Adam Driver Is the Year’s Best Actor...Twice

Kevin Fallon

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This week: 

  • The Christmas movie onslaught has begun.
  • Two Adam Drivers are better than one.
  • Jennifer Aniston is great and it’s time we said it.
  • Céline Dion is back!
  • Sexiest Man Alive mania.

Turns Out Adam Driver Is a Very Good Actor

There’s something about Adam Driver that everyone likes. That’s as unexpected for this hulking character actor who rose to fame on a lightning-rod show like HBO’s Girls as it is impressive at a time when there’s something to not like about seemingly everyone. 

With his work in The Report, out Friday, Driver will also have in theaters two of the best male acting performances of the year, alongside Marriage Storya career highlight and that’s not even taking into account that he has another Star Wars movie coming next month. 

The procedural nature of Scott Z. Burns’ The Report doesn’t leave much room for showiness, and that’s exactly what makes Driver’s performance so impressive. The wonkish thriller follows Senate investigator Daniel Jones’s years-long, methodical spelunking of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” following 9/11, and the ways in which power was abused to cover up what amounted to ineffectual torture. The Spotlight-esque chronicling of Jones’s meticulous work sets much of Driver’s performance at a simmer. But when that restraint finally does come to a boil in a handful of big, final-act scenes, you appreciate the impact of his quiet, determined performance even more. 

In any other year, Driver would likely score an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for The Report, but he torpedoed his chances by being even more excellent in another film. (Oscar rules state that a performer can only be nominated once per category.) Marriage Story is the best acted film of the year, full stop, and Driver gives the most notable performance in it. That’s not in any way a slight on Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, or Ray Liotta, who will all be awards contenders, but just underlining how devastatingly good Driver is in it. 

It’s interesting to think of Driver arriving at this space in Hollywood, in which he’s playing the Big Movie Star, Everyman, Root-For-Him roles of a Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, Matt Damon, or Dustin Hoffman variety. The unflappable doggedness kindled by idealism and a desire for the truth he plays as Daniel Jones in The Report is such a Hanksian, Redfordian type. The flawed, well-meaning father weathering an emotional hurricane in the midst of a divorce calls on Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer almost explicitly. 

Yet Adam Driver is not that type. Maybe that’s why he’s so fascinating while playing them.

His lumbering frame, long, jet-black hair, and severe features are imposing. His soulful, stuttering cadence suggests an almost emotional stiltedness and extreme macho-ness—something that worked so well on Girls. Yet these characters are inviting heroes and warm men brimming with pathos. Everything is so at odds with each other that it somehow works. 

My boyfriend is always talking about how there are certain things he wants to describe that there are words for in French that don’t exist in the English language, and usually I roll my eyes because I think he’s just trying to remind me that he knows how to speak French. But in this case, goddammit, he’s right, the concept of jolie laide, this idea of a person whose unconventional, even ugly features somehow amount to attractiveness. (Apparently, the classic example is Anjelica Huston.) 

Anyway, beyond bringing to everyone’s attention that I have a boyfriend who speaks French, the point of this is to agree with what writer Michael Schulman says in his New Yorker profile of Driver, attempting to understand his conflicting appeal and superficially irreconcilable talents. Beyond just his face, it’s how his stolid presence somehow births insecure, fumbling characters; that he exudes ordinariness while being so unusual; that he’s at any moment in any performance both stoic and unhinged. 

What I’m saying is that Adam Driver is very good.    

Any Opportunity to Gush About Jennifer Aniston

Jennifer Aniston is excellent in The Morning Show

She’s a perennially underrated actress and I have an entire dissertation arguing such that I can send by request, which only makes it more noteworthy how excellent she is on this ludicrous, fascinating, somehow enjoyable show. In the fourth episode, which launches Friday, she sings Sondheim, for Patti’s sake. The circumstances are utter lunacy. Still, she’s fantastic.

I’ve determined that The Morning Show is a series best viewed, and thus appreciated, as a soap opera, something I’m not entirely sure was intended given the seriousness with which it dramatizes Matt Lauer #MeToo fanfiction. Of the many streaming shows I’ve watched this year, none were as bingeable as this one. I don’t think I can define, exactly, what that means, other than to say that while I certainly understood that what I was watching wasn’t great—yet also not bad by any means—I was rapt the entire time and obsessively clicked for the next episodes.

So take that for what you will and yay for Jen.

It’s Céline Dion Week!!!

It’s trippy to see Céline Dion metamorphosize from the world’s most successful female singer ever into a cult camp icon, yet it’s a transformation we’re so lucky to witness. She releases her first new album in six years, Courage, this week, which means, in addition to new music, we’re being gifted a truly blessed sequence of batty interviews. While waiting in breathless anticipation for her debut on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live! Monday, delight in her discussing peanut butter and Nanny McPhee with Gayle King here.

And the music? “Flying On My Own” is a bop; it sounds like what poppers on a gay club dance floor smell like. On “Lovers Never Die” she does a Taylor Swift Reputation-era rap thing, which is everything you imagine and so much more. Power ballads like “Lying Down” and “Courage” have those vocals soaring and your arm hairs doing a little dance when she hits the high notes. “I Will Be Stronger” and “For the Lover That I Lose,” alluding to the loss of her husband, have those big, grandiose, Céline-triggered feelings of her ’90s heyday all coming back, all coming to back to me now. Viva Céline!

The Annual Sexiest Man Alive Idiocy

People’s Sexiest Man Alive is PR and marketing orchestrated nonsense and should be treated as such. Complaining over who is chosen Sexiest Man Alive is as ridiculous as the phrase “complaining over who is chosen Sexiest Man Alive” sounds. That said, it’s a fun, stupid annual tradition and the way Chrissy Teigen announced that her husband John Legend was selected this year was great. 

What to watch this week: 

Charlie’s Angels: Kristen Stewart, unlikely comedy queen!

The Crown: New heads, same Crown!

Waves: Absolutely devastating. Go see!

The Report: Absolutely maddening. See it, too!

What to skip this week: 

The Good Liar: Turns out, not that good.

Ford v Ferrari: It’s perfectly enjoyable, but’s about cars. 

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