F/M/K: William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly

by Julie Klausner and Natasha Vargas-Cooper

Natasha: Oh, Julie, remember 1999, wobbling along the edge of a millennium, when the word ‘aught’ was nothing more than an arcane dictionary entry — we, the accountants of pop-culture, lamented about the future like two lugubrious characters from a Tony Kushner play? The cinematic runes spelled doom for us: American Beauty, The Matrix, and, god help us, The Green Mile. It seemed as though the fires of virility and danger of the mid-‘90s, you know, the kind that involved Chloe Sevingy’s nipples, were snuffed out under the mawkish gauze of the Ron Howards and Sam Mendevis. When it seemed that we would all have to endure another decade of Sean Penn-as-a-Retarded-Single-Father style performances, there was a radical burst in form of three ugly, pasty, enthralling character actors. I don’t like to give Paul Thomas Anderson much, but I will give him credit for harvesting the craggy Gene Hackman genome, splicing it into thirds (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Billy Macy, and John Reilly), and using them to streak maudlin narratives with performers able to portray authentic vulnerability, sorrow, and loneliness.

This was a time before Along Came Polly, before Step Brothers, and, mercifully, before Wild Hogs. And though those atrocities have been seared into our collective psyches, these men are still definitive American character actors and I would like to fuck one of them.

That would be Philip Seymour Hoffman. PSH strikes me as a portentous blowhard, the definitive asshole-polishin’ thezzzpian. He wore a skullcap to the Oscars, which is sartorially and spiritually offensive. Nevertheless, we can agree that he can be dazzling, either as a overstuffed muffin-topped man-boy weeping inside of his cherry red car, flagellating his little rolly polly souly with the mantra “fucking idiot, fucking idiot, fucking idiot,” or as my favorite Hoffman character: Freddie, the mouth-breathing fop bully in Talented Mr. Ripley. And truly, the Capote performance was more some demonic act of possession than impression. Sometimes he gets gaudy with his insistence on the grotesqueness of his characters and then the more recessive, immature parts of his personality bleed through (see: Synecdoche, New York — actually don’t see it. Set it on fire and run AWAY). For these reasons I ladle him out of the marriage bowl and into my fuck bucket.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is what I’d consider a trophy fuck. I am not above the human desire to collect scalps, carve notches, to brag and swagger. I believe in the glory of sexual conquest. I think it would be an admirable accomplishment to ball a dude of titanic talent who has been recognized by the voting populace of The Academy of Motion Pictures. In fact, I’d like to fuck him in the glow of the golden statute while we snuffle and truffle like sexy piglets. He’s like talent meat; chum for the horny theater majors. I’d like to hear that nasally haww-ahhhing thing he does when he’s uneasy, like some orgasmic asthma attack.

Which means I take John C. Reilly sausagey hand in marriage. He’s of that sturdy peasant stock. Inside those deep crow’s feet and numerous pockmarks there’s enough room for a Lithuanian chicken farm. He’s like a soviet sharecropper, dutifully tilling the soil of Landowner Leo or Wahlberg’s Oscar field. There are two things that cinch my heart for comrade Cellophane Reilly. His performance in Magnolia was exquisite. I didn’t like that movie (Paul Thomas Anderson is best when he has one good story to tell, not 12 mediocre ones all climaxing with an UNEARNED Aimee Mann lip dub), but I remember being absolutely riveted by Reilly’s soulful portrayal of an utterly forgettable part. When Jim, the cop, confesses to Claudia (the absolutely electric and underrated Melora Walters) that he lost his gun, there is such a refined delicacy to his performance it makes you wince in pain. Reilly has some supernatural sense of balance between buffoonery and fragility –- a quality Philip Seymour Hoffman lacks. Reilly is without pretensions, his style is plain and twangy, there are no hints of condescension — and, most importantly, he does musicals. That’s the second thing that made my heart go wah-thump for John C. Reilly, check the Wiki: “Reilly has recently stated that he would be very determined to play the lead role of Nathan Detroit if a revival of the musical Guys and Dolls were to occur.” How cheerfully American! And loveable!

