the hahnaissance

Kathryn Hahn Has Always Been a Secret Weapon

Photo-Illustration: Vulture, Disney+, STX Entertainment, Sony Pictures Releasing, HBO and Shutterstock

We witnessed the euphoric highs of Keanu 2019. We allowed Channing Tatum to briefly convince us that, okay, yes, fine, guys can be hot and funny. We even, at long last, uncovered a truth the federal government had kept hidden for decades: that in all applicable cases, Judy Greer should have been the lead. And now, with WandaVision having finally arrived, the time has come. Nothing can stop it — it’s already here.

The Hahnaissance is upon us.

No longer can we ignore that Kathryn Hahn is, and has always been, one of our great screen presences. She has been the best friend, a comedic Swiss Army knife, and a compelling leading lady. Voice acting? Crushed it. Indie darling? Done. Hahn isn’t a jack-of-all-trades so much as the rare master-of-all-trades.

Unfortunately, the quiet consistency Hahn has been bringing for all these years is, by nature, often overlooked. It’s easy to take a performer for granted when they’re just sort of always around, always doing great work but never being particularly showy or awards season–y about it. Nevertheless, it’s starting to feel like an affront to the Hollywood gods for us to take Hahn for granted, especially considering the work she has been putting in over the past few years. Hahn’s recent filmography is that of a performer constantly challenging herself with complex material, often playing against type to some degree or another and finding new strengths as a result.

There’s still nothing quite like Hahn in a scene-stealing supporting role in a comedy, but at this point it’s so abundantly clear that she’s capable of pulling off whatever material is put in front of her. And now that she has finally made the leap to the MCU, it feels as if she’s only begun to show us what she can do. Here’s everything you need to stream to get up to speed on the Hahnaissance.

Step Brothers (2008)

Any Kathryn Hahn scholar must start with this key text. Her breakout role in Adam McKay’s Step Brothers preceded her recent hot streak by several years, and though Hahn had appeared in a number of TV shows and movies before it (including The Last Mimzy, a movie she purports not to comprehend to this day), her turn in the comedy classic is a star-making moment in every way. To steal the show in a film with a handful of comedy legends and Oscar nominees and winners doing their career-best work is no small feat, but Hahn pulls it off with an unhinged performance that includes ruining an a cappella rendition of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and one of the more singularly bizarre makeout scenes ever committed to film. (Available to rent on Amazon.)

Bad Moms (2016) and A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)

If you dig the energy Hahn tends to bring to her guest episodes and arcs on sitcoms (shout-outs to her untouchable run as Jennifer Barkley on Parks and Rec), you’ll have a blast with the Bad Moms movies. Hahn’s Carla, a Brazilian-wax specialist and single mother to a lunkhead teen boy, is every bit the agent of chaos you’d expect from a Brazilian-wax specialist played by Kathryn Hahn. She steals the show in the first film but is firmly planted in the supporting role behind Mila Kunis’s lead character, Amy.

The follow-up, an underrated holiday-season banger that adds Christine Baranski, Susan Sarandon, and Cheryl Hines as the bad moms’ moms, sees Hahn run away with the whole damn movie thanks to a romance with This Is Us beefcake (and Selling Sunset’s season-three offscreen star) Justin Hartley as a male stripper. His waxing scene is top-tier Hahnaissance material, at once fully deranged and weirdly tender and 100 percent relationship goals. Also, in case it bears repeating: Christine Baranski. (Bad Moms is available to rent on Amazon; A Bad Moms Christmas is available on Netflix.)

I Love Dick (2016–17)

Hahn starred in one of the earlier Prime Video originals, a comedy called I Love Dick, which was based on Chris Kraus’s novel of the same title. Hahn plays Chris, a struggling New York artist who travels to Texas with her husband and subsequently develops a psychosexual fascination with a local professor (Kevin Bacon). The show is a vital Hahnaissance text as it’s one of the first times Hahn was tasked with more or less fully carrying a project. Bacon and Griffin Dunne play the series’ other key leads, but it’s very much her show front to back (it’s also hard not to notice its similarities to a later Hahn vehicle focusing on a woman in the throes of a late-stage sexual awakening). I Love Dick was canceled after its first season despite generally positive reviews and has ended up a bit lost amid the constant influx of new streaming shows since its premiere. Still, it perhaps deserves a stronger rep than it has, largely because of Hahn’s presence. (Available on Amazon Prime.)

