I Am Not Ready to Live in a World Where Michelle Pfeiffer Plays Chris Pine's Mother
I am not ready to live in a world where Michelle Pfeiffer plays Chris Pine's mother. That world is one we will reportedly live in, and soon, according to recent casting news. Nothing against Pine, a pleasant young talent I look forward to seeing in a smallish drama for once as opposed to smirky sci-fi/action-flick tentpole bombast. And nothing against Pfeiffer, whose choppy last decade of work overshadows her more historic demonstration of versatility and taste. (OK: Grease 2 and Scarface, but they weren't her fault and everyone must start somewhere.) This may be a wonderful collaboration! All I'm saying is I am just not ready to live in a world... where Michelle Pfeiffer... plays Chris Pine's mother.
THR reports that Pfeiffer has joined the cast of Welcome to People, the directing debut of Star Trek/Transformers/Cowboys and Aliens co-writer Alex Kurtzman, as the mother of a man who returns home after his estranged father's death to discover that he has an alcoholic sister and a 12-year-old nephew. He then must deliver a six-figure chunk of their inheritance to her. Elizabeth Banks is cast as the sister, which I take to mean Pfeiffer will play her mother as well.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. One thing at a time. Pfeiffer's devastating turn in Chéri -- playing an inveterate courtesan enlisted to instruct a madam's son in, well, sex, only to fall in love with the young, soon-to-be-engaged man -- accomplished a couple of things for the 52-year-old actress. First, it advanced Pfeiffer past a character threshold we all know she had to cross eventually: The older woman. I guess one could argue she crossed it in Hairspray, but an older woman like Velma Von Tussle, with legendary promiscuity in her history and teen offspring to boot, is not analogous to the older woman. The last shot of Chéri suggested Pfeiffer's awareness of this; it's not a coincidence that Stephen Frears, for whom Pfeiffer purveyed such virtuous beauty in Dangerous Liaisons, was behind the camera again 20 years later to capture the symbolic exhaustion of that virtue. Not the beauty itself -- Pfeiffer remains a first-class stunner -- but rather the deference to a new generation, one with much to learn yet perfectly corruptible on its own.
Which is where Pine comes in. Listen: I like Chris Pine. He's made the most of a couple huge career scores, and now he's carrying his latest for rookie director Kurtzman. That's cool, too. But right or wrong, I am not ready to live in a world where Michelle Pfeiffer plays Chris Pine's mother.
Principally, I am not ready to believe Pine as part of that generation trailing Pfeiffer. Of course she's 52 and Pine is 30; what little of my brain deals with numbers comprehends this. (Banks will soon be 37, meanwhile, but again, one thing at a time.) And obviously, this is all acting anyway. But films as depraved as Scarface, as spectral as The Fabulous Baker Boys, as confectionery as One Fine Day, as irreparably pulpy as White Oleander (Pfeiffer didn't work as Alison Lohman's mom, either, for what that's worth) or as bracing as Chéri -- among virtually all of Pfeiffer's others -- have a crucial element in common: Their women don't surrender an inch of presence. Do they break? Sure. Do they misread, miscalculate and/or misstep? More often than you can count. Do they give up their stations in life? Indeed, sometimes heartrendingly so.
But do they ever hand off their stories? Never. And that's where I worry about Pfeiffer playing Chris Pine's mother -- as a supporting actress, essentially, or as the go-to grace outside the rough-hewn heart of the story. Can you imagine Michelle Pfeiffer's presence in such a context, faded by so much as a degree?
In fairness to all, I haven't seen the Welcome to People script, but like I said, this is not about the writing. It's about the reference points -- the visual and emotional arcs, formed over decades of moments -- that tie us to screen actors, iconic or otherwise. We share them with Pine (and Banks) just as easily as we do with Pfeiffer. Yet considering where the latter was dynamically at 30 -- and how we as viewers relished our own dynamic proximity to her characters as we aged, rewatching key roles in Married to the Mob or The Age of Innocence -- I frankly don't want to see her cede anything to a guy just present enough to be successfully parodied on Saturday Night Live.
The dissonance gives me a headache, and I have enough headaches. I am not ready to deal. Help?
[Michelle Pfeiffer photo: Getty Images; Chris Pine photo: FilmMagic]