What the return of Jennifer Coolidge says about cinema
The entertainment industry isn’t meritocratic, but with comebacks like this there’s hope that one day it could be, says Hanna Flint
Saturday 21 January 2023 By Hanna Flint
I have mixed feelings about awards season. As much I enjoy the glitz, the glamour and the hot takes on Twitter, the snubs and the habit of making losers out of winning films, series, casts and crew can sometimes leave a bad taste. But there has been something rather warming to witness this year and that’s Jennifer Coolidge, Brendan Fraser and Ke Huy Quan getting their dues.
Coolidge has long been a scene-stealing gift to the screen. From her team-ups with Christopher Guest in his ensemble mockumentaries Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration to the comedy franchises Legally Blonde and American Pie, as well as the TV sitcom Two Broke Girls. Her comedic timing is second to none, and in both seasons of The White Lotus she’s proved even more formidable when given darker material to play with.
‘I just want you all to know that I had such big dreams and expectations as a younger person, but what happened was they get sort of fizzled by life or whatever,’ Coolidge said during her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series, Anthology Series or Television Motion Picture at the 80th Golden Globes. ‘You know I thought I was going to be Queen of Monaco even though someone else did it.’ What a different movie that would have been if Nicole Kidman hadn’t been cast… I’d love to see it.
Her sentiment is similar to Quan’s, who recently won the Golden Globe and the Critics’ Choice award for Best Supporting Actor after packing an emotional and physical punch in last year’s excellent Everything Everywhere All At Once. He was best known for his childhood parts in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and The Goonies, but quit acting in the 1990s when he stopped getting job offers. For the last 30 years he’s been mostly working as a stunt coordinator and assistant director, until directors Daniel Kwan with Daniel Scheinert (the Daniels) sought him out to play Waymond Wang, the kind-hearted and loving husband of Michelle Yeoh’s frustrated laundromat owner and a multiverse-hopping martial arts warrior.
‘As I grew older, I started to wonder if that was it. If that was just luck,’ Quan said during his Globes acceptance speech. ‘For so many years, I was afraid I had nothing more to offer. That no matter what I did, I would never surpass what I achieved as a kid. Thankfully, more than 30 years later, two guys thought of me. They remembered that kid, and they gave me an opportunity to try again.’
He thanked Steven Spielberg – the director had cast him in Indiana Jones – but you have to wonder how many people sitting there, clapping and cheering, had overlooked him all these years. Transitioning from child to adult star in Hollywood is a lot harder when you’re not white, but I’m glad we’re at a time now where a movie like Everything Everywhere All At Once (with a middle-aged romance and women over 50 doing action) can be made and not sanitise its Asian cinematic accent.
One person who wasn’t at the Globes was The Whale’s Brendan Fraser and I have the utmost respect for that decision. If the former president of the organisation that puts on the ceremony allegedly groped you and derailed your A-list career, you probably wouldn’t want to make an appearance even if you were nominated for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama. ‘I have more history with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association than I have respect for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association,’ he told GQ about his Globes absence. ‘No, I will not participate… my mother didn’t raise a hypocrite.’
Fraser did, however, attend the Critics’ Choice Awards to accept his Best Actor gong, saying in his speech: ‘This movie, The Whale, is about love. It’s about redemption. It’s about finding the light in a dark place.’ For too long these actors were restricted to the margins of Hollywood because they didn’t encapsulate Hollywood’s idea of a leading star, or refused to kowtow to industry impropriety. The entertainment industry will never be a meritocracy, but when you see winners like this there’s small hope that one day it could be.
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