Sunday, June 15, 2008

I Think I'm in Love with Miranda Richardson

"This website isn't white enough."

Okay, so it's a crush that isn't anything new. I first fell for Richardson when I was 10 years old and she hosted Saturday Night Live. It was her sketch with Phil Hartman, the one where she's an actress who thinks of her father's horrific death when she has to film crying scenes ("His head was in my lap!"), that did me in. I grew up wanting to write something funny for her to say.

It would be years before I saw her in anything again, and even then it was just the "New Best Friend" episode of Absolutely Fabulous. All I really knew about Richardson was that she starred in movies my parents wouldn't let me see, so I became determined to watch The Crying Game and Damage as soon as I was old enough to rent R-rated movies. She is wickedly funny in the former as an IRA soldier who, if she had any martial arts training, would fit in perfectly with the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, and her meltdown as a grieving mother in the latter is powerful enough to make you forget all the overwrought naked calisthenic exercises Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche had spent the previous 90 minutes engaged in.

Her most acclaimed performance came early in her career, in Mike Newell's Dance with a Stranger, but I never felt that was an adequately passionate telling of the Ruth Ellis/David Blakely affair. Though Richardson took great care to show Ellis as a real woman and not a one-dimensional tabloid villainess, she generated about as much heat with Rupert Everett as Jodie Foster did with Matthew McConaughey in Contact. It was her openhearted take on another demonized woman, Vivienne Haigh-Wood, that resulted in what remains her most indelible performance.

Tom & Viv is a mostly meandering portrait of T. S. Eliot's doomed marriage to the famously erratic Haigh-Wood, who suffered from what used to be called "women's troubles" or "moral insanity," and it doesn't judge Eliot (or Vivienne's brother Maurice) harshly enough. One scene actually finds Eliot pressing his head to the chest of an Anglican bishop for comfort, a single tear rolling down his cheek. Sentimental music plays as he chokes out, "I'm married to a woman that I love, but everything we do together falls apart. I crave companionship but I am completely alone." Only briefly, near the very end of the movie, does anyone stop to consider how alone Vivienne must have felt.

A role as manic as Vivienne might seem like an open invitation to overact (and it has been suggested by more than one critic that Richardson is prone to scenery-chewing), but Richardson's work in Tom & Viv was subtle and deeply intelligent despite the broad dramatic strokes of the screenplay. She showed her wildly misunderstood character far more tenderness and respect than the filmmakers could be bothered to summon, and the result was one of the most thoughtful, underrated movie performances of the 1990s.

But enough of my mindless film-geek prattle. This wasn't supposed to be about any of that, it was supposed to be about a Q&A Richardson did with The Guardian this weekend and how her responses to their mini-interrogation only add to her already considerable crushworthiness. I think you'll agree that on paper we'd make a fantastic couple. Look at all the things we have in common:
  • She likes Arcade Fire, I like Arcade Fire. They're right here on my iPod, nestled snugly between Annie Lennox and Arctic Monkeys. (Don't give me any shit about the Arctic Monkeys, people. How many songs have you ever heard that contain references to both Duran Duran and Shakespeare?)
  • South Park keeps her awake at night, and rarely a week goes by that I don't find myself singing "Uncle Fucka" while doing the dishes or feeding my cat.
  • She's fond of the word "enfilade," I know how to spell the world "enfilade."
  • She hates Mugabe, I hate Mugabe. Most people hate Mugabe, but Mugabe's fun to type and that's why I put it here. See? Mugabe, Mugabe, Mugabe.
  • She'd want to be played by Peter Lorre or Eddie Izzard in a movie of her life. How cool is that? I've often thought that Peter Lorre would make an excellent me in a movie of my life, seeing as we're both diminutive Jews with morphine addictions. (Of course, I'd also settle for Edward G. Robinson. I've never smoked cigars or run an underground crime syndicate, but he would've found a way to make it work anyway.) As for Eddie Izzard -- who is also on my iPod, right between Eddie Floyd and Edwin Starr -- he looks hotter in a dress than I do, so I'd just as soon he play my love interest. Or, you know, if the movie is really realistic and shows me reading Patricia Highsmith novels instead of going on dates, he could always play my mom, regularly probing me about my personal life and despairing that if I don't get my act together he'll never be a grandmother.
Of course, "on paper" means nothing. On paper I'm an art collector (I own a few vintage Jean-Pierre Melville movie posters), an expert skier (I've walked down icy hills once or twice without falling) and a skilled jazz pianist (I enjoy listening to Thelonious Monk). Still, I think the next time Miranda Richardson visits the United States she should totally look me up. My Peter Lorre and her Eddie Izzard could do things together that Goebbels would've only dreamed of putting in a Nazi propaganda film about degeneracy.

And Now a Word from Our Sponsors