With Dude(tte), What’s Up?, Bro Jackson’s film squadron goes in on comedic actors and their Homeric struggle to balance comedy with drama.
Mo’Nique may not quite have the resume of some of the other people you’ll come across in this column, but that’s also why she’s such an interesting study.
She built a career and brand on her stand-up and UPN show “The Parkers.” When she appeared on the big screen it was mostly as part of a sprawling ensemble in urban-aimed comedies (“3 Strikes,” “Soul Plane”) mixed with a couple noteworthy dramatic forays. John Singleton cast her in “Baby Boy” and a few years later she played a part in Lee Daniels’ “Shadowboxer.”
Eventually Daniels and Mo’Nique would team up again for “Precious,” for which she would eventually win an Oscar. She hasn’t taken on another role, comedy or dramatic, in a film since collecting her statue, and that’s pretty baffling to me.
Say what you will of “Precious” itself. The movie deals in extremes, and some people have dismissed it for pushing its melodrama past the point of credibility. That in no way diminishes Mo’Nique’s work as the titular character’s abusive, ignorant, possibly evil mother, Mary Lee Johnston. It’s easy to hate a character as despicable as hers and many actors have delivered performances that make you hate their character. But how many have also given you scenes where, against all reason, you empathize with her? In a movie full of award show highlight reel moments, the most resonant may be the one where she’s pleading with Mariah Carey’s social worker, acknowledging the atrocities that have occurred under her watch.
That’s someone acting their ass off. It’s incredible to see and when such performances come from unexpected places, it makes you take notice and want to see it followed up. But here we are, four years later and the follow-up is nowhere in sight.
I’m of the mind that comedians and comic performers can make for some of our best, most affecting actors, but it seems to always come with the caveat of “when they feel like it.” I don’t know if that’s because people just don’t trust funny people, or if funny people do it once or twice to prove they can, or whatever else may factor into the equation. I’d throw out the notion that part of the blame for this lies with the audience. A lot of great work goes unnoticed by the masses when someone who makes you laugh steps out of that comfort zone. That’s a shame, because we should encourage and indulge deviations like this, because it leads to something great, like Mary Lee Johnston.
Another thing that makes her stand out in this series is the fact that she has a Jordan moment. You could argue that there’s not much more she can prove to people. She hit a grand slam in her only real plate appearance and could go out Oscar® in hand. Ben Stiller, for example, kept going beyond his dramatic breakout. Adam Sandler is stuck in his own ghetto of anti-comedy. But Mo’Nique did what they could not. She is the rare comedienne to get the recognition and accolades they deserve for career-best work.
Mo’Nique delivered an enthralling performance. I was never a big fan of her stand-up or her comedy, but “Precious” made me take notice of her and be excited at the prospect of what she’ll do next.