Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Greatish Performances: Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka

"What is this Wonka? Some kind of funhouse?" "Why? Having Fun?"

Back before Blogs were the big thing I used to write what I called an email column, which I guess was a predecessor to a Blog. I wrote movie reviews and other things of interest to me and sent them out as emails to some people, Family and friends mostly. One of the columns I used to write was one called Greatish Performances, which I think I stole from Movieline or EW or Premiere or one of the myriad of movie magazines I used to read. They would take a performance from an actor or actress and just focus on that, not really getting into a review of the film or TV show they wrote about, but a review of a great performance. I have decided to bring that back.

I was flipping the remote around the other day and caught the classic 70s musical Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This happens to be one of my favorite films and the main reason why is the utter insanity that is Gene Wilder in this film. The funny thing is he does not appear until about 45 minutes in because you have to set up the storyline, 5 lucky kids get a chance to get to see Wonka's chocolate factory. Wonka having been a recluse for so long finally appears walking with a cane very slowly and looking very old, then the cane gets stuck and Wilder falls but he rolls and stands up, not old and weak at all, just very deceptive, and the start of his deception. While you spend more time with him you can't believe anything he says or does he's the greatest con man in the world and you love him.

Wilder plays him with a sparkle in his eye, as if he is having the time of his life. This film is weird enough that it gives him license to go out of his head and he does and he is fabulous. Be it the heartfelt singing he does about Pure Imagination, or his insane glee about Augustus Gloop getting stuck in a pipe, or Violet Beaureguard turning into a blueberry, or best of all Veruca Salt getting dropped into the garbage chute. He loves that this horrible children are getting their just desserts, and on top of that he even messes with their parents who are enabling their children's bad habits. It's a fun, sly little act that Wilder nails. He acts like every bizarre thing that happens in his factory is perfectly normal and you love it.

Wilder is loads better then Johnny Depp's portrayal in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, though if Wilder's performance did not exist, Depp's would be a good start, but Depp's was just a little out there for me. His Wonka was a kooky recluse, Wilder looked like he was just biding his time and having fun. And you will enjoy his performance as well.

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