A couple of months ago I posted a short riff about M. Night Shymalan‘s Old (Universal, 7.23). I was basically repeating something that I’d initially wrote in mid March, which was that the Alan Ladd-sized Gael Garcia Bernal ((5’6″) is too short to be married to Vicky Krieps (5’9″) in a movie, at least without their size disparity being a distraction.
“But,” I added, “I’m sure Shyamalan has framed their two-shots carefully or had Bernal wear ‘lifts’ or stand on milk boxes or whatever it took.
And yet I’m told by a couple of critic pallies that Shyamalan makes no attempt to hide the height difference. Veteran critic #1: “[Shyamalan] pretty much shows that differential. You totally get a sense of what a shrimp Bernal is.” Veteran critic #2: “It’s obvious that Krieps is substantially taller [than Bernal]. I actually exaggerated the height difference in my review for a laugh.”
Rotten Tomatoes critics haven’t touched the tall-short dynamic for fear of being accused of sizeism by the Twitter wolves, which could get them fired. So don’t go looking for any mentions of this issue in any Old reviews. Only Hollywood Elsewhere is bold enough to step into this minefield.
If I had cast the smallish Gael Garcia Bernal as a husband and family man, I would cast an actress who was either his height (officially 5’7″ but rumored to actually be 5’6″) or perhaps a tiny bit shorter. Because 98% or 99% of the time the guy is usually a bit taller or the same height as his significant female other. I certainly wouldn’t cast an actress who’s a good two or three inches taller.
I don’t regard myself as a size-ist (I dealt with a certain amount of pushback from classmates when I was young for being a “giant”) but it’s quite rare to see a husband or boyfriend who can obviously be beaten in a wrestling match by his wife or girlfriend. C’mon, be honest.
And yet that’s exactly what director M. Night Shyamalan has done in Old (Universal, 7.23) — he’s cast the 5’9″ Vicky Krieps (Bergman Island, Phantom Thread) as Bernal’s wife and mother of their three kids.
There are so many actresses of the right age (late 30s, early 40s) and the right height who could’ve played Bernal’s wife without half the audience saying “jeez, she’s obviously too big for him.” Or Shyamalan could’ve stayed with Krieps and cast a taller actor as her husband…easy. Why create credibility problems?
Did anyone ever cast a tall, leggy actress opposite Alan Ladd or Dustin Hoffman? It’s not a male-ego thing — it’s a reality thing. Yes, runty guys occasionally hook up with tallish women…5’11” Nicole Kidman was four inches taller than Tom Cruise, and Katie Holmes was two inches taller. But generally this doesn’t happen. Not in 7-11 land, they don’t.
The Bernal-Krieps casting is actually part of a pattern. In Bergman Island, Krieps is paired with the 5’7″ Tim Roth. And in her private life she’s reportedly married to actor Jonas Laux, who’s also 5’7″.