Is Leslie Mann the New Madeline Kahn?

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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?

Silly insanity

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.



Comments

  • Hugh says:

    Kristin Chenoweth has been the new Madeline Kahn for years. Sorry Leslie. xx

  • Tony says:

    Not 100%, but if you need Kahn on the sly go with Rebecca Crescoff from Hung and every other show that wants a vampy red but can't get Christina Hendricks. Crescoff is a sneaky Kahn. A con's Kahn.

  • Mike Doc says:

    Hmm, I'm inclined to get defensive and shout, "There will NEVER be another Madeline Kahn!", but heck, it's a slow afternoon.
    I think the key to most of Kahn's roles was a pretense of cool, upper-class suaveness that eventually gave way to less refined, zany shenanigans. She could bring a hint of sadness to that routine (Paper Moon, Judy Berlin), or more famously...be friggin' hilarious with it (pretty much everything else).
    I don't think Mann is quite the right match -- I might put my vote in for Lucy Punch, if her total scene-stealing takeover of 'Bad Teacher' is any indication of things to come.

  • FILMCRITHULK says:

    IN TERMS OF AFFECTATION? DEAD-ON. BUT MANN NO HAVE THAT MASTERFUL/VAUDVILLIAN SORT OF COMIC CONTROL THAT KAHN HAD. NOT SURE ANYONE EVER WILL AGAIN. MANN HAS CRAZY DEXTERITY, BUT KAHN WAS THE FEMALE PETER SELLERS.

  • Louis Virtel says:

    I am crying through the laughter through the crying at this. Very true.

  • Chasmosaur says:

    @Mike Doc
    I'm going to say it - There will never be another Madeleine Kahn.
    Madeleine Kahn was - as the article notes - significantly more accomplished. While she could be silly-insane and harried, you could always detect how intelligent her performances were.
    In recent years, I just feel like Judd Apatow is casting his wife - who is a capable and very pretty actress - in his movies in similar roles.

  • Pat says:

    Whether she qualifies or not, I find Leslie Mann to be a brilliant and welcome addition to any film she's in. I love her!

  • cary says:

    Hmm, I'm inclined to get defensive and shout, "There will NEVER be another Madeline Kahn!", but heck, it's a slow afternoon.
    I think the key to most of Kahn's roles was a pretense of cool, upper-class suaveness that eventually gave way to less refined, zany shenanigans. She could bring a hint of sadness to that routine (Paper Moon, Judy Berlin), or more famously...be friggin' hilarious with it (pretty much everything else).
    I don't think Mann is quite the right match -- I might put my vote in for Lucy Punch, if her total scene-stealing takeover of 'Bad Teacher' is any indication of things to come.

  • Sarah says:

    I put Madeleine Kahn in a class of her own (I'm sure we all do.) I really like Leslie Mann, but I sometimes find her to be a tad bit abrasive and shrill, although, I don't think that's her fault. I think she's directed/written to be that way sometimes. That said, her scene as the drunk girl in "40 Year Old Virgin" was enough to make me a fan for life. She was absolutely hysterical. "I want some french toooaaast!"

  • topsyturvy says:

    Isn't Elizabeth Banks the new Leslie Mann?

  • Maggie says:

    To even compare Leslie Mann to Madeleine Kahn is an insult to Madeleine Kahn. Elizabeth Banks is the new Leslie Mann; they are both one dimensional, not funny, and you could take any part they have played and put in anyone else and no one would recognize the difference. They are forgettable. Madeleine Kahn is unforgettable. The only reason Leslie Mann is in movies is because of who her husband is. She is not funny, and she is not a good actress.

    • Str8Shooter says:

      Maggie: Thanks you for saying what I was thinking after reading this article. She is a horrible 'actress'. About as milquetoast as the other dud in the film, Paul Rudd.

  • Katie Young says:

    I don't know.... I think that Rachael Harris (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0006713/) gives Leslie a run for her money!!!! Anyone else?!

  • casting couch says:

    She's not pretty, has a weird mouth, and one of the most annoying voices in cinema history, plays completely loathsome women in most of her movies. So, no; no comparison whatsoever.

  • TreeTopGirl says:

    Anyone who thinks there is a replacement for Madeline Kahn needs a "sed-a-give".

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