Whenever I bring up leading “Saturday Night Live” ladies, nearly all of my pop culture obsessed friends proclaim Tina Fey is the best and brightest. There is no disputing that her comic writing skills are untouchable — “30 Rock” is perhaps the best comedy on TV right now. And her time on SNL yielded some fantastic skits, most memorably anything featuring the dim witted Sarah Palin.
However, when it comes to acting, beyond the confines of sketch comedy, only one woman has displayed serious dramatic talent, of late. Out of the most recent SNL ensemble, Maya Rudolph, now starring in the film “Away We Go,” surpasses her late-night cohorts, including Fey and Amy Poehler, with an inspired and often touching performance.
Feature films have not been kind to Poehler, nor to the slightly frightening Rachel Dratch. The two SNL stars recently headlined in the disastrous “Spring Breakdown.” While Fey and Poehler teamed up for the equally unfunny “Baby Mama.” Other credits these ladies should omit from their resumes are such films as “Hamlet 2,” “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo,” “Artie Lange’s Beer League” and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.”
Meanwhile, Rudolph has slowly been amassing a respectable filmography. She had a bit role in Jack Nicholson’s “As Good As It Gets,” and was featured in the quirk-fest “Prairie Home Companion.” Her latest project, which she is currently filming, is the Adam Sandler high-concept flick “Grown Ups.” Sure, Rudolph has had a blemish or two. “Duets” was a disappointment, much like the Mike Judge movie “Idiocracy.” But, the actress has also proven her acting ability through notable roles on TV dramas “Chicago Hope” and “City of Angels.”
Like her SNL gal pals, Rudolph came up through the improv world, working in the Groundlings. Unlike those other ladies, however, Rudolph has taken acting risks. And in “Away We Go,” opposite “The Office” star John Krasinski, she tackles an unglamorous role. As a pregnant thirtysomething, living a dead-end existence, her character struggles along the path to becoming a mother. With her life in shambles, the role requires a complex emotional range from the actress.
Looking back at past SNL ladies that transitioned to film, only Ana Gasteyer has proven capable of serious acting. And her to credit, Gasteyer recently impressed stage audiences as the lead in the musical “Wicked.” Jane Curtin turned out some fine acting, as did Molly Shannon, although her interesting roles have always been bit parts. Had the lovable Gilda Radner survived, she could have wielded some power in Hollywood. Her turn in husband Gene Wilder’s “Haunted Honeymoon” showed promise.
“Away We Go” is far from becoming a box office success, with its total earnings coming in just over $4 million, at the time of writing this article. Although, box office performance does not make or break a movie’s artistic quality. Director Sam Mendes got a standout performance from Rudolph. And the supporting cast, including Jeff Daniels, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Allison Janney and Catherin O’Hara, adds serious clout.
Rudolph should learn from her SNL friends’ acting follies, and avoid slipping into B-movie oblivion. She is on track to becoming a serious big screen contender. Should “Grown Ups” turn out to be a creative success, Hollywood needs to give Rudolph more chances as a leading lady. And, Lorne Michaels should consider himself lucky for discovering her abilities early on.
Published on TheWrap.com July 1, 2009.