31 December 2007

“Alec Baldwin Has Never Been Funnier”

A few years ago, I recall, television ads for a Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends DVD were quoting this critic's gush: "Alec Baldwin has never been funnier!"

That became one of my favorite deadpan quotations. For one thing, the common perception that Baldwin is unremittingly intense and serious makes the line seem like the epitome of faint praise, as in "Ken Burns's most exciting action sequences!" or "The best tacos in Maine!"

Yet on another level the quotation offered even more delicious irony because Alec Baldwin really is funny. I don't know about his performance as Mr. Conductor, though this dad gave him a really good review. But I chortled at Baldwin's early performance in Miami Blues, in which he played a sociopath and was funny. He's delivered comedy through many characters, from his early movie Beetle Juice to many appearances on Saturday Night Live.

For years Baldwin was a character actor trapped in a leading man's body, and he worked against his looks mainly by playing dark, as in Glengarry Glen Ross. Now he's spread out a bit, and the industry is asking for more of his range. He did fine supporting work in The Depahted. And the sitcom 30 Rock has given Baldwin great lines to deliver, the space for his comedic talents, and a mildly growing audience.

Which brings me to a highlight of the past year's cultural news. Lots of folks probably remember how, in the midst of Baldwin's long court battle with ex-wife Kim Basinger over child custody, a gossip website got a recording of him lambasting their daughter for missing a scheduled phone call. Several end-of-year gossip round-ups recall Baldwin's behavior for anyone who's forgotten.

But nobody seems to be mentioning how after a week of nationwide criticism Baldwin went on The View and announced that he was going to give up acting to spend more time “to devote myself to the cause of parental alienation." He spoke of lobbying for new laws and finishing a book on divorce that would come out in September. He left his long-time agents, and asked to be released from his 30 Rock contract. Disaster loomed on all sides.

And then Baldwin changed his mind. He went back to his agents. He went back to 30 Rock, filming some magnificent scenes for this season. He went back to court with Basinger, where they remain.

And America collectively decided to forget about Baldwin's announcement that he was leaving show biz. We appear to have come to a tacit culture-wide agreement never to mention that moment again. Because we don't want Baldwin to stop performing and get serious, not now. We can't afford that.

Because Alec Baldwin has never been funnier.


Kelly said...

Agreed! I even have a sort-of sick infatuation with his 30Rock character...

MotherReader said...

Excellent writing on this, uh, important topic. I love him on 30 Rock and can't bear to lose him now. Honestly, it's one of only a few shows I even watch anymore.

Gail Gauthier said...

Also, some of us are only vaguely aware of what parental alienation is and wonder if America needs someone devoting himself to it.

Hey, didn't Baldwin once promise to move to Canada if Bush was elected or re-elected? Maybe no one really expects him to do the things he says he's going to do.

He makes 30 Rock, though.