The Best Article Written About Janeane Garofalo
A Hero For Our Times
By Jon Carroll
Monday, August 16, 1999
San Francisco Chronicle
USUALLY I TRY not to get serious about movies that do not get serious
about themselves. Throwaway entertainment is throwaway entertainment,
and the way to enjoy it without making yourself nuts is to relax
into it as you would into a hot bath.
Later, you do not write a fine essay describing why the hot bath
made you feel happy. Indeed, it is hard with the passage of time
to distinguish one hot bath from another -- and the same is true
of cinematic fluff. Or it should be.
(That was the problem with ``The Phantom Menace'' -- one can feel
betrayed by Jar Jar only if one has initially placed trust in the
Jedi masters. It is possible to say, ``Oops, dopey character'' and
let it pass like a burger wrapper in the wind, if I may wax poetic.)
``Mystery Men'' is not as good as it should be, which is in a way
not surprising because it should be really, really good and it ain't.
All that talent up on the screen! All those possibilities! Eddie
Izzard and Tom Waits and Geoffrey Rush in the same movie, and they're
not even the stars! Not even ``Smoke'' had such a good cast, although
``Smoke'' was a much better movie.
But ``Mystery Men'' is the movie that announced, finally, what
so many of us had suspected for so long: Janeane Garofalo is the
first great movie hero of the 21st century. She is the transitional
cultural figure we have long sought. Her very presence on the screen
brings an easiness of mind, a gentling of the spirit.
Because she is crazy in a good way. Rather: She is crazy, and she
has made that a virtue. Rather than overcoming her craziness, rather
than triumphing or some damn 20th century thing, she has accepted
her neurotic aspects, incorporated them into her essence and put
the whole package up front and made it sing. Is that incoherent
enough for you?
Janeane Garofalo has given me the courage to construct sentences
like that. You don't like it? Bite me.
GAROFALO'S CHARACTER IN ``Mystery Men'' carries her father's skull
inside a bowling ball. Her father is dead -- hence the skull --
but she still talks to him quite a bit. My father is dead and I
talk to him quite a bit too, so I can relate.
The energy of the bowling ball -- it's really the only genuine
superpower any of these woebegone superheroes has -- comes from
the extremely neurotic but always touching relationship between
Garofalo and the skull. She tries to set boundaries, and mostly
she succeeds. She functions better than she thinks she does, which
is itself very post-millennial -- we are most of us in better shape
than we think we are.
(You wait. Y2K will come and go and the world will not end, and
will anybody breathe easier? Of course not. We'll think up some
other reason why everything is hopeless.)
At the end of the movie, when evil is vanquished, Garofalo is still
having relationship problems with the skull. She might have gotten
together with the Angry Guy, because they are so clearly suited
for each other, but she still has Issues. The Angry Guy gets a nice
wholesome waitress who takes away his anger. Garofalo does not get
a wholesome lifeguard to take away her anger, because her anger
makes her whole.
SHE UNDERSTANDS THAT there's stuff to be angry about. She's not
cynical; she just has high standards. It is foolish to have high
standards in today's world, but she doesn't care -- that's who she
She's the new Humphrey Bogart.
The post-therapy generation is a lot like the pre-therapy generation;
it has to live with its own obsessions. There's a kind of grace
in that, a heartening honesty that makes audiences cheer. When she
arrives on the scene, a third of the way through the movie, with
her improbable eyeliner and her cocky strut and her bowling bag,
the audience goes nuts. She's post-everything and the coming attraction;
I have seen the future, and it's short and makes trenchant wisecracks.
Kiss me once and kiss me twice and kiss