Private Life (2018)

Writer-director Tamara Jenkins’s Private Life is another overlooked gem, a dramedy as gutting as it is hilarious. Paul Giamatti and Hahn lead a cast of seasoned character actors (including John Carroll Lynch, Molly Shannon, and Denis O’Hare) as a middle-aged couple living in New York and trying desperately to conceive a child. Hahn shines in her role as Rachel in a deeply emotive and nuanced performance, which puts her dramatic capabilities center stage without suppressing the wit that has so long been a staple of her screen presence. In today’s streaming landscape, it’s easy for an earnest, quiet indie to get lost in an ever-expanding sea of big-name directorial efforts and C-rate action thrillers directed by someone who worked second unit on a Marvel movie five years ago. It’s a shame, as Hahn and Giamatti both do some career-best work here. (Available on Netflix.)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Even before Into the Spider-Verse, if you had asked, “Hey, if Kathryn Hahn were to voice a comic-book supervillain in an animated movie, who should it be?” the answer would have been “Well, obviously, she should voice a gender-swapped Doctor Octopus with palpable gay-aunt energy.” Reader, she didn’t disappoint. The cast of Spider-Verse is stacked from top to bottom (Zoë Kravitz has, like, three lines as Mary Jane!), but Hahn still manages to stand out as one of the best. Her jittery, manic take on Olivia Octavius is a blast from the moment she shows up, and it makes a strong case for her ample skills as a voice actor. (Available to rent on Amazon.)

Mrs. Fletcher (2019)

Does Mrs. Fletcher work as a complex exploration of sexuality, touching on the roles that age, race, education, gender, and the culture of pornography play in the development of one’s own? Not really. The limited series makes a noble effort in its attempts to explore such complex subject matter, but it often falters or fails to stick the landing of the point it’s trying to make (of which it seems uncertain to begin with).

Does it work as a platform for Hahn to turn in a career-best performance as a divorced empty-nester who experiences a sexual reawakening when her son goes away to college? Absolutely. Hahn in Mrs. Fletcher is something of a revelation. Playing a character this quiet, passive, and warm seems to buck against everything that makes the actress such a delightful screen presence in the first place — the loud, vocal, and often scathing charisma she brings to every role from Step Brothers to Private Life. She’s playing entirely against type with Eve Fletcher without ever turning down that charisma, only reshaping it to suit the material. Mrs. Fletcher may not be entirely successful as the important work it seems to aspire to be, but as a hangout show that invites audiences to chill with Hahn while she gets buzzed and watches porn for seven episodes, it’s a true delight. (Available on HBO Max.)

WandaVision (2021)

The jury is still out on whether Hahn’s Agnes is who she appears to be in WandaVision. Whether she turns out to be a witch married to the Devil (it’s a whole thing) is anyone’s guess, but so far the character has provided a perfect spotlight for Hahn’s talents. While each episode of WandaVision pays homage to a different classic TV sitcom (I Love Lucy, Bewitched, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show have all been points of reference thus far), Agnes is a constant as the prototypical nosy neighbor and best friend.
It’s a role nobody but Hahn could play, as she channels the smarmy charm of Valerie Harper and Vivian Vance alike. In a show full of classic sitcom homages, her performance is one of the only bits that feels authentically ripped from a Nick at Nite programming block. Sure, she’ll probably get some gaudy CGI powers and drop the bit eventually, but for now Agnes remains pure, uncut Kathryn Hahn energy. (Available on Disney+.)

Kathryn Hahn Has Always Been a Secret Weapon