Still My Girl: Anna Chlumsky
For women of a certain age (mine), watching “My Girl” was a shocking cinematic experience. Released less than a year after “Home Alone,” we walked in expecting another comedy featuring that blonde wisp of a superstar, Macaulay Culkin. The studio’s marketing campaign was ingeniously deceptive: Macaulay narrated a preview that played up the broader aspects of the movie and conveniently glided over his character’s sudden death.
But in retrospect, what was most shocking wasn’t the death of Culkin’s character but that he was a second banana to Vada Sultenfuss, a girl with big blue eyes and a joker smile played by Anna Chlumsky. Even before the death of her best friend, Vada’s life is complicated: she’s in love with her teacher, her father doesn’t understand her, and she’s really, really pissed when she gets her period. I could relate. I still can.
For a generation of girls expected to identify with mermaids and princesses, watching the everyday life of an actual flesh and blood girl was a revelation. The entire weight of our world rested on the slim shoulders of Anna Chlumsky, and she carried it with an open heart. It’s a fumbling but honest performance. It may be Macaulay who dies, but it’s Chlumsky’s impromptu eulogy that makes you weep.
After that, there were plenty of girls who would have followed Chlumsky through the gates of hell (otherwise known as “My Girl 2″), but she abandoned the industry in favor of a normal life. Despite her occasional guest spots on various TV shows (including “30 Rock”), most of us had put her into our never really made it file.
Until now. In Armondo Ianucci’s “In the Loop,” Chlumsky plays Liza, a frazzled and ambitious State Department assistant. Liza’s new enough to the working world that she’s still trying to figure out how to wear her frumpy suits. She’s also a little taken aback that after years of schooling, her job mainly consists of having to soothe the insecurities of her supervisor. When her female boss asks her to examine her teeth, Liza soothes her, rolls her eyes and mutters that she’s tired of hearing about the teeth.
Chlumsky embraces Liza’s prickliness. When a frustrated Liza asks her craven co-worker if he’d go all the way up “Brokeback Mountain” for a promotion, she adds a vivid gesture (it involves a fist). It’s a credit to Chlumsky’s performance that even when Liza is at her most sarcastic, she is also at her most human. Liza handles everything thrown at her not with aplomb but with a mixture of competence and irritation. It’s clear that Chlumsky understands the working world much better than your average sitcom star.
When a last minute revelation unmasks just how ambitious Liza truly is, we are surprised but not shocked, mainly because her compromise comes from such a human place. For the second time Chlumsky has created a character that embodies the anxieties of her generation. For that reason alone, Anna Chlumsky deserves more screen time.
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