Although it’s ridiculously early, Jason Segel is generating Oscar buzz for his performance as the late author David Foster Wallace in “End of the Tour,” which opens theatrically in July after a triumphant run on the film festival circuit. The role is a dramatic departure for Segel, costar of “How I Met Your Mother," and who is most associated with comedies (“Knocked Up,” “I Love You, Man,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,”). Indeed, the theatrical preview contains this quote: “Jason Segel is a revelation.”
A revelation. That word is tossed around a lot when a comedic actor tackles a serious role. The British newspaper, the Telegraph, labeled Bill Hader's performance in "the Skeleton Twins" as a suicidal gay man reunited with his estranged sister a a revelation.” The sister is portrayed by Kristin Wiig, about whom a Slate reviewer said about her dramatic turn in the indie film, “Hateship Loveship," “The revelation…is the casting of Kristin Wiig.”
Jennifer Aniston has been anointed a revelation twice, most recently by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, for her performance as a woman suffering from chronic pain in “Cake.” In its “Cake” review, Indiewire reminded, “She was a revelation in ‘The Good Girl.’” Some reviews of that 2002 indie said it outright: Jennifer Aniston proves she can act.”
Even its own practitioners fall into the trap. Woody Allen once said that making comedies was like sitting at the children’s table. Bob Odenkirk tweeted out praise for Hader in “The Skeleton Twins.” Can you guess what he called Hader? That’s right; a revelation.
Comedy gets scant respect by the esteemed Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. The last comedy to be honored with Hollywood’s supreme prize was “Annie Hall” in 1977. To this day, some think presenter Jack Palance read the wrong name when Marisa Tomei accepted her Best Supporting Actress award for “My Cousin Vinnie.”
Eddie Murphy’s bravura turns in “48 HRs,” “Beverly Hills Cop” or “The Nutty Professor,” in which he portrayed seven characters, were not considered Oscar-worthy. He went dramatic in “Dreamgirls” and boom; Oscar nomination. Bill Murray, too. Never mind “Caddyshack,” “Stripes” or “Ghostbusters.” His Oscar nomination would not come until he was cast as a sad, lonely and aging actor in the bittersweet “Lost in Translation.” That’s the fact, Jack.
Unlike the Golden Globes, the Academy does not have a separate category for comedies, and it’s about time it did. Perhaps they think it would be beneath the dignity of the proceedings. This from the august body that gave us Rob Lowe and Snow White, James Franco in a Marilyn Monroe get-up, and Seth McFarlane’s, “We Saw Your Boobs.”
I would settle for a moratorium on the word “revelation,” which, face it, is code for: So-and-so does comedies; who knew he/she could act?
What do they think they have been doing all these years? No less than venerable British actor Edmund Kean said it best on his deathbed: “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”