My favorite scene in Mike Nichols‘ Wolf (’94) is the moment when the wig-wearing Jack Nicholson cuts Michelle Pfeiffer down to size, dryly summarizing her aloof manner and personality and putting it all into droll perspective.
The problem, for me, is that they’re eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In fact the moment that Pfeiffer said “I only have peanut butter and jelly and some milk”, I flinched in my seat. I’ll occasionally have a peebee-and-jay sandwich, but guiltily, self-loathingly. I hate how a person smells when they’ve eaten peanut butter, including myself. When I finish eating one of those awful things I immediately scrub my hands and face with soap, and then brush my teeth twice and gargle with blue minty mouthwash, and then wash my face again. And even then I can still smell the peebee. So as much as I admire the dialogue (written by Jim Harrison and Wesley Strick with an uncredited assist from Elaine May), the odor of peanut butter gets in the way.
Why is this my favorite scene? Because back in my randy prime I’d occasionally run into a devastatingly attractive lass at a party or press screening, and she’d give off the same “don’t even think about it, buster” vibe. Which was fine with me as I was batting around .333 between the late ’70s and late ’90s and I learned early on not to sweat the strike-outs or pop-ups. What mattered was accepting the verdict with a certain degree of charm or at least politeness, and then you move on. And every now and then you’d run into someone who really liked you, and you’d pursue that and take it as far as it was meant to go. One thing you never, ever do is fall in love with someone who’s flighty or fickle or aloof or worst of all crazy — that’s a recipe for pure pain.
I always wanted to deliver a little speech like Nicholson’s, but I never did. I’ll bet Nicholson himself never did either.
Jack Nicholson: “What do you do?”
Michelle Pfeiffer: “Why do you care?”
JN: “I don’t. I was just making polite conversation.”
MP: “I’d rather not discuss what I do.”
JN: “You know, I think I understand what you’re like now. You’re very beautiful and you think men are only interested in you because you’re beautiful, but you want them to be interested in you because you’re you. The problem is, aside from all that beauty, you’re not very interesting. You’re rude, you’re hostile, you’re sullen, you’re withdrawn. I know you want someone to look past all that at the real person underneath, but the only reason anyone would bother to look past all that is because you’re beautful. Ironic, isn’t it? In an odd way you’re your own problem.”
MP: “Sorry. Wrong line. I am not taken aback by your keen insight and suddenly challenged by you.”