The Boyfriend of the Week

April 15, 2010 [comment on this write-up]

I know that in my (no-longer) recent review of the movie Whiteout, I said I was planning to make Tom Skerritt the first Boyfriend of the Week for 2010 (the review was "recent" when I first started drafting this write-up -- er, last February). But I lied. As Bobby Brown would say, that's my prerogative. (Altogether now: It's my, my, my, my, my, my. . .)

The first Boyfriend write-up of the year is a big one, though, right? It sets the tone for the rest of the annum. And, dammit it all, the tone I want to set for 2010 is not Tom Skerritt. It's just not. It's J.K. (Jonathan Kimble) Simmons. IT JUST IS. You know why? Because I love this man. I absolutely adore him in every way imaginable. And if the rest of the year's Boyfriends can come even remotely close in terms of incredible talent, adorably sweet looks, and overall awesomeness, it's going to be a banner hallowed year of super-hallowed hoorayville.

That last sentence, incidentally, is why I don't write for money.

While prepping for this write-up, I was trying to think of where I first encountered the great J.K. I went back through his IMDb page to find the earliest thing on the list and, after great deliberation and wracking of brain (this is, indeed, how I spend way too much of my free time -- wracking and deliberating over cute boys), I've come to the conclusion that it has to have been Law & Order. That is, I've seen many of the films that preceded his role as Dr. Emil Skoda, the psychiatrist from both Law & Order and its spin-offs Law & Order: Special Victimization of Women for Your Twisted Entertainment (BotW name-drop: Christopher Meloni!) and Law & Order: Criminally Boring Intent (BotW name-drop: Jeff Goldblum!) but I don't remember his characters in any of them. It wasn't until I saw him play Skoda, the sensitive, smart, compassionate psychiatrist who works with the NYPD, that I really fell arse over teapot for him. What a gentle soul. What a sweet, good man. What a delightful twinkle in those deliciously crinkly eyes.

And then I rented the first season of the HBO prison series Oz and nearly lost my mind.

Since then, I've seen just about everything Simmons has done (except for a few of the newer things like Up in the Air -- on tap for this weekend) and been consistently impressed by the ease with which he is able to slip into such an astonishingly wide range of characters. Compare his role as the witty, adoring father in Juno, for example, with his part as Nazi rapist Vern Schillinger in Oz. See if that doesn't just blow your mind from here to the moon and back again (not that you can get to the moon anymore, thanks to Obama). That the same actor could play Schillinger with such authentic nightmarishness and then glide right back into characters like Mac McGuff is nothing short of incredible to me.

When I saw J.K. Simmons as Schillinger, he was thoroughly and completely Schillinger every single time. Every single scene. Every single episode. Ever so singly horrifyingly so. And yet, I have never seen Simmons in a non-Schillinger role and felt even the slightest twinge of Schillinger in him. That's just not true for many other similarly-disturbing movie characters: Anthony Hopkins will always be Hannibal Lector to me, I'm sorry to say, just as Anthony Perkins never stopped being Norman Bates. (Just as Christian Bale will always be naked running around with a bloody chainsaw -- sorry, Bale fans.) And that's not because those actors were in any way more effective at scaring the hoo-hah out of me. Instead, it's because they were never able to shake those parts back off (for me, anyway) the way Simmons seems so readily able to do. I don't know what the difference is. I really don't. But that ability is there for some actors and not there for others. And it's there for J.K.

He's a man with broad talents, I guess is what I'm saying. Though in reviewing his IMDb list I noticed he often plays a serious character -- a man in charge, like a doctor, a cop, a boss, or a father -- he's also extremely good at playing total doofuses. And, man, is he ever amazing at scaring the crap out of you too. That's range, my peoples.

Here are a few of my favorite J.K. Simmons characters -- let me know if I missed any of yours in the comments!

Dr. Emil Skoda (Law & Order, plus spin-offs, 1994-present):

Don't you wish Dr. Skoda could be your psychiatrist? Every time I see him on an episode of L&O: Etc., I am overcome by the urge to curl up on his couch and let the contents of my soul spill out all over his floor. And, I confess, I'm usually equally overcome by the urge to violate doctor-patient boundaries, if you know what I mean. Nudge, wink, SAY. NO. MORE. It's a good thing he only plays a doctor on TV, eh?

