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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