And I love Macy, I do, with his sad blue eyes always half-embarrassed/half shy. I was even partially aroused by his clumsy, SIN-E-MAH vérité sex scene with Maria Bello in The Cooler. I’m not a monster, I’m not immune to his “Everyman, Powerless before the Darkening Void” persona — but he’s like a Hanna Barbara basset hound. He strikes up too much pity to feel any other emotion. There’s too much responsibility implied with pity, it can send you ablaze with the intensity of passion. I can’t deal with looking at a man whose face sums up all the injustices and sorrows of the world.

Also, when Macy appears without his mustache, his mouth area looks like a shaved vagina — just so vulnerable and quivering before a hellish world. It just makes me throw up my hands and say, “I’m sorry, I can’t. The survivors’ group is just down the hall.”

* * *

Julie: Here’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to fuck Reilly, marry Macy, and kill Hoffman. That’s the correct answer, and what anyone of sound mind and body will tell you right away. But if I told you that was my answer, I would be lying.

So, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Showing up to the Oscars in a hat for that movie where he swims, in goggles, and has dreads? That was some serious “kill me” ish, atop his historical hubris, like when he played the lead in Capote. I mean, let’s put that into perspective with the vision of hindsight — as good as he was, it was still like Camryn Manheim going out for The Karen Carpenter Story. There’s also a general sense of scowling artistry that Hoffman’s facial expression naturally assumes in repose.

But, here is the problem. I really want to fuck Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

I know the urge springs from the grotesque inner workings of the female id; the part of the lady brain that wants to Get Dark; that wants to have a lumbering, pale jabberwocky come violently and cartoonishly inside of her so she can, later, decay internally from his planted bad seed. There’s something about fucking an ugly guy — one with girth, and a muttering stammer, and a bleakness in his demeanor that matches his corn bisque complexion — that makes us feel like we’re DOING SEX RIGHT.

There’s no pretty to Hoffman, there’s no mannerist pomp; this isn’t a guy who’s going to hog the mirror before the two of you go out to dinner. In fact, you’re probably not going out to eat at all. You’ll order in from the diner and hunchedly shovel turkey burgers in Styrofoam beds from lap to mouth, watching a Peckinpah film he rented before going back to fucking each other: round two, this time with fuel. And then, sleep, and then he’ll ignore you, and you’ll be so mad, like a cat that hasn’t yet figured out that you can’t win the “Mousey at the End of the Fishing Rod” game. And how DARE he, he’s so UGLY, you’re so NOT, who does HE think he IS? Oh, just sexual oxycontin, that’s all.

Do you think it’s a coincidence that Hoffman’s breakthrough roles were all variations on “creepy sex perverts”? His belly-shirted Scotty J. in Boogie Nights was ahead of its time — the Gay Stevie to Wahlberg’s Kenny Powers, Version 1.0. And then, in Happiness, Hoffman took what could have been a punchline role and turned it into a cringey, cold-sweaty, uncomfortable portrait of a Real Sick Man that was so sexually affecting, you could feel his character’s hot mouth-breath fogging up the receiver end of your landline. Then, the first scene of Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, proved an easy target for people (mostly guys) to point out how “gross it is” to watch Hoffman naked, pumping Marisa Tomei from behind. It succeeded as vérité in that it showed what men look like when they are fucking. That shot of his gut resting on Tomei’s bare tuchus, wheezing his evil into her, reeked of a déjà vu realism that, if you fuck men, you couldn’t help but find yourself under the spell of. It made me feel feelings.

Now, here is why I choose to marry John C. Reilly.

There comes a time when ladies looking to marry need to weigh values that are essential to them, and not to Patti Stanger, because that woman is a monster who’s singlehandedly undone the progress made around lousy Jewish stereotypes, since Hitler put a bullet in his own skull. But let’s talk about two of the high-priority “marriage” values in men that non-monster women still seek: humor and intelligence. (We are not going to discuss compassion today.)

