OK, who the fuck knew James Marsden had talent?
Sure as hell wasn’t me. I’d seen him in various things throughout the years (the X-MEN films, SUPERMAN RETURNS) and thought him to be nothing more than a Hollywood pretty boy, an unthreateningly handsome guy who looked like the popular high school quarterback no one could hate. There didn’t seem to be much to him under the surface and it seemed like he was going to end up like a parade of other, similar-type actors who eventually find themselves on a one-way bus to ABC Family TV movies. All of them nice guys, I’m sure, but no one’s first choice for a role that required anything other than just being nice. Making such assumptions can be a double-edged sword, though; while it leaves open the element of surprise when a performer is finally able to break out and does something well, such prejudices may keep you away from their work, never giving you the opportunity to see that they can do more. All I can say is that I’m not underestimating this guy again.
It all started with HAIRSPRAY, an extremely fun movie that keeps a pleasant place in my memories, so much so that I’m tempted to call the musical remake better than John Waters’ original. I’d seen the stage show and liked it very much, but when I saw Marsden cast as Corny Collins, host of the film’s TV dance show, I mistakenly thought his was one of the non-singing roles in the film. Then about 15 minutes into it he takes center stage and belts out “The Nicest Kids in Town” and I was really thrown for a loop. Not only could the guy sing, he sang well and delivered the song’s semi-sarcastic and satirical tone just right. Was this really James Marsden? Where was the dullard from DISTURBING BEHAVIOR? The rest of Marsden’s work as Corny Collins was equally spot-on throughout the rest of the film, adding to my overall enjoyment of an already enjoyable feature. It’s always nice to be surprised and HAIRSPRAY was a very pleasant one, indeed. But could Marsden do it again?
Uh, have you seen ENCHANTED yet?
For a film starring the queen of loveliness, Ms. Amy Adams, Marsden almost damn near steals it with his lovably goofy and dopey Price Edward character, fruitlessly searching for his princess in a supposedly real New York City . In just about every scene he’s in Marsden is able to do something worth watching, but not so much that he’s overdoing it or taking away from his co-stars. It’s also a role that allows Marsden to be silly and stupid and, obviously relishing the opportunity, he just runs with it. He’s a lot of fun, perking up an otherwise just amusing movie and sticking another sizable feather in Marsden’s cap.
OK, so I was wrong about James Marsden. He’s a pretty boy, yes, but he’s not a bland, blank-stared one. There’s an edge to him now; the ability for him to poke fun at that pretty boy aspect of himself is giving him a lot more opportunities. He’s not afraid be goofy or look stupid and this, in turn, gives him a lot more freedom as a performer than he’s ever had before. As in HAIRSPRAY, he can be a sarcastic smart-ass (like he also plays in the upcoming 27 WEDDINGS, or at least judging by the trailer he does), going against the grain of what is expected of a performer like him. I think that Marsden still has a bit more to prove, but he has finally begun to carve out something of a real career for himself and it’s possible this could grow into something significant. Marsden’s leading man looks may have been what’s holding him back, because it’s quite likely that he’s really more of a Ralph Bellamy character actor or a comedian instead. Hard to say for sure, and the next few films of Marsden’s career will tell us if he really has this ability, but I certainly welcome seeing him again. I’m not sure exactly how far Marsden’s talent can take him, but he’s finally on the right track and that can only be a positive.