Someone, Please, Make Maya Rudolph a Leading Lady Already
This weekend's box office will be dominated by alien-fighting robots, gibberish-spouting minions, and a gaggle of overgrown man children, but there's a woman dominating the marquee: the beautiful, funny, and tremendously talented Maya Rudolph.
The former Saturday Night Live star appears in both the bawdy, critically panned comedy Grown Ups 2 (dominated by those aforementioned man children) and the far better received coming-of-age indie dramedy The Way, Way Back. She's wildly different in both movies: In Grown Ups 2, she plays Chris Rock's inconsiderate wife, while in The Way, Way Back she's Sam Rockwell's long-suffering, but very sweet girlfriend.
While Rudolph is way, way better in The Way, Way Back (Grown Ups 2 is beyond her, or anyone else's help), the bigger problem here is: How in the world did Maya Rudolph, one of the all-time great SNL players get relegated to just playing the second fiddle or significant other?
Now, Rudolph can do a lot with any amount of material. She, along with her on-screen husband Chris O'Dowd, stood out as the most believable and likable characters in the ensemble effort Friends With Kids, though they had sporadic screen time. She balanced the perfect amount of humor and heart as a stressed-out bride in Bridesmaids, but it was her fellow SNL alum Kristen Wiig who got top billing and supporting co-star Melissa McCarthy who stole the whole damn show. Then, of course, there was the NBC debacle that was Up All Night, in which Rudolph made the best of a bad situation and played a wildly under-written character to the best of her abilities.
The thing is, Rudolph is fantastic in these smaller, but effective performances. She's a terrific character actress and brings out the best in her co-stars. (In The Way, Way Back, her strong-headed character brings out the heart and humanity of Rockwell's wisecracking knucklehead in just a few subtle moments.) The problem is that Rudolph is a fantastic leading lady and can carry the weight of a larger role.
Take, for instance, her turn the mish-mashed 2009 dramedy Away We Go. While she technically shared top billing with co-star John Krasinski, she mopped the floor with him (hey, we still love ya, John!) as a mom-to-be trying to find a place for her new family to settle down. She could go from heart-breakingly sensitive to dryly funny in the span of a scene, all while feeling so incredibly authentic and down-to-Earth. For once on the big screen, someone else was her second fiddle and something about that just felt... right.
While it's entirely possible that Rudolph's lack of leading lady roles is because she seems to be perennially pregnant, I worry that Hollywood just sees her as the interesting sidekick or a significant other with attitude. When she was on SNL, her imitations of the likes of Whitney Houston and Maya Angelou and Donatella Versace, among so many others, didn't make her a bit player. She was a full-time cast member who propelled the show to greatness. She may have left Studio 8H, but she's still got that magnetic star power. It's time for Hollywood to recognize that.
Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures