Is Leslie Mann the New Madeline Kahn?
During yesterday's discussion of the new Funny Girl, Lea Michele, and Barbra Streisand, we took a look back at Babs' hilarious 1972 comedy What's Up, Doc? and wondered who is 2011's equivalent of Madeline Kahn. How foolish we were. The answer is not Jayma Mays or Ari Graynor, but rib-tickling Change-Up star Leslie Mann. It's a relief to finally get this right. Join Movieline ahead to compare Mann and Kahn's filmographies, characters, and penchant for cray-cray.
Sure, there are categorical differences: Kahn was an accomplished singer and Broadway actress who eventually picked up a Tony Award in Wendy Wasserstein's The Sisters Rosensweig after a full career of comic roles, and Mann -- as described by her husband Judd Apatow -- is more of a general actress who "happens to be very funny... in ways she does not understand." Still, the parallels draw themselves, and both ladies are top-tier kooks.
Definitive performances as harried wives
The harried wife: a filmic touchstone. It's safe to say that both Mann and Kahn were at their best playing wigged-out wives (though it's necessary to note that Kahn earned her two Oscar nominations playing a squawky prostitute in Paper Moon and a Dietrichian chanteuse in Blazing Saddles). In Knocked Up, Mann goes to the brink and back as Paul Rudd's unsatisfied wife, and in What's Up, Doc?, a frazzled Kahn needles Ryan O'Neal for the whole runtime.
Works with the same respected coterie time and again
Mann's reputation as a solid ensemble player in her husband Judd Apatow's comedies (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People) is sort of an anomaly in modern cinema. It's rare that an actor -- let alone a woman -- gets the chance to play broad comic roles again and again in the company of the same foils, such as Paul Rudd, Jason Segel and Seth Rogen. Madeline Kahn was a similar talent who worked four times with Mel Brooks (Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, the underrated High Anxiety, and History of the World, Part 1), and repeatedly with Brooks favorites Gene Wilder, Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, and Dom DeLuise. Perhaps there's a Gene Wilder/Seth Rogen comparison bubbling under here, which brings me to my next point: What the hell happened to great spoofs?
My favorite tenet of all: Both Mann and Kahn blend groundedness and loopiness -- truly in almost every role. When they're going loopy, a fusion of seething hysterics and high camp emerges, elevating not only the energy of the scene but the quality of the movie. In Funny People, Mann steals the show during a mind-boggling accent war with Eric Bana. In the board-game whodunit Clue (which I will declare a Bad Movie We Love if only so I can write 1,500 words about it sometime), Kahn fesses up to killing to killing Yvette the maid with the eerie furor of a sedated Gorgon. If Clue isn't one of your favorite movies, I don't understand a thing about you.