Pop Culture #633

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Pop Culture #633

Australia doesn’t have what you’d call a “well-rounded” film industry. While we do some things very well, we don’t do a great job of everything – which is why most of our best talents in the areas we do excel in (basically, acting and the technical side of things) end up heading to Hollywood. Not that this really explains the career of Rebel Wilson, who is currently one of our more high-profile cinema exports – she’s currently appearing in How To Be Single, and will be in next month’s UK spy comedy The Brothers Grimsby, alongside Sasha Baron Cohen.

Traditionally Australian comedy exports have tended to get mileage out of their Aussie-ness, but Wilson’s success has come more from her willingness to “go there” as far as saying shallow, offensive or insulting things in a way that US actresses seem to largely avoid. Her comedy persona is built around brazenness; more often than not the joke is that someone who looks like she does – she’s obviously attractive in real-life terms, but in Hollywood’s eyes not so much – would openly express sexual desires and be confident in who she is. Which, as jokes go, is not all that deep or complex a joke.

In fact, her act is so one-note that she basically wore it out in Australia (thanks to appearances on Fat Pizza, The Wedge, Thank God You’re Here, Monster House and her self-penned musical sitcom Bogan Pride) and it was only thanks to a scene-stealing cameo in Bridesmaids that her US career kicked off. Fortunately for her, Hollywood is a place where boundless self-confidence (seriously, just read any interview with her) and a willingness to do “What It Takes” pays off, and she rapidly found a niche that no-one else was filling: a female version of the funny fat guy. This niche hadn’t existed prior to Bridesmaids – the film that proved “women can be funny”, which in practise meant they could remake all those bro-tastic comedies that had been box office draws the previous decade, only now featuring women – so getting in first definitely paid off.

The problem is that when you only have one joke, over-exposure is a real problem: Wilson’s US sitcom Super Fun Night bombed hard and her appearance in How To Be Single is, in a first for her, easily the least funny or fun thing about the film. It’s the kind of role you’d expect her to nail: she’s the loud, inappropriate, sexually aggressive buddy who doesn’t have to do much but show up, make a few jokes, and boost the films energy – you know, exactly what she did in the Pitch Perfect movies. Only here, it just doesn’t work. It’d be tempting to blame the writing, but Wilson’s career has been built on riffing around poor writing: when she tries that here, it’s painful to watch. It turns out that she just doesn’t have the charisma to make a character like this work as anything more than just a gag-spouting special guest. She’s got the drive and energy to get to the top, but now she’s there it’s increasingly clear she doesn’t have the charm to stay there. She’s a bit player, a one-joke performer where the joke is that we can’t believe the things she says. Only after a decade, the surprise has worn off and there’s nothing underneath.

Written by Anthony Morris