Lionsgate via Everett Collection
Performing is performing. ‘Nuff said. But there are different skills for singing and acting. You wouldn’t want a dance track by Patrick Stewart featuring Ian McKellan (okay, bad example, that sounds awesome). You also wouldn’t watch The English Patient with Justin Bieber. Or Apollo 13 with the boys from 98 Degrees. Or Crossroads with Britney Spears. But music artists like Mark Wahlberg, Queen Latifah, and Mandy Moore have all found great success by answering the call of the silver screen. Acting and singing are two different skills but some singers have managed to give some really amazing performances. Here are a few of our favorites.
Alecia Moore (Pink) in Thanks for Sharing
This heartfelt dramedy about sex addicts slipped under the radar. However, Pink’s performance shows that she’s more than just a singer... and acrobat. Her choice to use her real name to distinguish her acting from her music shows she’s serious. She plays a no-nonsense girl, which is pretty true to form, but she captures the humanity of the burden of sex addiction.
Mariah Carey in Precious
It’s hard to imagine the insanely high maintenance Carey without makeup. However, for her role in Precious, Carey abandoned her diva image in favor of playing a stern social worker. Carey’s acting abilities have incorrectly tied to the ill-fated flop Glitter. However, Carey is able to embody roles that are way more folksy and real than her media persona. Carey also deserves an honorable mention for her role in the film WiseGirls. The film is forgettable but her performance as a smart-mouthed waitress is impressive.
Cyndi Lauper in Vibes
Lauper rarely gets her due as an actress. She is an amazing performer and is only an Oscar away from EGOT-ing. Her thick New York accent puts her in that Joe Pesci category of actors who must play New Yorkers or Italian Americans. All the same, in the 1980s Lauper had top billing in a comedy about psychics starring Jeff Goldblum. The film did not do well box office wise but Lauper proves herself to be both compelling and funny.
Whitney Houston in Waiting to Exhale
It’s sad that Houston’s amazing talent is often eclipsed by her personal issues. Not only was she an amazing singer, she was a very gifted actress. Her role in this drama, based on the popular Terry McMillan novel, showcased not only her solid acting chops but also her ability to draw an audience. She was able to hold her own against the likes of Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine.
Diana Ross in Mahogany
Ross is an icon. Her songs are timeless. Her performance in this film is legendary. She plays a young girl who gets transformed into a supermodel with tons of booze and poor choices along the way. Plus, her love interests are Norman Bates and Lando Calrissian. Pop reference overload.
David Bowie in Labyrinth
Bowie’s performance in this bizarre children’s movie shaped a generation. They were either scared by goblins, engrossed in the music, or titillated by Bowie’s royal jewels visible in his tights. Bowie does deserve some credit for the acting challenge of performing exclusively with Muppets. Jennifer Connelly is one quarter Muppet, right?
Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls
Hudson earned an Oscar for her role in the film version of this popular musical. She has the pipes to sing the popular song “I Am Telling You.” She also has the ability to shine as the breakout star of this blockbuster. She is scrappy yet vulnerable, and proved to be the surprising highlight of this star-studded film.
Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur in Poetic Justice
Both Jackson and Shakur acting experience before Poetic Justice. Jackson did a lot of television shows like Fame and Diff’rent Strokes, which was an extension her squeaky clean pop star image. Shakur also kept his gangsta rap image for his role in Juice. Both actors stepped out of their comfort zones in this 1990s classic. Jackson opted for a harder exterior and a rougher neck. Shakur showed his softer side. Check out this clip that has enough F-bombs to rival Wolf of Wall Street.
The age-old debate over fate vs. free will has been and always will be a tough theme to crack in any medium but with the benefits of modern filmmaking technology the theory can be explored in ways that Philip K. Dick never imagined. However when one relies too heavily on spectacle to tell a story a piece of cerebral science fiction can quickly become just another action extravaganza. In this day and age there’s a fine line between the two; The Matrix walked that tightrope with style and grace while Next never found its footing in the first place. Fortunately the precious work of novelist Dick has for the most part been treated with respect by Hollywood (the aforementioned Nic Cage dud notwithstanding) but that doesn’t necessarily mean movies based on his stories are completely faithful to his vision.
Case in point: George Nolfi’s directorial debut The Adjustment Bureau an adaptation of Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team.” The film stars Matt Damon as David Norris a successful businessman and rising political candidate who after a chance encounter with the girl of his dreams (Emily Blunt) loses a crucial election. He happens to run into her on a Manhattan bus the following week before finding his office swarming with masked men who are “adjusting” everyone inside. Richardson (John Slattery) the man in charge captures Norris who unsuccessfully flees the scene after seeing behind “a curtain he wasn’t even supposed to know existed” as the enigmatic figure puts it. From that point on Norris must live with the knowledge that he (and we for that matter) is not in control of his own life. Rather the choices he makes fit perfectly into “The Plan” that’s been written by “the Chairman”.
In relation to my earlier statement I have to say that Nolfi’s picture looks stunning but his natural urban aesthetic doesn’t overpower the story. Sleek contemporary production design and elegant costumes characterize the high-concept story and the wraithlike agents who shape our destinies. Topically we’re dealing with some heavy material but Nolfi and editor Jay Rabinowitz move the action along at a brisk pace that keeps you engaged and entertained without having to try. The film is properly proportioned as a chase thriller romantic adventure and sci-fi fantasy and thankfully no component overshadows another.
Setting the film in the world of politics and big business helps make its larger-than-life revelations a bit more accessible (as do appearances from Michael Bloomberg Jon Stewart and Chuck Scarborough) while providing sub-text about the corruption involved in elections and campaigns (there are conspicuous shades of The Manchurian Candidate in the movie) but the writer-director often tries too hard for broad appeal. For a film with existential implications as severe as they are here the dialogue is at times hokey and superficial. Dick’s source material is far more abstract and Nolfi for the sake of commercial success panders to the palette of soccer moms and mallrats.
What’s worse is his unwarranted exposition of the Bureau a shadowy organization whose major allure is anonymity. Some secrets are best kept and less can be so much more when crafting a mysterious atmosphere; Nolfi reaches that level of magnetic curiosity but squanders it as he reveals the truth about the Bureau and its grand scheme. On the other hand he brushes over the technical lingo between agents Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) McCrady (Anthony Ruivivar) and others without explanation perhaps hoping that the ambiguous terminology will fool you into thinking that his script is smarter than it really is.
Even though Nolfi’s allegorical conclusions are uncomfortably ham-fisted the chemistry between Damon and Blunt alone is enough to enchant you; this is one highly watchable cinematic pairing that should be revisited as soon as possible. Their innocent relationship blossoms organically and together they make it seem as natural on screen as it is for their star-crossed characters. Even if you have a hard time believing in higher powers or manipulative Orwellian forces you’ll have faith in David and Elise’s fated relationship one of the most captivating couplings I’ve seen on the big-screen in some time.