Last week saw the release of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris ‘ highly entertaining ensemble indie comedy Ruby Sparks. While high marks go to the directing duo (who also gave us Little Miss Sunshine) and even higher ones going to star/writer Zoe Kazan, this post is an effort to highlight the unsung hero of that charming and highly original film; one Chris Messina. He’s the likable every-man but also has the chops to pull off any and all roles from “that guy” to a capable leading man.
Just a solid staple in every film he’s in, his star is steadily rising but he still hasn’t quite broken out yet. In the film world we’ve seen actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Jessica Chastain in pretty much everything, but similarly, take a look at Messina’s IMDb page for just 2012 alone. He’s got 10, count them, 10 projects to his credit and now with “Damages”, “The Newsroom” and “The Mindy Project” he’s finding an audience with his talents and likable personality on the small screen.
Today’s list will briefly serve to call out why he’s so great. To help get more than one fan’s point of view, I’ve co-authored this with the help from Marc. Basically we love the guy and his work but what you’ll find below are some highly recommended titles that showcase the talent of this mega-star just waiting for his chance to shine. Marc appreciates him as an actor or someone you could imagine having a beer with, but I on the other hand just want to hug the screen whenever he’s on it…so have a look at our billet-doux in the form of our Favorite Chris Messina Films.
1.) Ruby Sparks
Since his turn in this film inspired the post, it’s only fitting that it lead everything off. Messina, while sharing a third of the screen time gets the last bill credit (and in the trailer gets no credit at all), proves that he can be one of the most delightful parts of any film just by simply being there. Ruby Sparks is an odd-ball, original and delightful comedy with an impossible premise but still manages to come off believable and endearing. Messina is cast as a supporting character playing the brother of Calvin (Paul Dano) and while it could be a throw away role, Messina makes it fun as he effortlessly turns on the charm. Granted the film is quirky but Messina plays it reserved and casual, getting into the fun of the role but not carried away with it. It’s the kind of role that you want to see more of him but you don’t know why. Maybe it’s just his magnetic screen presence, but Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton knew what they were doing when they cast this up and coming screen gem.
2.) Ira & Abby
In Ira & Abby, Messina plays the sweet, yet somewhat lost Ira Black, a doctorate candidate in psychology whose parents are both analysts. Despite having (mostly) good intentions, Ira is an adorable ball of mess in this unconventional romantic comedy. After 12 years of analysis, Ira’s made no progress; he’s terrified of commitment and while he is pages away from obtaining his degree, something is blocking him from finishing his dissertation. He’s the kind of character you just want to hold while reassuring him that everything will be okay in the end, and that’s exactly what Abby (Jennifer Westfeldt) does when the two first meet. A few short hours later, she even asks Ira to marry her, and with that face can you really blame her?
Prior to the release of this underrated thriller from 2010, Devil had very little going for it. With a story by a pretty unfavorable M. Night Shyamalan, this Twilight Zone-styled featured a cast of unknowns and and at best, characters played by “that guy”. Yet aside from a surprising and solidly paced thriller there was one huge stand out, Messina. With a combination of confidence and focused intensity he all too easily played Detective Bowden, the man spearheading the rescue operation of the fated elevator patrons. While the film plays lukewarm at times, Messina’s charisma as a leading man is enough to be keep interest and tension high. Certainly a high point in his career and one of the best things he’s done, even if most people passed it up.
Side note: For those who haven’t seen it, Devil is actually a surprising and effective film. While M. Night’s efforts have become laughable as of late, it proves that as an idea man he’s still got it…but sometimes he should let someone else take the helm directing.
Chris Messina has not only worked alongside notable actors, he’s also starred in films lead by some pretty amazing directors, Woody Allen being one of them. In Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Messina is cast as Doug, the devoted fiancé of the prudish Vicky (Rebecca Hall). While he’s still a “nice-guy,” Doug is the kind of nice guy you love to hate, and even as a close-minded, overly practical (e.g.: boring) snob, Messina is as convincing as ever. He is able to completely transform himself in order to perfectly portray this stereotype, right down to a subtle smirk or judgmental stare.
With a pace and concept that playing closer to a documentary than a odd-ball indie film, The Giant Mechanical Man is a story about two people who seem to fail at everything. Yet the only thing Tim and Janice have going in their lives is each other and that gives them both hope. Messina and Fischer’s characters meet through their jobs at the Zoo. The jobs are undesirable/unglamorous to say the least but to break free of the monotony Messina moon-lights as a street performer, grey paint and stilts wearing Giant Mechanical Man. It’s a thankless role (both as the lead and the street performer) but what Messina shows, in many scenes void of dialog, the passion and emotions that this “passion project” has on him. Also, its the kind of part that looks easy but takes a true thespian to pull off. The epitome of the “every man”, nothing Messina has done yet has ever felt more grounded. In fact, it’s a likable role that seems like this is how you’d expect (or would hope) Messina to act in real life.
This is a tie because both characters played by Messina make you want to go out and find the real life version of them and never let them go. Messina is Eric Powell, the charming and relentlessly supportive husband of food blogger Julie Powell (Amy Adams). While Julie struggles with finding success as a writer and contentment with her life, Eric remains ever-patiently by her side through all of her neurotic ups and downs. Messina plays this role so well that you just want to reach inside the television screen and shake Julie for taking such an incredible man for granted. Messina really makes you believe in the goodness of his characters, and it’s impossible not to fall a little in love with them.
Honorable Mention: Greenberg
This one gets an honorable mention because of the fact that we get to see Messina outside of his typical “nice-guy” role. He plays Ben Stiller’s younger brother, and he’s really kind of a jerk. Messina is surprisingly good at playing this other side, and even his biggest fans will find it hard not to despise his character at certain points in this film. It just goes to show that even though he’s naturally believable as the loving husband or the faithful fiancé Messina can still play the villain, and as long as he keeps taking on roles as the adorable nice-guy too, we’re OK with that. Either way, the more Chris Messina, the better.
Of course that’s just our two cents and if you still don’t know Chris Messina yet, this should get you started. But tell us, what do you think of our list? Also, feel free to tell us…what are your favorite Chris Messina films/projects???