The other day Patti Lupone dismissed Madonna‘s performance as Evita Peron in Alan Parker’s 1996 film adaptation (which I’ve always enjoyed and admired). “Madonna is a movie killer,” Lupone said. “She’s dead behind the eyes. She couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag. She should not be on film or on stage. She’s a wonderful, you know, performer for what she does, but she is not an actress.” (Lupone’s performance as Evita in the original 1979 Broadway production is commonly regarded as the best.)
No one would argue Lupone’s point, but Madonna was never better than she was in Parker’s film. She wasn’t brilliant or staggering, but she gave it everything she had and this, coupled with the fact that Evita itself was an above-average musical, makes her performance an honorable, good-enough thing. Madonna wasn’t the best choice, agreed, but she was reasonably decent in the role, at least to the extent that she didn’t get in the way.
The lesson is that with God’s grace, even moderately talented, less-than-genius-level actors can briefly rise to the heights. Simply by being lucky enough to find the right role in the right film at the right time. Justin Timberlake in The Social Network. Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love. Sly Stallone in Rocky. What others?
Sidenote: I don’t agree about Hayden Christensen‘s performance in Shattered Glass being a high-water mark. I found his manner in that film oppressively phony and cloying, making it impossible to believe that Stephen Glass‘s coworkers at the New Republic would buy into his bullshit.