Anne Beatts. That rarity in the boy's club Lorne has always run, Beatts and Schuster had strong voices and made a real impact on the show. The material they wrote was more insightful, more introspective than some of the brilliant silliness the guys were turning out. There was an edge to their work that was distinctly female, and it still stands as a high watermark in the show's history. One of the greatest things about the current cast on SNL is how completely Molly, Cheri, and Ana Gasteyer have made their place. They get as much screen time as anyone, and their characters are popular, returning frequently. It's to the credit of SUPERSTAR that it is such an undiluted slice of Molly Shannon's particular comic dementia, and it's one of the things that elevates it well above the level of the average SNL film.
One of these days, we here at the Moriarty Labs are going to get around to publishing our Big Book Of SNL Movies, and when we do, this film will get special mention. It's only recently that Lorne has actually been a producer on these films. In the '70s and '80s, it was everyone else who used Lorne's show as a breeding ground for talent. Now he's making the films himself. So far that's given us the less than satisfying A NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY as well as CONEHEADS. This time out, though, Michaels has struck gold. By bringing in some of the talent of the also-produced-by-Lorne KIDS IN THE HALL and allowing one writer (Steven Koren) to work on the film by himself, Michaels has lucked into a focused, mature comedy that depends on character, not charicature, and that has the potential to really reach and affect an audience. It's as much of a miracle as the fact that MTV Films produced the brilliant ELECTION. SNL Studios has also finally pulled it all together. Paramount's got every reason to be thrilled.
The story is simple, direct. Mary Katherine Gallagher is this fearless little girl who wants desperately to satisfy one wish -- she wants to be kissed. She watches movies, sees the way people are kissed, and decides to become like those people. She decides that becoming a superstar will finally get her that kiss. That's really all you need to know about the story of the film. It's never much more complicated than that. Oh, sure, there's the subplot about Slater (Harland Williams), the mysterious rebel who never talks, but who always watches Mary Katherine. Yes, there's a great running story about the super popular Sky Corrigan (Will Ferrell) and his cheerleader girlfriend Evian (Elaine Hendrix). There's a whole group of great characters in Mary's special ed class, especially her best friend Helen, played memorably by Emily Laybourne. There's some great stuff with Mary Katherine's grandmother, played by Glynis Johns. It didn't hit me until after the movie that Glynis Johns is the actress who played the mother in MARY POPPINS. When it did, I was flabbergasted. She's really funny here, with a line that equals Alyson Hannigan's big moment in AMERICAN PIE for hysterical shock effect.
But this movie belongs to Molly. She is front and center from the beginning to the end, and it's a joy. She is a superstar. She's as fabulous as Mary thinks she is. Molly can be wrenchingly funny (her makeout sessions with a tree are painful to behold), and she can be genuinely touching, often within the same scene. I'd go so far as to say that laughs aren't the only thing Molly's after here. This film is almost WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE. This is a genuinely sad little character who manages to "find her rainbow" (I love the TV movie quotes that Mary Katherine uses). It would be very easy to make fun of this character, and in the hands of some filmmakers, this would be unbearably mean. Not here, though. Molly finds the dignity in every beat, and Bruce McCulloch lets her.
Please, Paramount... don't sell this as a dumb gagfest. It's not. It's a real movie. Treat it right. Show it to critics early. Support it. You've got a winner here, and audiences will be primed. I think Hollywood's figured out comedy again. Right now, good comic actors are being used right, given smart things to say and do, and directors are making real movies. When you can laugh this hard and leave this happy, everyone's done their job. I hope you readers reward the effort. I'd love to see what else this team can do.
I have to run now, but I've got some other reports en route. Until then...