I was sixteen when The Cable Guy came out. In the years that preceded it, there were two films that my friends and I watched obsessively and adapted into a form of shorthand, building from every memorized quote and reference and impression a Nell-like language that was probably indecipherable to our terrified parents. Those two films were Ace Ventura: Pet Detective _and _Dumb & Dumber. In the summer of 1996, we lined up on opening night to see Jim Carrey's much-hyped follow-up in hopes of adding to our glossary.
But this letter isn't about the awkward silence that followed us home from the theater after we saw The Cable Guy for the first time. This letter is about you.
What I took home with me from that enigmatic, unquotable two hours was a crush on the sweet girl who played Matthew Broderick's reluctant fiancee. Petite blondes with squeaky voices were a staple of the mid-90s (No Doubt's "Tragic Kingdom" came out the previous year, Chasing Amy would come out the next) and I fell in love with you in the innocent, perverted way that sixteen year-old boys do (it's all fantasies built from half-understood articles in Cosmopolitan and the graphic stories from Penthouse Letters). Is it weird to tell you that we've shared a lot of romantic dinners, walks on the beach, impromptu ice cream dates, island getaways? And, you know--done other stuff?
(change of subject)
It's funny how distorted your sense of age is when you're sixteen. Whereas a seventeen year-old girl seemed so far beyond my mortal reach that I didn't dare cast her in my amorous daydreams, a woman in her mid-twenties seemed completely tangible, completely attainable. That we might end up together felt far more plausible than catching the attention of any girl a grade ahead of me.
And now you're forty. And the stress and strife and joy of those intervening decades is fuelling your performance in This is 40, your real-life husband's sort-of-but-not-really sequel to Knocked Up. It's one of those effortless performances that unfolds with such guileless control that it's difficult to accurately measure just how good it is.
It was probably a mistake to begin my letter with all that fawning. Because it's going to make what I'm about to say seem completely baseless, like I'm resurrecting a teenage crush in some awkward, transparent attempt to win your favor (that's only, like, 40-percent of my motivation). But I'm going to say it anyway: your performance in this movie should be nominated for an Oscar®.
Sure, everyone loves it when Meryl Streep wears prosthetic teeth and puts on a billowy accent, and, yes, it's terrific when Helen Mirren gives us that glassy glare from beneath the brim of a big floppy hat, and, no, I would never disparage Kate Winslet's unique ability to marry sexiness and severity in service of illuminating the horrific emotional aftermath of the holocaust--but there must be room, in the midst of all that crushing melancholy and self-seriousness, for a performance as poignant and carefree and honest as the one you give in this film.
In the course of This is 40, your character, approaching her 40th birthday and convinced that it's symbolic of some great (but ineffable) life-change, cruises through a British Parliamentary session's-worth of invective and name-calling, deals with enough interfamily drama to fill the pages of a Tolstoyan epic, and restrains enough despair to fuel a Panzer tank rolling into snowy Warsaw. The result is something so tonally perfect and nuanced that it almost transcends criticism; how do you judge someone for being a real human being?
Your husband Judd has made your mid-life crisis the engine the drives the plot, and that's irrefutable proof that you're his muse (by the very dictionary definition of the word: n. the goddess or power regarded as inspiring a poet, artist, or thinker). Instead of making your onscreen husband Paul Rudd - clearly his cipher - the center of the narrative, he has structured the movie around you. And throughout he gives you some of the best scenes, like the one in which, with the method-style bombast you might expect from a young Pacino, you unleash a torrent of verbal abuse on a bucktoothed thirteen year-old who has been harassing your daughter online. Or the scene where (spoiler) you're informed of a surprise pregnancy, and, with only your eyes, suggest a progressions through all five stages of grief in single ten-second stretch. It's a shame that the Academy has never had the acumen to recognize how special something like that is.
A film like This is 40 is always the sum of its parts: individual scenes, individual gags, individual comedic beats. But here, knitting it all together, is your masterpiece. I'm not sixteen anymore, and not so easily won over by simple cuteness and charm--but my crush has nonetheless been rekindled.
But there's really only one thing I want you to take away from this letter:
If for some reason it doesn't work out with you and Judd, you can totally call me. Just to talk or whatever. I'm a good listener. Maybe we could go out for ice cream. Or get away to a remote island. Or other stuff. Whatever.