A Celebration of Elisabeth Moss’s Runny Mascara

Photo: Gunpowder & Sky

Elisabeth Moss loves to cry. “I’m never happier than when I’m crying onstage,” the actress once told the New York Times. “It’s super weird, and it’s what I love to do. Isn’t that strange?”

If you’ve been paying attention to her career, this won’t strike you as strange. Nobody on earth does a better fake cry than Elisabeth Moss. Were I as good at something, I would also love to do it, even if that thing was sobbing hysterically for money.

Elisabeth Moss has been in 84 onscreen projects over the past 29 years. I can conservatively estimate that she has wept, hard, in at least 60 percent of them. But here’s what’s incredible: every unhappy Elisabeth Moss scene is unhappy in its own way. Sometimes she’s stone-faced, a single tear dripping down her cheek. Sometimes she’s visibly fighting back tears, only to lose the uphill battle, her face breaking like a wave. Sometimes it’s a full-ass breakdown, her cheeks stretching to bare her teeth as she opens her mouth in a silent scream, her face crumpling, her eyes streaming.

My personal favorite Elisabeth Moss cry, however, is when it results in the utter annihilation of her eye makeup.

Photo: IFC Films

Elisabeth Moss does her best work when she is destroying what is certainly a very expensive professional shellacking. I need my Elisabeth Moss sob with a side of totally fucked-up mascara. I cannot feel anything unless Elisabeth Moss’s face is covered in L’Oreal Voluminous Carbon Black. Give me Elisabeth Moss’s eyeliner skyrocketing across her cheeks or give me death. She is born with it, and it is Maybelline!! I think Lauren Conrad put it best when she said,

Photo: MTV

Let’s (you, me, and Lauren) review some of Elisabeth’s greatest Bulldozed Mascara hits together, from least to most streaky.

The Seagull
Vulture’s review of The Seagull described Moss’s performance as Masha as “tragic, with a hint of the demonic.” This could, essentially, describe any Elisabeth Moss character, which really is incredible, if you think about it. In Moss’s greatest Seagull scene, she wears very little eye makeup, but she’s definitely got some shaded-brown eyeshadow (maybe a Mac palette?) and light mascara on as she chokes back tears, proclaiming she is going to give up on her one true love and instead marry a man who is not smart and not rich. There is no better reason to lay waste to a good daytime eye.

Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

Her bottom lip quivers. Her voice breaks. She chugs her tea, then fills her cup with vodka. “Don’t look at me like that!” she admonishes Corey Stoll, who is looking at her like that. Is he wondering why her under-eyes are suddenly looking as brownish as the tops of her eyes? Is he, like me, upset that she’s not wearing more mascara, so that the effect would be more dramatic? Don’t worry, Corey, we’re getting there.

Top of the Lake: China Girl
In Top of the Lake, Elisabeth Moss is famously muted as Robyn, a detective with a deeply buried dark past. We do get a few good cry scenes out of her, but she rarely wears eye makeup; the only time we get a good Elisabeth Moss Smudge is after her ill-fated wedding.

Photo: SundanceTV

Like Moss’s performance, the smudge is low-key and understated. This smudge is not the smudge of a woman unbalanced, or a woman bereft; it is the smudge of a woman who has played along with the patriarchy for far too long and has. Had. Enough. This is a “fuck it” smudge. This smudge says, “What was I thinking, trusting a man in the early aughts? LOL. Also, I will never put on eye makeup again because there is something about the skin surrounding my eye area that makes it hard for it to stay on. Who am I putting this eye makeup on for anyway? I am in the literal middle of nowhere. I will not continue to perform traditional femininity for a bunch of pedophiles in the bush. From now on, I will wear power suits exclusively.”

Mad Men
It’s Peggy’s birthday, and Don is forcing her to stay at the office and work. She’s also just broken up with her boyfriend, and Don is still refusing to give her credit for an ad that eventually won a Clio. What better time to begin crying so hard she ruins her cute 1960s beat?

