Ben Brantley: Celebrity Underminer

If it’s true that certain film actors — even those who slum it on Broadway — really just want to be recognized for the hotties they are, they don’t have much to complain about when it comes to Times theater critic Ben Brantley. They owe it all to his patented celebrity smackdown formula: a leering paean to their blinding beauty, followed by cruel dismissal or the faintest of praise for any actual acting that might take place. In today’s review of A Little Night Music, Catherine Zeta-Zones is called “lively,” “beautiful,” “lustrous,” “vulpine,” and “drop-dead gorgeous” … all while he implies that she’s miscast and overemotes, and writes that “swapping arch banter, sung or spoken, doesn’t come naturally.” Other movie stars have fared even less well.

4/20/06, Julia Roberts, Three Days of Rain:
“O.K., if you must know, she’s stiff with self-consciousness (especially in the first act), only glancingly acquainted with the two characters she plays and so deeply, disturbingly beautiful that you don’t want to let her out of your sight. Now can we go back to discussing Mr. Greenberg’s play? Fat chance.”

10/19/07, Claire Danes, Pygmalion:
“Much of the advance interest has centered on the Broadway debut of Ms. Danes, a pretty movie actress who appears regularly in films and in gossip columns. But her game, conscientious portrayal doesn’t make much of an impression here.”

11/2/07, Jennifer Garner, Cyrano de Bergerac:
“Not incidentally, Ms. Garner radiates megawatt beauty in Gregory Gale’s sumptuous period costumes, and speaks Anthony Burgess’s peppery rhymed translation with unaffected sprightliness. If she’s a tad stilted in the big tragic finale, her comic timing is impeccable.”

2/13/09, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Uncle Vanya:
“Ms. Gyllenhaal, a charming film actress, certainly matches the other characters’ descriptions of Yelena as a languorous beauty. She wears Suzy Benzinger’s sleek-fitting period dresses like the mermaid Vanya says Yelena is, and she walks in a slow-motion haze, like one hypnotized by her own attractiveness. But her clear, matter-of-fact voice doesn’t have much variety here.”

10/7/09, Jude Law, Hamlet:
“Hold your breath, sports fans! Here’s Mr. Law, lithe and taut, bracing himself for that first tricky soliloquy, ‘O that this too too solid flesh would melt.’ No melting here. Mr. Law, gesturing and enunciating violently, nails the speech with the attack of an electric hammer.”

10/23/09, Sienna Miller, After Miss Julie:
“Ms. Miller registers as a healthy, sane young woman with good diction, good posture and great legs. Commendable as these attributes are, they are of limited use in portraying a tautly wound, death-courting neurotic who is eaten alive by her own demons.”

Ben Brantley: Celebrity Underminer