George (Off the Map, 2003):

Have you guys seen Off the Map? This is one of my favorite films, and, bonus!, it also stars a couple of favorite ex-Boyfriends: Jim True-Frost and Sam Elliot (not to mention the awesome Joan Allen). It's about a New Mexico family that lives "off the grid" (no jobs, no electricity, no bills, no wi-fi, NO NETFLIX, GASP!). One day, they are approached by an IRS agent (True-Frost) who claims they owe thousands in back taxes. Being mellow hippies, they just calmly return to their naked gardening (long story), and when the agent is promptly stung by a bee and nearly dies, they gently take him in. As he slowly recovers, he soon finds deep inspiration in their lifestyle and their personalities. This inspiration eventual releases a huge wave of creativity and verve from deep inside -- a wave that's been dammed up for years while he struggled to figure out his purpose in life. J.K. Simmons plays George, the best friend of the suicidally depressed family patriarch, Charley (Elliot). George is the quiet, calm, reasoned, empathetic counterbalance to the exceedingly troubled Charley. He's got his own problems, sure -- for one thing, he's painfully lonely. But he's the kind of character I'm drawn to instantly. A simple character. So real, so intense, but so, so sharp and clear. Great film -- rent it. Or better yet, come over to my house and watch it with me. It's been far too long.

Mac MacGuff (Juno, 2007):

I had a few problems with the movie Juno, but overall, I really enjoyed it (in no small part because I saw it in the theater with my sister, who was pregnant with my niece at the time -- a poignant combination). One of the main reasons I liked this movie, though, is because of Simmons's portrayal of Juno's father, the sarcastic yet fiercely loving and protective Mac MacGuff. He's the father we all wish we had, right? He sees right through our bull, calls us out on it, and then sits us down for the kind of talk that changes everything. Dads rule. This is why dads rule. My dad is a lot like that, though I think if I'd come home pregnant in high school, he probably would've popped me one (oh, not really!). (Hi, Dad!)

Assistant Chief Will Pope (The Closer, 2005-present):

The Closer, TNT's series starring Kyra Sedgewick as Brenda Johnson, lead detective in a major crimes unit, is one of my favorite current crime shows, though I will confess I found the last season a bit ho-hum. (Tangent: the relationship between Brenda and Fritz is starting to bug me, primarily because it doesn't feel at all dynamic. They keep having the same arguments over and over without ever changing, either one. Maybe that's realistic; it probably is. But it doesn't make for very gripping television, I'm afraid. Also, let's naively pretend it's not realistic either, if only for the sake of my optimism about relationships and life in general.)

In this one, J.K. plays Will Pope, Brenda's boss and ex-lover, a relationship that has been fraught with intense complexities since episode one. I love Chief Pope because he's the perfect kind of leader: the kind who listens to both sides and then makes a damn decision already. And once the decision is made, he sticks to his guns no matter how often his pretty ex-girlfriend bats her Southern drawl at him. You go, Chief Pope. As an added bonus, his tough side is very well balanced by a gentle side, and his moments of true tenderness and respect for Brenda will tug at your heart in a way that feels very, very good.

Stu Kopenhafer (New in Town, 2009):

I reviewed this sweet little romantic comedy not too long ago, so you can swing over to the blog to get caught up if you're interested. It's a simple fish-out-of-water story, primarily serving to remind us why we love Harry Connick Jr. sooooo much. Stu is the local who keeps poking metaphoric sticks at the new fish, a Miami executive played by Renee Zellwegger who has just been transferred to the middle of nowhere in Minnesota to work on closing a huge plant down. Stu's accent is hilarious and spot-on (sorry, Minnesotans, but you do, in fact, talk just like that), and his character is a lovable mix of devilishness and gentility. He's the kind of man you marry and have kids with, even though he smells like seafood all the time during ice-fishing season. Bring it, Stu. (Honestly, just looking at this photo of him makes me happy -- it may be a cheesy, predictable movie, but he makes it WELL worth a rental, trust me.)

Mr. Wroblewski (Jennifer's Body, 2009):

The other doofusy character I saw J.K. play recently was Mr. Wroblewski in the horror-comedy Jennifer's Body, which I also reviewed recently (and which, BotW name-drop!, co-stars Adam Brody as an evil indie rock band singer -- brilliant casting!). Mr. W is one of Jennifer's teachers -- the messy-haired, über-geek teach who tries so hard to "get" the kids of today and fails with dramatic and painfully funny effect. I was really surprised when he showed up in Jennifer's Body (though I suppose I shouldn't have been -- I suspect Diablo Cody has as much of a thing for J.K. as I do), and then really pleased. That's how I always feel when I see J.K. Simmons, in fact. I almost never expect him, and then suddenly he's there, and I'm all, "Oh look! It's J.K.! SWEET. I love this movie/tv show/whatever." It doesn't take much. One smile, one witty line, one dapper suit. One anything from J.K. and I'm a fan of whatever it is for life. (Exception: Autumn in New York, snooze gak vomit sneeze.)