Photo: AMC

In this scene, the sight of her own face makes Moss cry even harder. We’ve all been there. There’s nothing more satisfying than crying so hard you make yourself cry even harder. Except, perhaps, watching Elisabeth Moss effortlessly torpedo a nice smoky eye. “Elisabeth Moss looking at herself in a mirror with smeared makeup” will shortly become a theme — please pay attention.

In Us, Moss plays Kitty Tyler — the sort of rich, rosé-swilling, clueless white woman who is ripe for a comeuppance. She gets it when she is brutally murdered by her tethered clone, Dahlia. Fortunately for the audience, Dahlia is far more interesting. Though she never speaks, we understand that she is an avant-garde genius when she — you guessed it — looks at herself in the mirror, smears her makeup (okay, this one is lipstick, but it still counts as Smeared Makeup canon) all over the place, slices her own face with a pair of golden scissors, and laughs delightedly.

Photo: Universal Pictures

Dahlia is a socialist icon, a woman who is just as happy putting on a pink lip as she is carving a gash in her cheek. I’m not advocating that we murder people or insert scissors into our faces, but I am advocating that, as late capitalism slowly erodes our humanity, we feel free to experiment with cosmetics.

Her Smell
Elisabeth Moss spends 90 percent of Her Smell with her eye makeup melting over her entire face. From a character perspective, it’s hard to tell whether it’s on purpose or not — i.e., is this a drunk-rockstar lewk meticulously applied by Becky Something’s makeup artist, or has the makeup slowly devolved over the course of an evening spent alienating everyone who loves her? I don’t care. It’s fabulous. It raises the question: Why wear eye makeup on your eyes when you could wear it on your nose?

Photo: Gunpowder & Sky

Becky attempts to exorcise the devil from her own baby with two dank under-eye smudges. Glitter litters her cheeks as she tells her lifelong friends and bandmates to fuck off. The bottom of her face wears eyeliner better than the top of my face does. It is a tour de force performance from both Moss and her winged eyeliner, which is absolutely never on-point. Not once.

In one scene, Becky looks in a mirror, her eye makeup just about to slide completely down her skin. She confronts herself; she scares herself; or maybe she turns herself on? It’s hard to say.

Photo: Gunpowder & Sky

Later, she looks at herself again with normal eye makeup, and the effect is considerably dulled. Elisabeth Moss with good eye makeup feels wrong — perverse, even. When you’re that good at razing a building, why put it back up?

Photo: Gunpowder & Sky

Queen of Earth
Queen of Earth kicks off with the best Elisabeth Moss Runny Mascara Cry-Face of her well-saturated career. As Catherine, a classic “woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown in the woods,” she has at least four opportunities for a blackened under-eye, and she makes the most of them — but this one is the most impressive, both from an acting and a makeup-ruining perspective.

Photo: IFC Films

The wet hair, the bathrobe, the red nose, the tears spilling into her mouth — this is Elisabeth Moss at her nuclear-meltdown best. “Why are you doing this to me?” she screams at her offscreen boyfriend, who’s just dumped her for another woman. “You can’t explain it? You will explain it!!” Her mascara looks gorgeously insane — this is an old-school mascara smear, the kind that indicates true despair and mania, the kind favored by Snooki.

Photo: MTV

Catherine’s boyfriend sighs. “Can we please just relax?” he asks.

“No, we can’t ‘please just,’” shrieks Catherine. “I hate you. Just go, I don’t want you to see me like this. Leave me alone!”

Queen of Earth does, in fact, end with Catherine alone in the woods, laughing uncontrollably at absolutely nothing. Her eye makeup looks, unfortunately, great.

Photo: IFC Films

In conclusion, here is an example of the actual Elisabeth Moss with a nice, clean eye. But just imagine how good that blue eyeliner would look running down her face.

Photo: JUCO/Vulture
A Celebration of Elisabeth Moss’s Runny Mascara