Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The minor Philip Seymour Hoffman

After the very sad and tragic passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman, I kept thinking back to his performances in Twister and Along Came Polly.

Twister? Along Came Polly? Why those when I could be talking about Almost Famous or fricken Capote, for which he won an Oscar?

Well, yes, Twister and Along and Came Polly. Neither of those is a great movie. Twister is entertaining junk, and I can't even recommend Polly, which was thoroughly mediocre. I won't even say that Hoffman gave great performances in either movie.

What Hoffman did do is stand out in both, and I think that's actually a trickier feat than his great performances. Long before he died, it was no secret how fearless and powerful Hoffman was. But it's easy to talk about his best work. Many people have already done that and done it very well. However, I think greatness shows not only in what you bring to the best movies, but what you bring to the average ones.

Twister was the very first time I can recall seeing him. (Many tributes have mentioned Scent of a Woman as his first notable role, and I saw that movie, but I honestly don't remember much of anything about it  except for the scenery that Al Pacino ate like the Tasmanian Devil.)  And yet, as Hoffman leaned over into Jami Gertz and whispered, "It's the suck zone," there was a charisma there, a unique energy. I remember thinking, "This guy is somebody to watch." He definitively proved that when Boogie Nights came out the following year. 

By the time Along Came Polly arrived in 2004, Hoffman had Happiness, Magnolia and Cold Mountain under his belt, and Polly seemed like a step backward. It struck me as his Twister character after he'd lost his job as a storm chaser. When I reviewed the movie, I said Hoffman was "slumming."

Maybe he was. Even so, Hoffman still stood out as a very unique presence in a very mediocre movie. Most of his gags were gross, such as squeezing grease from one slice of pizza to another and then eating it, but I remember that a lot more than anything Ben Stiller or Jennifer Aniston were doing.

Now he's gone. And I still have trouble wrapping my head around that fact. I'll miss seeing his amazing diversity in powerful movies like Doubt and The Master, in which he had astonishingly different personalities and chemistry with the same actress, Amy Adams. But I'll miss seeing him in the small stuff too. It's not only sad that he won't be around to make great movies greater. It's sad that he won't be around to make average  movies cool, if only for a few scenes.