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.