Kristen Wiig: Highly Skilled and Underrated?

Posted by Leah on 12/4/2016 11:05:00 AM

Article first published on

        I wasn’t sure what to write about next. My first thought was to do a contemplative piece on the best actor of our time. I poured over list after list, but all of them seemed to include the same few names, albeit in different orders. It appears that the staples are Tom Hanks, Tom Hardy, Leo DiCaprio, Jake Gylenhal, Matthew McConaughey, Kevin Spacey and a few others, but that the “controversy” (and I use the term lightly here) is over and done with. Everyone has come to the same conclusions; that this list of men are the best of the best in film and that there’s very little argument in that respect. I pretty quickly scrapped the idea of making a “best actor” list, and moved on.
        My next thought was “Ok, best actor of our time is settled, but what about the best women in film?” Another quick search brought back the same sort of results. List after list gave the same names over and over again, but in different orders.

        In looking over these many lists of the best of the best women in film it dawned on me. There was a glaring omission in all of them: not one of these lists mentioned Kristen Wiig. Granted Wiig hasn’t been around as long as some of the other women, such as Meryl Streep, or Tilda Swinton, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t credit due. And please, before you go screaming at the screen, or moving on to a different website, hear me out…

        Wiig is well known for her 2005-2012 stint as a cast member of
Saturday Night Live, but her acting career really began in 2000. At the age of 27, after several years of honing her craft and developing well-known characters with the improv troupe The Groundlings, Wiig landed an untitled role in the short Carnata. Three years later, in 2003, she had earned a role as an extra in the comedy feature Melvin Goes to Dinner, followed by a recurring role as Dr. Pat Lane on The Joe Schmo Show.
From 2003 to 2006 Wiig mostly played bit parts on TV and in film, but her roles in the films
Unaccompanied Minors (2006) and Knocked Up (2007) are when it started to become apparent just how talented a woman she really is.

        Those two roles are considered her break out, and when the more prominent film roles really began for her. Wiig was in 18 films between her break out and 2011, most notably
How to Train Your Dragon (2010), Despicable Me (2010), Extract (2009), MacGruber (2010) and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007).  

        All of the films Wiig had been in prior to 2011 had one thing in common though: they were all comedies, and most of the roles she played were one note wonders. That’s not to say that her roles in these films weren’t enjoyable, it’s just that they were all similar. Each of the roles was just plain silly, to downright ridiculous, and if these were the only films I was basing my opinion on I certainly wouldn’t hold her in such high esteem.

        But these aren’t the only films I’m basing my opinion on. In 2011 we saw Kristen Wiig’s successful writing debut in the hit
Bridesmaids. Her role as Annie in that film was one that she and cowriter Annie Mumolo had tailored to fit her, and it was the first role that truly let Wiig shine. Tom Huddleston of Time Out had this to say about the film and Wiig’s performance, “An effortless blend of bad taste and good humor with a wholly believable, often very touching emotional core, all centered around one of the finest star-making comic performances in recent memory.”
With the character Annie, Wiig was finally able to stretch her legs and start to show us what she’s capable of. Annie is a screw up. She’s lost her job and her apartment; she’s crashing on her mother’s couch, and risks losing the best friend she’s ever had as she competes with the other bridesmaids to prove her worth. But despite all of Annie’s mishaps and mistakes, you can’t help but feel for her, even through the ensuing laughs that follow each blunder. There’s an unexpected deepness to Annie that comes as a welcome surprise, and boosts
Bridesmaids from so-so to brilliant.

        But Wiig didn’t stop there. Once she had proven that she could handle the deep stuff as well as she could comedies, the roles started to pour in. The next film she took on was
Girl Most Likely (2012). The film is a dramadie and follows Imogen, who Wiig plays. Imogen is forced to move in with her estranged mother after she commits a phony suicide attempt in hopes of winning back her boyfriend. She soon realizes that the success she’d been enjoying is fading as she becomes “yesterday’s news”. Feeling depressed and alone, Imogen struggles to figure out what to do next, and how to pick up the pieces of her life.

        In an interview about the film in 2013 with, Wiig had this to say about switching gears and taking on more dramatic roles, “I’ve always wanted to do dramatic stuff. I did two this year that are going the festival route so we’ll see.”

        One of the two films she was talking about was
Girl Most Likely; the second was Hateship, Loveship (2013). When comparing the two films, Girl Most Likely seems like the easier role for Wiig. It’s reminiscent of her role in Bridesmaids, in that she played a woman who can’t seem to get her life together and does all the wrong things in trying to pick up the pieces. In both films there were dramatic and poignant parts, but there was also plenty of comedy thrown in, which is where Wiig has always shined.