Let’s say William H. Macy — best known for the feckless weasels that his role in Fargo has since begotten/forsaken him — is the smarty boots in this remaining duo, and John C. Reilly the funny one.

It is the fact that Reilly is as funny as he is, plus the baggage he carries from good roles on his broad-shouldered frame, including his Magnolia cop and other true-hearts, that saves him from my metaphorical guillotine. His legacy is a unique mix of comic virtuosity, gravitas, and mensch-dom, and, what’s more, he’s convincing enough on screen to seem, for real, like a good man — a lumbering goofus with a heart of gold-flecked filet mignon. But most of all, he’s funny as fuck-all.

Let’s say I marry John C. Reilly. Let’s say I go for it, and it’s the best it can be. That means a great wedding, funny guests, good food, The Hora, Horatio would front the Billy Joel cover band from Step Brothers. After that, we’d settle in, cook bone-sticking stews for each other, travel, drink too much wine, prompt each other to “tell that one story” to friends, and, hopefully, God-willing — and I can’t believe I’m about to say this, because the phrasing of it lodges in the back of my throat like some kind of wretched phlegm speck — make each other laugh. Blecch. Nobody hates talking about laughter more than people who make and love comedy. It’s like a chef thinking about feces; the end-result of their artistry. But there you go. I admitted to it. It’s important to me. I would marry John C. Reilly because of this John Brule, video, basically.

Which brings me to the wrongest chapter yet; the decision to part ways with Bill Macy.

It’s a shande to do away with a Lutheran with eyes as kind and wise and dapper as Macy’s, but what else is there to do? I feel like a beleaguered casting director. I just have no use for him in this context. But I love his work! Macy brings a bookish zing to whatever film or show is lucky enough to have him, and, as a man, he clearly seems bright and kind and all those good things ladies want — if not in focus, at least in their orbit. But in the context of this trio, I feel like his status and stature — respectively, high/elder and wee/narrow-shouldered — need to be deeply considered.

Macy’s age and distinction make him seem like an actor from another era, however hapless or cerebral or affable. But because modern Hollywood is rubbish on a shit-pile on fire, we no longer get to watch young men grow into aristocratic roles. We only meet character actors once they’re either middle-aged or can play as much, if they’re fat or graying early. In other words, we only got to know Bill Macy once he was Jimmy Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance — we didn’t get to make his acquaintance as Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story. So Macy had the paternal quality to him, at first glance to us — certainly.

But Macy’s daddiness is not my daddiness. I knew dads like him growing up — the slight, sandy-haired scientists or househusbands who’d pick up little Molly from our play dates, and take her back home in their Volvos. They were dry and friendly and a little cold, but you could tell from across the roller rink that they loved their daughters more than they loved themselves, or their wives, or food, or sleep, or sex, or good science fiction, even. Still, I was always grateful when my own dad would come to pick me up, and appear like a pillar of mustachioed heft and gigantic warmth; enough to melt the other rink across town, where goyim went to skate on ice.

Also, apparently Macy enjoys woodworking and plays the ukelele? Not to gratuitously knock a Boing Boing-worthy hobby that makes one happy and hurts nobody, but I’m afraid I just can’t abide those two things together in my home/bed. Too much twee.

So, I’m sorry, Bill. We should all mourn you and cherish the work you’ve done and the talent you have. We should all send Felicity Huffman and David Mamet flowers. And we’ll pay homage at an elegant, unique sort of tree in your absence. Maybe not an oak, but an elm or a dogwood — we’ll hang a birdhouse you made in your shop and watch as finches, warblers, and wrens alike come to perch on its branches and peck at its berries with their pencil-tip beaks. But they won’t stay in the house. They’ll visit, and watch, and coo, and enjoy — but soon, they must be going.

Previously: Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty.

Julie Klausner wrote a BOOK and Natasha Vargas-Cooper wrote a BOOK, and both of them are experts in concurrently frightening and arousing weak men with discourse and panache. Sophie’s F/M/K is a regular column on The Hairpin!