Laura Linney is, according to many people who know more than I do, supposedly a good actress, 1 but it’s hard for me to see what all the fuss is about. When I see her I think she’s either just alright in a role or downright wrong for the part. It’s probably just me, but she seems to have this snooty arrogance to her, like if you met her at a party in New York or L.A. and you didn’t know about some oppressed Iranian poet or an obscure theatrical reference she mentions she might just stop talking with you and turn away. Like I said, maybe it’s just me, but I just don’t get her.
In her favor, she’s been in some fine movies but that doesn’t mean that she’s been fine in them. Several cases in point I’ll go over here – Dave, The Truman Show and Breach. Let’s break ’em down.
I loved and continue to love Dave. Why wouldn’t I love it, given that it was the first “date” I went on with my wife in college? In Dave, Kevin Kline is thrust into the role of President of the United States when the man (the real President) he was doubling for has a massive stroke. Linney plays the Oval Office secretary that the real President was having an affair with when he had the stroke and her “fawning” and “relief” when the “President” returns to office ring hollow. You can tell that Dave is a little freaked out by her reaction and with good reason – he has no idea who she is and she’s chomping at the scenery. Not a good choice for a rather important plot point.
I also love The Truman Show and still think that Jim Carrey has the makings of an actual living breathing actor in him, if he can just get away from mainstream fare like Fun with Dick and Jane or Bruce Almighty. But in The Truman Show, Linney once again rears her bad-actor head, this time in the role of Meryl, Carrey’s television wife. She’s over-the-top skittish and not likable at all, and maybe that’s the point, but it doesn’t make her sympathetic in any way when she breaks down while Carrey interrogates her in their kitchen about his situation. The only good that could have come from that scene would have been if Carrey had killed Meryl with that jar of Mococoa she was holding.
And what can you say about her in Breach? It wasn’t a big money maker, but it wasn’t a bad movie at all, far from it. It was better than I thought it would be, but Linney plays tough-as-nails FBI agent Kate Burroughs, and she wasn’t a very good choice for the part. Get someone else, Holly Hunter, Jodie Foster, just don’t pick Linney to talk tough to Ryan Phillippe. It’s flat and silly and we know that she’s doing the one thing she doesn’t want you to know she’s doing : acting. She was just wrong for the part.
In her favor though she’s done some wonderful (or at least, good) films also where she too has been wonderful. You Can Count on Me, where she plays big sister to the way-cool Mark Ruffalo, is excellent, and she is too. She’s also great in Love Actually as the pathetically lonely Sarah who pines away for Rodrigo Santoro. She hits all the right notes as she tries to woo Santoro and take care of her mentally imbalanced brother. And while it wasn’t (any) good, The Life of David Gale featured her as an anti-death penalty advocate and she was very good. It always seems that the parts she’s best in are where she’s a pathetic little creature trying to get by in the world or fight for a higher cause. Unfortunately, you don’t get too far in Hollywood playing the same character over and over. 2
When Linney’s good and cast in the right character she’s great, but when she seems completely out of her league it’s embarrassing to watch. I just don’t “get” Laura Linney. I’m sure I’m not the only one.