Hello? 911? I’d like to report a crime: A scene has been stolen, and I suspect Alan Alda is to blame.
What’s that, you say? This is the 11th time I’ve reported such a happening this year? Golly, I suppose it is. It’s just that 2019 has been filled with so many wonderful performances from supporting actors in film who, in key moments, sweep the audience’s attention away from everyone else. Not like those fellows Al Pacino and Brad Pitt, of course, as they were practically handed the keys to their respective star-studded vehicles. We’re talking the likes of Billie Lourd in ‘Booksmart’, who derails the heroines’ night in the best possible way, or Alda, playing the compassionate lawyer among a sea of sharks in ‘Marriage Story’.
Here are the year’s top scene-stealers.
Alan Alda and Merritt Wever in ‘Marriage Story’
The moments of levity peppered throughout Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’ are a welcome addition to the film, given its primary focus on the gruelling dissolution of the relationship between Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson). A few such moments arrive with the introduction of divorce attorney Bert Spitz (Alan Alda), who upon meeting Charlie tells his new client, “Most people in my business, you’re just transactions to them. I like to think of you as people.”
Alda brings to his performance the warmth and charming sense of humour that contribute to his universal appeal in real life, positioning Bert as a foil to the hardball-playing lawyers (Ray Liotta, Laura Dern) Charlie and Nicole eventually hire. Among the great tragedies of ‘Marriage Story’ is that Bert doesn’t get to finish his joke about a chatty hairdresser, another attempt to quell Charlie’s anxiety.
But the film’s funniest moment arguably takes place pre-Bert. After Nicole decides to divorce Charlie, she asks her sister, Cassie (Merritt Wever), to serve him the papers. What could have just been a serviceable scene becomes a comedy of errors thanks to Wever’s ability to play up Cassie’s nervousness. Her stilted small talk about a pecan pie, delivered as if she were an alien mimicking human behaviour, recalls her endearingly bizarre acceptance speech at the 2013 Emmys: “Thank you so much! I gotta go, bye.”
Julia Butters in ‘Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood’
If you’ve seen even the teaser trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,’ you’re probably familiar with the scene in which a little girl named Trudi Fraser (Julia Butters) tells jaded TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) that what he just did was the best acting she’s ever seen in her whole life. (He then clenches his hand into a fist, stifling a sob.) Given the meta quality of her words, it’s amazing Butters is able to hold her own in the scenes she shares with DiCaprio, such as one where Trudi wisely tells Rick, her co-star, why she stays in character on set. The precocious tween is up there with Brooklynn Prince (‘The Florida Project’) as one of the most promising child actors to emerge in recent years.
Adam Driver in ‘The Dead Don’t Die’
It’s been a most successful year for Leading Man Adam Driver, but we’d be remiss to skip over his role in Jim Jarmusch’s ‘The Dead Don’t Die,’ featuring one of the actor’s finest line deliveries to date — or, well, the way he says “ghouls.” From the act of stuffing his massive body into a tiny Smart car to his police officer character’s deadpan (and correct) insistence that zombies are responsible for the topsy-turviness of their small town, it’s hard to look away from the man who has been commanding the screen since ‘Girls.’
Billy Eichner in ‘The Lion King’
Most critics didn’t have many positive things to say about Jon Favreau’s practically shot-for-shot remake of ‘The Lion King,’ aside from commenting on the technological marvel of it all. Billy Eichner is the exception. As Timon, the comedian famous for frenetically yelling things at people on the street — “Ladies, I know the Kominsky Method and I’m not sharing it!” — lends that booming voice to a teeny meerkat who, along with his best mate Pumbaa (the warthog voiced by Seth Rogen), livens up the film. Whereas other characters are mere shadows of their 1994 counterparts, Eichner’s Timon feels wholly original, in large part because of the lines he and Rogen improvised. (At one point, Timon displays his sardonic sense of humour by asking a morose Simba how he’s feeling “in as few words as possible.”)
Billie Lourd in ‘Booksmart’
Given that Billie Lourd grew up with Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds as her mother and grandmother, respectively, it’s fair to say showbiz is in her genes. But the young actress is also a talent in her own right, as evidenced by her portrayal of spacey teenager Gigi in Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, ‘Booksmart.’ The film is filled with sharply written takes on high school archetypes, and Gigi is no exception, as that magical unicorn of a party girl who seems to be everywhere, all the time. Playing opposite the comparatively strait-laced protagonists (Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever), Lourd is such a force of nature that screenwriter Katie Silberman actually wrote the character into more scenes.
Keanu Reeves in ‘Always Be My Maybe’
‘Always Be My Maybe’ stars and screenwriters Ali Wong and Randall Park probably knew Keanu Reeves would steal their thunder by popping up to play a parody of himself in their Netflix rom-com, but who could’ve resisted such a casting opportunity? The movie-Reeves is an obnoxious braggart dating celebrity chef Sasha Tran (Wong), who winds up making her childhood friend Marcus Kim (Park), who still has feelings for Sasha, incredibly jealous. The movie star character is quite a departure from the real Reeves’s gracious self, perhaps adding to the enjoyment viewers get from seeing the ‘John Wick’ actor declare that he “never cower[s] in the face of danger” before daring Marcus to “strike” him.