Monday, August 17, 2009

Notes on Chris Messina

Chris Messina, 35, has one of those faces that, depending on the angle I’m looking at it, is sensitive, arrogant, insouciant, intense, doltish, intellectual, sexy, nerdy, manly, boyish, comic, doomed, rowdy, sissified, or a combination of any or all of the above at once.

Messina first caught my eye in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, in which he played Vicky’s dull, dependable, bourgeois fiancé. Even in that role, which he nailed, I could sense there was something more to this guy than the usual good-looking but colorless type of actor usually cast in such roles.

Then I saw him this summer in Away We Go as a distraught though outwardly perfect husband. His screen presence seemed a bit different in this film, though he again was playing a clueless character being put upon in a tragicomic way. It was then that I realized that part of Messina’s attraction for me is that he epitomizes the kind of person I would like to kick the shit out of from time to time—but in the nicest possible way … honest.

Apparently, his right eye manages to convey the smartass side of him while the left eye signals aggressiveness and smoldering intensity. His mouth cues an array of conflicting emotions in me—sexy enough to be kissed, cocky enough to be busted up.

I’ve noticed a large number of actors now on screen who, like Messina, manage to trigger all kinds of conflicting responses, even in repose. (Mark Ruffalo and Paul Schneider are two others who spring to mind.) The result is that the actors manage to convey both appropriate and inappropriate affects at the same time—which most definitely adds to the complexity of whatever scene they’re playing, but it’s hard for me to gauge just how much of their performance is great acting and how much of it is the inherent ambivalence of their facial structure.

Currently Messina can be seen in Julie & Julia, with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’d like to … Meryl and Amy are always fantastic, in anything, and now I’m curious just how much I’m going to want to muss up Messina this time.

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