When you think about big comedy stars they almost always seem like they’d be fun people to hang out with. I know Will Ferrell is probably more subdued in real life than he is on screen, but I’d bet he’s still pretty entertaining to have dinner with. Kevin Hart is probably more fun in the flesh than his movies are. Melissa McCarthy seems like the sort of person who does bits even when she’s just chilling out, and Amy Pohler just seems like a joyful person to be around. But even though Cameron Diaz has been in comedies since her career started nearly twenty years ago, she just doesn’t seem like she’d be that fun to know.
Looking back at her work from the Mask up through Bad Teacher and now Gambit I can give her that she’s been funny in funny movies. She always game for the joke, and she doesn’t have a lot of vanity, even when she’s supposed to be covered in semen onscreen. But she still seems like an actor reciting funny lines more than she does like a comedian. She lacks the onscreen looseness that makes a comedy star sing; she never seems like she could spontaneously deliver a laugh line. Diaz should be the straight woman in these comedies but too often she isn’t.
Take Gambit for example. This is one of those movies where everyone’s playing everyone else - she’s brought in as part of a con to try to sell a forged Monet to a rich prick, but the guy who put her up to it is probably trying to play her, too, and the rich prick always thinks he’s one step ahead of everyone else. Because all of the characters are trying to outwit everyone else they should all be equally funny, but if there had to be one straight man it should be the rich prick since he’s the villain who is probably going to be left holding the bag at the end. But instead Alan Rickman (who plays the prick) is funnier than Diaz, because he always seems to be on the edge of saying something really cuttingly sarcastic, while she’s too busy putting on a dumb act that doesn’t play to her strengths.
I’m not saying that Diaz is a bad actress – hell, she almost singledhandedly redeemed the Counselor (although that movie was so fucked that was never going to happen.) And I’m not saying that she’s bad at comedy, because I think that if she’s cast in something that has a bit more use for her than Gambit does she can be fine. But I am saying that it’s weird that she’s had this decades long career in comedies when there are other people (like, say, Janeane Garafalo) that would be a naturally better fit for the genre, but who don’t seem to get the same sort of breaks that she does.
Winner: The cat