Hateship, Loveship though, the comedic elements were gone. The film, although at times bringing a smile to your face, is all drama, and seems like a role that would’ve taken Wiig out of her comfort zone. Upon the release of the film Wiig did an interview with the LA Times, in which she said, “This is probably the most noncomedic thing I've done, so it is a little scary to throw that out there, 'cause you don't know what people will think and it's tricky with marketing these kinds of films. But you do have to let it go at a certain point and just let it be what it is. People are going to say what they're going to say and that's fine. I really love movies where there isn't dialogue every five seconds. Film to me is such a visual medium and I love watching movies where you do sometimes just sit there and look at the scenery, 'cause I don't think we do that much anymore. To me [Hateship, Loveship] is a quiet movie and I think that's a good thing... Those are the kind of movies I like,”Wiig said.

Hateship, Loveship is not the type of film that everyone will enjoy, as proven by its only 50% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the people who do enjoy it seem to hold it in high esteem. Phillip Martin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette said this of the film, “…a remarkably delicate portrait of a shy, recessive, but ultimately unsinkable woman, entirely free of self-pity that confirms the remarkable watchability of Kristen Wiig.”

        It is this “watchability” that has kept Wiig busy with more roles than one person should be able to handle since doing
Bridesmaids. In the three years following Hateship, Loveship Wiig has had roles in 17 films, including the more mainstream The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Anchorman 2, How to Train your Dragon 1-3, The Martian and Zoolander 2. She’s also had several roles in some terrific, if not well known, indie films in that time, including The Skeleton Twins and Welcome to Me (both of which I highly recommend).

        But, as with every actor, there’s been some bad mixed in with the good over the years. The most recent examples include the newly rebooted
Ghostbusters, Sausage Party and Masterminds. I know there are many of you out there who don’t agree with me when I say that I think the new Ghostbusters is garbage, but let me explain. In it Wiig plays Professor Erin Gilbert who, along with the other three women in the group, bungle things that should be simple for scientists, and drool and pine over their male secretary. There are many who applauded the film for proving that girls can do anything boys can do, such as become a scientist,  but I think it’s portrayal of the women is weak and degrading at best. Which is why I was so disappointed that Wiig had a part in it. She’s become one of my favorite actors, so to see her take a step down like Ghostbusters was severely disappointing. But the disappointment I felt then was nothing compared to the utter disgust Sausage Party left me with.

        Sausage Party
is yet another step down for Wiig, who plays Brenda, a hot dog bun. Weird animation aside (the way the bun’s mouths are done is bizarre and seems wrong on so many levels), the film is nothing more than raunchy humor with religious overtones. I’ve come to expect people like Seth Rogan, James Franco, Michael Cera and Jonah Hill to do these kinds of films; they’ve done several of them together through the years, but I’ve come to expect more from Kristen Wiig, given the quality of films she’s done since Bridesmaids. This film is a huge step in the wrong direction for a woman who hopes to be taken seriously as an actor these days.

        And then there’s
Masterminds. Admittedly I haven’t yet seen the film, but based on the synopsis and critic’s commentary on Rotten Tomatoes my guess would be that this is yet another step down for Wiig, who is supposed to be a shooting star at this point.

        Like I said before though, there’s some bad mixed in with the good in the careers of every top actor. Julianne Moore has
Seventh Son, the newest adaptation of Carrie and The Big Lebowski; Helena Bonham-Carter has Great Expectations and the newest Alice in Wonderland films; Cate Blanchett has The Talented Mr. Ripley; there are countless numbers of bad films starring terrific people. So do a few bad films in a row mean that the career of Kristen Wiig is over? Of course not. Do they mean that she doesn’t deserve to be on those “Best Actresses” lists? I’d say no to that too.

        As the names on those lists and the names I just mentioned prove, one needs to look at an entire body of work in order to determine if someone has earned the title of one of the Best in Film. Kristen Wiig’s body of work includes 82 credits; that’s 16 more than Cate Blanchett and 6 more than Jodi Foster, both of whom seem to be mainstays on those lists. The roles Wiig has played that prove she should be on those lists aren’t that many as of yet, but give her time. I have high hopes that her career has only just begun, and that she’ll be up there with the likes of Streep, Mirren and Bonham-Carter in no time, albeit in her own fashion.

        In speaking to
The Daily Beast about Girl Most Likely Wiig said, “It’s so funny. People just expect you to do big things always—meaning big studio movies. I don’t really think of movies as big or small. Personally, even as a moviegoer, I tend to watch smaller films.”

        It is those “small films” that Wiig has excelled at, and they should be what will ultimately decide whether she makes it onto one of those lists or not.

What do you think? Should Kristen Wiig be included in the “best actresses” lists? Who is your favorite?