Friday, February 15, 2008

The Ubiquity of Christopher McDonald or Hey it’s that smug guy’s birthday

For the bevy of new readers, once in a while when a beloved star or character actor celebrates a birthday, we here at the Sickness Cinema like to take some time examining their work.
For nearly three decades no one has delivered smug white-bread bastard performances with the smooth skill of Christopher McDonald. He is “the man” personified; puffy, insincere, bullheaded and slick. With over a hundred and twenty plus film and TV credits even if you don’t know his name you unquestionably know his face.

We’d be here all day if I were run through the man’s entire resume (and hit some pretty mediocre shows and movies-hey man’s gotta eat) but let me show off the glory that is McDonald with a look at some of my favorite bits of his work.

Perhaps the most critically acclaimed film McDonald’s appeared in is Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. In the film, McDonald plays self-help guru Tappy Tibbons. McDonald brings that game-show host level of charisma but brings it with a sinister edge, so when his character finally “turns” it’s fairly horrifying. You’re drawn in by him and at the same time scarred of what that “third step” is. The mantra “Juice by Tappy” has never seemed so ominous. Below is an extended feature from the Requiem DVD where you can see the entire Tappy infomaercial in all it’s glory. It’s a testament to McDonald and Aranofsky that with no background info this would just seem like a well produced infomercial.

The Iron Giant, Brad Bird’s Warner Bros outing prior to his tenure at Pixar, is as glorious as anything he’s produced during his time at the house that Lassiter and Jobs built. McDonld is a stand-out among a surprisingly versatile voice cast. Once again McDonald brings the charm and smarm as he tries to be little Hogarth Hughes buddy as he tries to search out all potential threats to America. As antagonist G-Man Kent Mansley, McDonald sets the film’s dramatic conclusion into motion when his fear of the Giant puts the world in danger of nuclear armageddon. Yes this is a children’s film, why do you ask?

McDonald made all men everywhere look bad as the bloated prick Darryl in the woman empowerment screed that is Thelma & Louise. Darryl is the type of man whom the fashion and term “wife-beater” were invented. McDonald brings the funny with a heaping helping of entitlement. He’s glorious indignant when Geena Davis’ Thelma leaves him (though makes no comment of her unusual teeth to gum ratio) as though he couldn’t possibly understand why Thelma would leave him. It should be noted that McDonald has played the impossibly dickish husband many times before including for Jim Jarmusch in Broken Flowers. McDonald plays a jerk like no other and his work in T&L is an absolutely essential performance that many, many people associate with McDonald…

…unless you grew up with Happy Gilmore. Yes, McDonald just narrowly edges out Bradley Whitford and Sandler’s bloated sense of self-importance as the greatest antagonist in any Sandler film ever. Let me say here and now that the one who brings the funny in the film is not Sandler but McDonald. As Shooter McGavin, McDonald nails the character’s pompous delivery and is just as good with one liners as he is in setting-up bits for Sandler. Simply put the man makes a wonderful comic foil. I don’t know what cracks me up more “Damn you people, go back to your shanties!” or “I saw two fat bikers having sex in the bushes, how am I supposed to CHIP with that going on!” It should be noted that McDonald did a variation on his Shooter character in another Sandler connected film, Dirty Work. Substitute schmucky golfer with schmucky Opera enthusiast and you get the idea.

McDonald has done some time under the Coen’s in the underrated (and GORGEOUS) The Man Who Wasn’t There as of all things a smarmy Macadam Salesman. McDonald really does fit in well in late forties, early fifties Americana (little wonder then that's he the voice of Jor-El, Superman's dad for those of you who've had sex and Ward Cleaver in the Leave it to Beaver movie), it’s got to be that puckish smile that protests too much that everything is just swell. Also macadam may be one of the few words in the world that’s as fun to say as it is to type.

Still after there’s one role that forever marks McDonald in my head it’s as Matthew Lillard’s establishment father in SLC! Punk. As Lillard rebellious youth begs his father why he sold out McDonald sells the next line PERFECTLY. “I didn’t sell-out son, I bought in.” Check out about 45 seconds into the trailer below.

Looking ahead for Mr. McDonald he’ll be appearing (if it ever comes out) in the long delayed Fanboys and looks to be fulfilling my friend Aron and mine’s dreamcasting playing a Norman Osborn analogue in the Spider-Man spoof, Superhero Movie. These may not be great films but you can be rest assured that no matter the film McDonald will bring his “A” game. Do you have a favorite McDonald line or performance? Put it in the comments.


neonspecs said...

grease 2!

El Gigante said...

Yeah, never been a HUGE fan of Grease 2 despite the presence of La Pfeiffer and two cute songs (that would be "Let's Bowl" and "We'll do it for Our Country").

neonspecs said...

i love Grease 2. too much.

a bit sad about what Maxwell Caulfield turned into.