Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.
"Michelle Pfeiffer was a star from the moment she descended in that glass elevator in Scarface—although the automatic prejudice that assumes beautiful people can't act means it took a while for people to see she was also an actress."
— Charles Taylor, in Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You
Seeing Scarface in my early teens was transformative. The absurd spectacle and epic length alone blew my young mind. I would spend more than a decade watching it at least several times annually. To say I was obsessed with the film's black humor and extravagant violence would be an understatement. Truth be told, I was also more than a little obsessed with Pfieffer. No matter how often I watched, Elvira always took my breath away. It wasn't just her physical beauty, but also her delicately nuanced portrayal of a woman defiantly rebelling against her role as a cocaína empire trophy wife. She smolders with contempt throughout. Every icy glare, every verbal grenade she tosses makes an impact. It's astonishing to realize Pfeiffer was only twenty-four during production, yet she stands toe to toe with the legendary Pacino in every scene they share.
As the quote above notes, Pfeiffer's entrance in Scarface (1983) is indeed the moment where her nascent stardom first exploded onto the public consciousness. At the time, some critics and moviegoers may not have seen past her exquisite looks to realize her tremendous talent, which is a shame. Six years later though, everyone seemed in agreement about that stardom, thanks to her breakout, Oscar-nominated performance in The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989). But for anyone who first saw her in Scarface, including that younger version of me, it was crystal clear from the moment she arrived on screen, a luminous vision in that iconic turquoise dress, clearly too perfect for this world: Michelle Pfieffer was a star.