Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Michelle Pfeiffer: Wolf


Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

Mike Nichols' Wolf (1994) utilizes classic werewolf tropes to segue into a smart and slyly funny exploration of the crisis of masculinity. Jack Nicholson's character Will, in the midst of a midlife crisis, begins to feel like a much younger man again after he's bitten by a wolf. Plus he meets a much younger woman played by Michelle Pfeiffer, who becomes the symbol of all that's missing from his life, and so of course he must have her. The film flummoxed audiences and critics in '94, yet it holds up magnificently today. It's beautifully filmed, with a memorably vivid Ennio Morricone score, and terrific performances by all involved, especially from Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer has a lot of fun being the object of Nicholson's affection here. She makes acting choices that help reinforce the film's harsh critique of the male ego. Throughout, Nicholson's Will and James Spader's Stewart (in a howlingly delicious turn as a creep coworker at Nicholson's publishing firm) are always mansplaining everything to Laura. Pfeiffer's reaction shots provide many of the film's most delightful moments—bemusement, disdain, and exasperation are just a few of the emotions she conveys with a piercing glance or a subtle lift of an eyebrow. Laura is the sort of role Pfeiffer's always excelled at playing, a woman primarily defined (by men) for her beauty, yet one who is also fierce, intelligent, and wields a whip-smart sense of humor.

That the film's climactic—and entertainingly ludicrous—battle between Nicholson's and Spader's wolfmen ends with Pfeiffer killing Spader in a hail of bullets is fitting. Then, the film's final scene is a zooming closeup of Pfeiffer's intensely expressive eyes, signaling a shift in the film's male-female power dynamic. Laura's put up with the men's nonsense for the last two hours, and now it's her turn to be the predator. Ultimately, the film offers a prescient commentary on the resilience of women in a patriarchal society. In a film that often straddles the line between high and low brow, Pfeiffer makes it all work with a finely drawn and nuanced performance that resonates more with each viewing.

10 comments:

  1. Pfabulous article, as always you're spot on. Michelle seems to have had plenty of input into her character in Wolf: she apparently rejected the more stylized aspects of her part, such as wearing a red hood for her first encounter with the wolf, and dismissed turning Laura into a vet or park ranger as “camouflage . . . bullshit to make it interesting for someone.”
    She plays the role of the haughty, hostile, heiress to the hilt, and shows real chemistry with Jack Nicholson. I love the scene where Laura springs Nicholson’s Will from handcuffs with a paperclip, a trick from her mis-spent youth. “You pick up shit you think you’re never going to need,” she says, “and then one day you meet a man who chains himself to the radiator and it all falls into place.” Her response when Will asks if she really wants to get involved with a guy who may be a werewolf is also classic: “You mean instead of the gaiety and warmth of my normal life?”
    Once again you've made my day, I'll look forward to you're next slice of Pfeiffer!

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    1. Thank you, Paul! It's always invigorating for my pfandom to pfind another pfan. I treasure your blog now, even though I only discovered it a few weeks back. Keep up the great work.

      A friend of mine recently said that Michelle is so good in Wolf that he'd love to see an entire film built around just following her character through life. I couldn't agree with him more. She's sensational here, and for all of the reasons you mention. I also love, after Jack asks "What do you do?" and she answers sharply, "Why do you care?" It's a thing of beauty.

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    2. I'm really happy you found my blog, you've given the place a new lease of life. Thanks once again for doing this series. I am really enjoying it, and it makes my day whenever there's a new article posted. I couldn't love this any pfarther, pfurther, pfantastically!

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    3. It was a happy accident, finding your blog when I did (probably because I'm doing an awful lot of Pfeiffer research online these days, which led me to one of your posts). I love your opinions on her pfilms, so keep up the great work and keep commenting here when you feel like it - your thoughts on Pfeiffer are always welcome here!

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  2. Great post, thanks :)
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  3. Well done, Mike! This is a departure for Nichols & Pfeiffer as well. Both dip their toes in to the horror pool & come out with a refreshing take on the Lycan mythology.

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    1. Thanks, Susan. It's such a wonderfully rich and evocative film, with a lot to say about issues related to gender and especially "crisis of masculinity" sort of stuff. It's a shame it hasn't ever received its due critically, but hey, that's why I'm here! Pfeiffer is absolutely incredible in it, of course.

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  4. What a great reading of her character!! As a Pfeiffer-phile, Wolf has always been the top favorite (favorite, not best) role of hers for me and it's always annoyed me that ppl have written off Laura as just "the girl." Here's a piece I wrote on the film for the blog I write for...it's a bit on the fluffier side, but oh well LOL

    https://cinapse.co/pick-of-the-week-the-joker-meets-catwoman-in-werewolf-tale-wolf-3e6047dba176

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    1. Terrific piece, and not fluffy at all! Love your analysis of the film, and it certainly matches my own thoughts on it quite closely.

      It's also one of my favorite Pfeiffer performances! She's outstanding in this. I particularly love how the film's focus shifts from Will to Laura, until finally by the end it seems to be Laura's story we've been leading up to all this time.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I hope to have more in the Pfeiffer series soon, probably by the second week or so of September. Thanks!

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