In praise of Kristen Wiig
- October 6, 2008 1:30 PM |
- By Arts Online
Illustration by Jillian Tamaki
Thanks to a nasty change-of-season cold that just won't die, I was sadly not part of the one million-member army who took to the streets of Toronto late Saturday night to marvel at giant park-based Hawaiian driver's licenses and magical wish trees and the cornucopia of other art pieces on offer as part of Nuit Blanche. Instead, I camped out on my couch and was shocked to discover myself actually laughing more than once during a brand-new episode of Saturday Night Live -- an experience that, I assure you, hasn't happened in years.
Although I'll readily admit my first snickers were catalyzed by yet another dead-on Sarah Palin impression, courtesy of Tina Fey (mocking the Palin-Biden debate was like taking candy from a big Creationist baby), credit for sustained amusement goes to Kristen Wiig, who -- pending Amy Poehler's imminent departure -- is arguably SNL's strongest remaining regular cast member.
Wiig hasn't always been stellar -- she's been steadily improving since she joined the team as a featured player back in 2005. For a time, the tightly-wound shrews she portrayed were overshadowed by bigger, more scene-stealing personalities like Poehler and Fey. Early on, Wiig was handed generic supporting-chick roles (the awkward date, the lady friend in a coffee klatsch); as she established herself amongst her colleagues, the chameleonlike comic started developing a roster of highly irritating characters like sanctimonious Penelope, who can't stop herself from trying to one-up everyone else in the room, or excruciating insecure Judy Grimes, who punctuates her nervous stuttering with a barrage of "Just kidding!" disclaimers.
Wiig's wacky women aren't just unlikable -- they tread a fine line from a comedic perspective. The humour in these portrayals lies their abrasive tics, which gradually intensify -- Wiig's characters are amusing and skin-crawlingly annoying in direct proportion. And beneath the caricatures, these smartly sketched weirdos are universally recognizable: Penelope is that awful twit whom nobody wants to invite to a house party (though she somehow always shows up); Judy Grimes works in your office.
Recently, Wiig's become more fearless. She's perfected a series of spot-on impersonations -- her shifty-eyed Nancy Pelosi is second only to her pants-peeingly perfect take on financial guru Suze Orman. As with her broader caricatures, Wiig's skill is in mimicking those precise speech patterns and minute physical quirks that allow her to fully embody real-life figures. Even better, Wiig's picked up where the wonderful Rachel Dratch left off, throwing herself into awesomely absurd roles like this week's mutant member of a Lawrence Welk show sister act.
Also notable from this week's SNL episode: Anne Hathaway, whose simpering Disney heroine persona used to make my teeth itch. Aside from her impressive turn in Rachel Getting Married (a role that, as many critics have noted, is straight-up Oscar bait), Hathaway's won me over with the self-deprecating grace she's used to handle questions about her recent breakup with fraudulent cad Raffaelo Follieri. Her short, sweet SNL monologue -- in which she mocked her own gullibility -- was a neat corollary to last week's Letterman interview.
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