Can Kristen Wiig Stop Stealing Movies and Start Starring in Them?

Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 4 2009 2:31 PM

Can Kristen Wiig Stop Stealing Movies and Start Starring in Them?

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Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

Kristen Wiig, who has been the undisputed star of the past few seasons of

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Saturday Night Live,

induces some chuckles in her supporting role in Mike Judge's delightful new comedy,

Extract

. But she isn't really given much to do. Which raises a question: What sort of career lies ahead for the comedian?

With her sharp timing and quirky line readings, Wiig could continue to play wacky bit parts like the ones she hit out of the park in Knocked Up and Ghost Town . Or she could take on more substantial wife/girlfriend roles, serving as a backboard for the over-the-top antics of various male stars. Jenna Fischer best known as Pam in The Office has lately filled this niche in Blades of Glory and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (in which Wiig plays Dewey's first wife and Fischer plays his second). But the talented Wiig seems cut out for a little bit more than this, no?

On SNL , Wiig has excelled at creating and inhabiting inane, nutso characters. She's a gifted physical comedian whose secret weapon is dynamic vocal control playing with subtle shifts in volume and register to surprise us into a laugh. At this point, I suspect we may have seen her whole bag of tricks. But I would have said the same about Will Ferrell when he left SNL seven years and several hundred million box-office dollars ago.

It's Ferrell's career path that seems like the natural route for Wiig. She should be the central focus of ridiculous blockbuster comedies in which her only mission is to make a fool of herself. Ferrell does it, Jim Carrey does it, Steve Carell does it. Yet with occasional exceptions that haven't set the filmgoing world on fire (Molly Shannon in Superstar , Anna Faris in The House Bunny ), we don't seem willing to let female comedians play this game.

We're more comfortable when goofy women get smoothed out into rom-com leads, like Drew Barrymore (whose forays into floppy absurdism Wiig seems capable of carrying off). But it remains to be seen whether 1) Wiig can play the real emotions required of a climactic rom-com moment and 2) Hollywood will deem her sexy enough. More to the point, turning Wiig into a Barrymore would squander her talents. Here's hoping that one summer soon, Wiig will rake in $200 million domestic starring as a suburban woman who's been possessed by aliens that have come to earth to steal all our snot.