Hollywood’s new era of ensemble

The power posse of "Friends With Kids" proves there's strength in numbers VIDEO

Topics: Movies, Celebrity,

Hollywood's new era of ensembleAdam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt in "Friends with Kids"

We are living in a cinematic golden age. Exhibit A: that new Megan Fox movie.

The history of film is strewn with enterprising multi-hyphenates who knew how to rock a repertory. Orson Welles had pulled together a formidable troupe of regulars by the time he’d barely cut his wisdom teeth. Fellini and Hitchcock were known for their stock companies of familiar faces. But in recent years, strengthened by the talent pools of ensembles like the Groundlings and Upright Citizens Brigade, the power posse has become the norm — and it’s changing movies and television for the better.

Ten years ago, Jennifer Westfeldt co-wrote and played the title character in the entertaining little bi-curious romance “Kissing Jessica Stein.” Now she’s the writer, director and producer of one of the better anticipated movies of the spring – the reproductive comedy “Friends with Kids” — with a cast that includes the ubiquitous Adam Scott, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd, as well as the aforementioned chick from those “Transformers” movies. It certainly sweetens Westfeldt’s marquee appeal that her partner – and a co-star of the film — is none other than Don Draper himself, Jon Hamm. But what will likely draw butts into theaters for “Friends with Kids” isn’t one star in particular, but the sum of its comic pieces. We’ve already seen Wiig, Rudolph, and Hamm score with “Bridesmaids.” Scott’s a reliably funny presence on the often pitch-perfect “Parks and Recreation,” and has shown his ensemble chops in “Our Idiot Brother” (with fellow workhorses Elizabeth Banks and Paul Rudd) and in memorable bits for the biggest, loosest comedy troupe in the world right now – Funny or Die.

For over a decade now, the likes of Judd Apatow and Will Ferrell have been paving a new kind of path – and along the way have changed the way both veterans like Ben Stiller and younger guys like Seth Rogen and it girl Kristen Wiig have shaped their careers. Think of it as the visionary-as-clown – the person who can whip up a diarrhea joke and direct and produce and do a guest stint on “Saturday Night Live” — and maybe wind up with a few Oscar nominations along the way.

You Might Also Like

What they – and now Westfeldt — have in common is the apparent great talent for playing well with others. She’s not Angelina Jolie, carrying blockbusters on her shoulders. She’s not Robert Downey Jr., cranking out “Iron Man” and “Sherlock Holmes” sequels. She’s more Robert Downey Jr. cutting loose in “Tropic Thunder.” But what a movie like “Friends with Kids” represents isn’t just an entrepreneurial spirit that’s becoming more and more the norm, but a truly formidable contemporary pool of talent. Anybody can get together a bunch of buddies to make a movie. But to watch actors like Scott or Rudolph or Wiig within the same frame is to see performers who at this point now have a lengthy history in and out of each other’s careers. Jon Hamm and Ellie Kemper didn’t just make “Bridesmaids” together – Hamm was one of Kemper’s high school drama teachers.

No wonder these actors know how to play off each other in a way that just seems to get funnier and more natural all the time. No wonder they move gracefully between acting and directing and writing for each other. And no wonder audiences are responding – comedy may rely heavily on self-deprecation, but there’s an extra refreshing lack of ego in the generous way these stars continue to grace each other’s work. Not everything they touch is brilliant, of course. (“Notes from the Underbelly”? Meh.) But the way they drop in on each other’s television shows, pop up suddenly together in a Funny or Die clip, represents the best of the “Let’s put on a show” spirit. It’s a star system where the star is eclipsed by the constellation. And one in which the words “Friends” in a movies title seems, happily, like truth in advertising.

Mary Elizabeth Williams
Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>