Philip Seymour Hoffman: Pompous, or Not Pompous?

January 15, 2009 | Comments (0) | by Anonymous

In this new feature, I'll attempt to shed some light on the life and times in which we live while pushing everything through that difficult filter of pomposity or non-pomposity. Everything in life can be put into one category or the other. Is it twee and fancy, or is it commonplace and inelegant? I decide, so you don't have to.

The inaugural installment will look at the movie world, and everyone's favourite chubby, red-headed actor. I'd use the word acteur if it existed, simply because he's more than an actor. He doesn't play roles, he lives within them, and he's been in everything from retarded action flicks to Charlie Kaufman brainfucks.

His name is Philip Seymour Hoffman. You may know him from such roles as "gay/confused boom operator" in Boogie Nights, or "Desperate Heroin Addict/Mother Killer" in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, or "Sympathetic Male Nurse Attending to a Dying Douchebag" in Magnolia, but one thing is certain: his resume is as long and extreme as Bear Gryll's penis.*

After some review, he has to fall on the side of "Pompous" simply because he's carved out a niche for himself as that guy in most of those charming/offbeat indie movie that has all the critics swooning while you, the regular folk, never actually get to see it because the release is limited to New York and Los Angeles.

It's a shame, because if you could see those random, low-budget flicks he dominates, you'd realize he's a damn good actor, but some of his roles are just too dainty and unmistakably "indie".

Like 2002's Love Liza, for example. A wonderful movie, mainly for a gorgeous original soundtrack by occasional Wilco cohort Jim O'Rourke (which you can hear some of in that link to the trailer), Hoffman mopes around the screen for 90 minutes huffing gas and generally being discombobulated while trying to come to terms with the sudden suicide of his wife.

He avoids the mother-in-law (which I would to, given that it was played by Kathy Bates) and engages in twee pastimes like flying remote-controlled planes while trying to deal with the loss. A decent enough movie, but his performance is so dreary and dismal that it's hard to keep watching. Shit, just look at the cover art! That sums it up for you. Mopey fat redhead in a jacket.

Exhibit B: Flawless from 1999. Now, Robert De Niro is not the kind of guy to play anything other than a disgruntled Mafia type, but he breaks the pattern with this movie where he plays an average guy who has a stroke that leaves his vocal chords paralyzed. His therapy includes singing lessons from the gay man next door (played by Hoffman), a big guy who's not only extremely flamboyant, something De Niro's character can't handle, but is in limbo waiting for his sex change operation.

A decent enough movie, but Hoffman's character is off the charts. It doesn't help that De Niro can't act opposite him to save his life, but them's the breaks.

When you're a character actor like Hoffman and you're paired with an actor who can't really act unless there's Sinatra in the soundtrack, it's not good.

The final judgment is reserved for the recent arthouse mania by Charlie Kaufman, titled Synecdoche, New York. I'm not even going to try to summarize what it's about, but I will say this: being the lead in a movie that requires a PhD to "get it" is not a good move in an effort to get out of being labeled Pompous. One thing is certain: Hoffman's playing another morose, miserable dude! He's good at that, really he is.

Ultimately, PSH is a great actor, but he's doomed to pomposity simply because he's forever rummaging around the indie scene looking for the next indecipherable mess to get stuck into. I'm not saying that his choice of movies is a bad thing, as he frequently dominates in whatever role he plays, but honestly, the man isn't presenting the Teen Choice Awards any time soon, and that's not a bad thing either.

This is about being pompous, and as far as actors go, PSH is up there. While he may be cool and down-to-earth when the cameras aren't rolling, he's all about the highbrow arthouse scene when making movies. The one thing that saves him from being at the extreme, extreme end of Pompous is his genius turn as simpering moron assistant Brandt in The Big Lebowski, one of my favourite movies of all-time.

Even so, to the pompous end you go, Philip. Here's hoping you get some company soon, because it's lonely down there.

* just a guess, as I've never seen it.