Bright Lights Film Journal

Year of the Comedienne

2008, the year of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, has also been the year of the comic actress in television and film. It’s not that comic actresses haven’t always been around, but I cannot think of another year in which so many comediennes were so prominently leading the comedy pack.

Television has brought us Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, and Wanda Sykes, all of whom have also appeared successfully in films. (The opportunity to parody Palin and Clinton has been a godsend to Mss. Fey and Poehler.) In the past couple years, we have also witnessed the ascendency of prima film comediennes, Anna Faris and Amy Adams, both of whom are now regularly playing leads. Today’s blog post focuses on another rising comic star – Missi Pyle.

Soccer Mom, the direct-to-video release pictured above, is, as far as I know, Missi Pyle’s first title role, and it couldn’t be more timely, what with the aforementioned V.P. Candidate Palin proudly identifying herself as a “pitbull with lipstick” hockey mom. Mirroring Palin, a recurring aspect of Pyle’s comic persona is a certain ruthlessness – in Soccer Mom, Pyle (above left) disguises herself as Italian soccer coach, Lorenzo Vincenzo (above right), in order to instill some confidence into her daughter’s soccer team. Complications and hilarity presumably ensue.

I first noticed this 5’11” Texan (she’s hard to miss) in two films by Tim Burton – she was a small town Southern beauty in Big Fish (2003), and in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), she played one of her defining parts, the stop-at-nothing mother of a champion gymnaste. In Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg, 2008), she played “Raylene,” the wife – and sister – of a hip, white trash, trailer park resident.

Pyle has also been active in theater (currently appearing on Broadway in Boeing-Boeing) and television. In the first season of Heroes, she played a Las Vegas showgirl, a villainess with a hidden agenda. Last week, I was enchanted by her performance in the Season Premiere of Pushing Daisies as a (once again) ruthless honey magnate and spokesmodel named “Betty Bee.”

I haven’t seen Soccer Mom yet, but I’m hoping it’s as least as entertaining as Faris’s House Bunny. As a true “termite artist” (a term coined by Manny Farber), Pyle in her best roles has an offbeat bitchy edge which I fervently hope is not sacrificed here for the benefit of some putative “warmth.”