Naomi Watts: still pushing boundaries


Today marks the opening of
Funny Games
, writer-director Michael Haneke’s English-language
remake of his own 1997 German-language film. I’d never seen
the original, and I was quite hesitant about checking out the updated
version — as much as I love horror movies, I’m really not into overly
explicit violence and watching people suffer. Given that, going
to watch a movie about a bourgeois family brutalized as a pair of psychopaths
keep them captive in their summer home is something on my “to do”
list that falls … oh, somewhere between “scrub the floor” and “punch
yourself in the face.” Earlier this week, though, I caught a
screening. The “You really need to see it” urgings I received from
a few trusted sources got me thinking about it, but in the end what
got me to the theater was the fact that Funny Games stars

Naomi Watts.

I’ll readily admit it — Watts
is like kryptonite for me. My roommate is a film journalist and
just this week had the opportunity to interview Naomi on the Funny
press junket. While I was all cool as a cucumber on
the outside with my “Wow, you’re so lucky I’m so jealous tell
me if she’s really pretty I wonder how tall she is man you are soooo
lucky,” on the inside I was … well, let’s just say that I briefly
considered buying some chloroform and a wig that looks like my roommate’s
hair and going to the press conference in her stead. What?
I didn’t DO it, sheesh. And I would have, like, done all the
dishes for a week to make up for it. C’mon, man, it’s Naomi

I’ll see anything she’s
in, just to see her. She’s displayed remarkable range in her
career, and I honestly believe she’s one of the greatest working actresses
today. Oh, and some people might kind of find her maybe a little
bit attractive.

A word or two about Funny
— it’s a harrowing cinematic experience, somewhat akin to
seeing Dancer in the Dark or Requiem for A Dream.
I appreciate it for what it is; the performances are amazing; I completely
get the message; I kind of thought it was incredible; I can’t stop
thinking about it … and I never want to see it again. Funny
explores the relationship audiences have with on-screen violence.
It asks difficult questions, and filmmaker Haneke toys with your desires
and expectations. Haneke himself says that he wouldn’t
be surprised — or upset — if people walk out somewhere in the middle of
it. I found it extremely difficult to sit through, but I’m glad
I did. (For more on all that, see my review.)

Now let’s get back to Naomi
Watts, who not only stars in Funny Games but acted as Executive
Producer. Why would she want to be a part of such gut-wrenching
cinema? I caught a bit of a morning TV program the other day because
I flipped by and there was Naomi. Mind you, I find morning television
to be somewhat akin to “torture porn” — I can’t stomach the stuff
(mind you again, I loathe the term “torture porn,” but that’s
a topic for another day). Anyway, one of the program hosts suggested
that Watts needs to star in a lighthearted rom-com after assaulting
our senses with Funny Games and last year’s violent crime
thriller Eastern Promises. “Those movies are fine for other
actresses,” Naomi replied, “but they don’t interest me.” Gasp!
An actress who wants to be challenged by her work, who would rather
push boundaries than worry about fame and box office? It’s like
capturing a glimpse of Bigfoot. A really, really beautiful Bigfoot.
Mmm … Bigfoot …

That said, she’s certainly
not opposed to making mainstream films; she’s reprising the role made
famous by Tippi Hedren in the upcoming remake of The Birds

(which I will see — yes, just for her. Damn her powers!), and of
course there’s King Kong (2005), a film that filled me with
an odd desire to become a giant ape. I can’t imagine why.

It’s obvious that Watts is
never going to stop appearing in edgy films. Several actress (most
notably Jennifer Connelly) passed on the role of Rachel in
The Ring
. Naomi added her acting chops and the film became, in my
opinion, one of the best remakes of an Asian horror film to appear on
the market.

And then, of course, there’s Mulholland Dr.
Watts turned in one of the best performances of the decade as both Betty
and Diane in David Lynch’s mind-bending lesbian-flavored tour
de force.

It’s my good fortune that
she does make such interesting choices as an actress — I’ve been, at
the least, intrigued by most everything she’s done. And I know
that even if she made the blandest, most inane rom-com ever to be belched
out by the most hackneyed fat-cat Hollywood producer, I’d be plopped
in a theater seat opening weekend. It’s good to be aware of
one’s own weaknesses, don’t you think?

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