Vern Schillinger (Oz, 1997-2003):

Okay, so I guess I have to mention this fella too, even though he's not a character I would consider a "favorite." For those who aren't familiar with it, Oz was a series on HBO that was all about a prison. The show was essentially structured to follow the prison sentence of newly incarcerated Tobias Beecher, who shows up for his first day in the slammer in the pilot. Tobias is essentially a good guy who just got stupid -- a white-collar criminal with a family and a fairly decent sense of right, wrong, and regret. As the series progresses, however, we watch his evolution from good guy to extremely screwed-up guy, an evolution sparked Big Bang style by his evil cell-mate, Vern Schillinger.

Vern is a skinhead who initially lulls Tobias into a sense of security, only to immediately turn around and begin systematically torturing him night after night. The more time Tobias spends with Vern, the more dramatically unhinged he becomes. Scene I will never forget: the fingernail murder. Good lord, remember that? Gah. GAH. This series may not be terribly realistic -- having never been to prison, I can't tell you for sure. But it's definitely gripping and thoroughly unsettling. And occasionally, it's also extremely moving. Plus, it's full of a lot of actors I adore: Ernie Hudson, Harold Perrineau, Lee Tergesen, Dean Winters, Rita Moreno, Terry Kinney, B.D. Wong (another L&O psychiatrist, incidentally), and Kirk Acevedo.

One thing's for certain when it comes to Oz: If that's what prison is really like, I definitely could not do the time. In that case, I better not do the crime. Maybe Oz should be required viewing for all 14 year-old boys? Girls too, let's not be sexist.

J. Jonah Jameson (Sam Raimi's Spider-Man series, 2002-present):

And last but not least, there's Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man series. I figured I'd better mention this one lest you comic geeks out there go all bananas. But I confess I'm not a huge fan of these films (liked the first one, a bit less enthusiastic about the second, never got around to seeing the third), so I don't have much to say. Thought he was great, though. Always, always. The perfect blend of serious and silly, to very, very good comic-book effect.

Coming up next for J.K. are a couple of new films, as well as his continuing gigs on L&O: Etc. and The Closer. The first movie he'll be in is An Invisible Sign of My Own, based on the Aimee Bender novel of the same name. I loved the book, a wonderful and strange tale about a young math teacher named Mona Gray. The plot of this story, which focuses on her fear of death and love of numbers, is almost impossible to describe. But the book is weird and brilliant, and I can picture J.K. perfectly all tangled up in its pages. Can't wait to see what it's like and hope it manages to capture some of the uniqueness of Bender's writing as well as her characters.

After that comes The Good Doctor, which will star Orlando Bloom as a doctor who becomes obsessed with a young female patient and begins sabotaging her treatment to keep her coming back. Not sure what role J.K. has in this one, but I'm going to guess he'll be something like an FBI agent. Or a doctor. Somethin' bossy. Ain't no comedy, that's fo' sho'. I'll probably pass on this one, not being much of a Bloom fan (*duck*).

Finally we'll get A Beginner's Guide to Endings, due out later this year. This one is written and directed by Jonathan Sobol, and costars J.K., Harvey Keitel, Scott Caan, Dennis Hopper, and Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer. Good cast, but I couldn't find out much about the story, other than that it's got something to do with three brothers "attempting to correct a lifetime of errors after they discover their days are numbered." Curious. We'll see.

All in all, it looks like it's going to be another great year full of a ton of delicious J.K. Simmons action. And while I'm still working on the personal writing project (a novel!) that led to the temporary hiatus on Boyfriend write-ups here earlier this year, I think I'm sufficiently caught up now to be able to get back to work on semi-regular postings (I will certainly try, anyway). To keep yourselves occupied between write-ups, though, make sure you check in at the Boyfriend News & Reviews blog regularly. I'm posting there several times a week with book, movie, and TV reviews, as well as, this month, a series of movie-related haiku to celebrate National Poetry Month (April, yo!). Check it out, comment, participate, be part of our community! We would love to have you, and we're a fairly nice bunch of yay-hoos.

To paraphrase Tangina Barrons from Poltergeist: "All are welcome, ALL welcome! Go into the blog. There's peace and serenity IN THE BLOG." I'll see you there.

MacGyver Factor Score: 99.999%.

Points off for . . . Nope, I got nuthin'.

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