I’ve been in a struggle recently about my thoughts towards Mark Duplass. My introduction to him were through his written and directed movies that Netflix thought I would like but upon seeing them I found them pretentious and irritating. For a long time it was the quintessential type of indie movie that give indie movies a bad name and I swore him as my enemy. But now that I’ve recently started watching and loving The League, I’m beginning to be torn apart about my hate for him. As I learned in my high school government class, there’s a personal struggle and frustration when one finds themselves agreeing with their enemies. He’s by no means my favorite character on the show but you can’t help but wonder after the humor on the show that maybe I actually like this guy…or more specifically would like this guy if I met him. Which only adds to my disgust of him. He seems like the type of guy I could get along with and joke with and by all means be friends with.
This thought peaked tonight as I’m watching Your Sister’s Sister. Duplass plays a guy who seems like someone I’d be friends with and makes me think he and I actually would get along in person despite my hate for his more personal, creative endeavors. And it pains me to think I would enjoy Safety Not Guaranteed if/when I see it. The Duplass I like is him just acting as a pretty average, enlightened, modern person. And yet the films I see when he writes or directs I loath the son of a bitch. Which made me think of John Krasinski.
The Jim character on the Office was as charming and personable as they come and the story line of him longing for Pam was equally charming and personable and something I and I’m sure millions of fans could relate with on some level. In short, he seems like an actor who, through his portrayal of everyday and modern characters, seems like someone I would be friends with under casual circumstances. But then look at his personal creative endeavors. This guy some how had the power and charisma, probably a lot of luck, and gall to make a movie based on a David Foster Wallace novel? And what happened? It was a huge flop and I don’t think any positive word was spoken of the project. And now I’m seeing trailers for his new film which he co-wrote and stars with Matt Damon and is directed by Gus Van Sant. The idea was intriguing to me until I found out it was written about a modern form of natural energy and the consequences of small farmers who make a living off the parts of America that gas companies are now suddenly interested in. The trailer looks awful and I’m smugly proud to see that early reviews of the film are, for the most part, pretty mediocre.
Now to the point…Mark Duplas and John Krasinski are totally capable actors. At least in the roles they play, which are pretty typical everyday people who are in situations where their human side are strongly appealing and relatable. Yet when they try to take the initiative on projects under their own brainpower and heart and soul do I despise them? And I think the thought that I could be friends with these people is exactly why I’m so quick to look for angst towards their works.
As I said before, Duplass and Krasinski seem like cool guys who I could be friends with or remind me enough of people who I would encounter in my own social life. Their funny, charming and I’m sure I could get drunk with them with ease. Just like the friends in my own life. Yet these guys get to write and direct in movies despite their mediocrity and marry women like Emily Blunt and Katie Aselton. So how are they so special? Why do they get these privileges in life?
The truth is is that they aren’t. I’ll admit my naivity in their own personal stories of how they came to where they are but I strongly doubt I’d find any surprise other than academic and network connections. And in fact, I sort of doubt it matters. Maybe the got lucky somewhere. Maybe they were small time actors who got a few breaks and got their foot in the door in one place or another and went from there. And they had their own projects they were interested in and with some initiative and tenacity they got them made. But that doesn’t change the quality of these works.
The point I’m trying to make is these guys are great at playing average because they really are. Their intelligent and enlightened for sure, but average (by today’s standards) nonetheless. Writing and directing in movies that are based around character conversation or around a contemporary literary genius is a dream of millions of young creatives in this country. But how many of those millions could make something truly special? It’s literally the difference between Krasinski and David Foster Wallace. One is a genius, a once in a lifetime persona and the other just loves his work and wants to be a part of someone else’s integrity and wish it were his own. One killed himself because he wasn’t made for this world despite his vision and integrity and hunger and the other will most likely be forgotten within the next decade.
But maybe the question is, which is preferable? David Foster Wallace is dead after a short and tortured life despite critical acclaim and a since grown huge fan following. And yet it wasn’t enough. Krasinski and Duplass could have promising careers as actors and filmmakers (though hopefully not the latter) make comfortable amounts of money, have kids with their beautiful celebrity wives and be content. And yet I don’t think that’s how they want to be remembered. The reason they take on the projects they do as creative leads is because they wish they could be the intellectual, artistic types that don’t fit in to this world. And yet, they’re the guys on the sitcoms that people love playing characters that I want to get drunk with. Do they want to be special? Yes. Are they special? No. They’re people in a world where every self-proclaiming creative type has a medium (if you’re reading this, I have a blog).
In the past when being an artist was something special, to be known was just that. Special. It took integrity, guts, sacrifice, probably some lucky circumstances, talent and maybe a million other things. But that’s what it takes to be special, really. A million unseen and unknown things. Now everybody has a friend online with followers and working for online companies trying to be taste makers for upcoming trends and they all feel self-congratulatory for it as if they themselves made them possible. Maybe the popularized it. But they didn’t make it.
I’m digressing a tad but no one will read this so I could use the exercise in theoretical thought. The point back to myself and painting (as this is a painting blog, no?) is that…am I special? Duplass and Krasinski are good at some things within their career but not what they wish they were better at. My favorite painting of mine is a character under an overpass. It’s expressive, it’s loose and it’s gestural. Three things I wish all my paintings can be. And yet I want to paint humans in situations like Renoir or Erik Fischl. Can I do it? Not at the moment. As Duplass and Krasinski are to playing relatable characters I can paint questions…thoughts and ideas that are broad and universal. But as soon as I try to get closer to facing those devils…I find I’m sub-par. They scare me the closer I get. And yet I want to conquer those details in my subjects and within myself despite my amateur brush. Like Duplass and Krasinski despite their everyday schtick. Will they do it? As a critic of my own taste, I say God I hope not. But yet they may try because what else is there? Am I special? Probably not. I’m no Wallace or Renoir or Fischl. But do we go on pounding against that wall with bloody fists? I suppose so. Godspeed you shitty filmmakers.