Film Reviews TV Reviews

When Actors Play Against Type – Jane Levy in the Movie Fun Size

Fret not, world.  If we should ever lose Emma Stone to some horrible tragedy or perhaps permanent blondeness we have a replacement in waiting.  Her name is Jane Levy.  Oh, and she has a little bit of the same husky, vocal fry as Emma Stone.

Levy vs Stone
That’s Stone on the left and Levy on the right. Have these two ever been seen in the same room together?  If not, they might in fact be the same person. Photo credit: twicsy.com

Levy is the both the star and narrator of the ABC sitcom Suburgatory, which has been described by the AV Club as a live-action cartoon and they’re not wrong.  She plays Tessa Altman, a Manhattan teenager transplanted to a ridiculously affluent suburb where she and her dad George (Jeremy Sisto) are the only ones who seem to recognize the insanity surrounding them.  George mostly attempts to make peace with it whereas Tessa simply plots ways in which she could get back to Manhattan.  This set-up positions Tessa as a Daria-like annoyed observer, quick with an eye-roll and witty one-liner (e.g., “Don’t you think it’s time you hung up those mom jeans and went back to being a dad” in reference to her dad’s new jeans).

The First 3 Minutes of the Suburgatory pilot:

With everyone around her (other than Sisto) playing it so big (especially the hilarious Alan Tudyk), Levy is tasked with grounding the show in something remotely similar to reality without seeming like an elitist.  After all, the characters around her are so unabashedly cartoonish and toothless that mocking them too much just seems mean.  The show consistently punctures Tessa’s pomposity and allows her to occasionally be wrong, and Levy plays it all beautifully.

So, I now have this image of Jane Levy as this down-to-earth witty person more likely to go and see a new foreign film at the art house theater than attend a big frat party, as per a recent plot from the show.  I don’t actually believe that is what Jane Levy the person is like.  She is an actor, after all.  Who the heck knows what she is really like, but because I have only ever seen her in the persona of Tessa Altman that is my kneejerk reaction.  Correction, that’s all I had seen her do.

Then I rented the movie Fun Size this past weekend.  The film is basically Adventures in Babysitting if Elisabeth Shue had been babysitting her own siblings and had an awesome party to get to.  The lead character, simply named Wren, is a soulful teenage girl putting in college applications while still recovering from the somewhat recent death of her father.  She cuts up and free-style raps about physics to make her friends laugh.  She wears a geek-chic Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz costume at Halloween and genuinely means it when she compliments a friend for having dressed up as Alexander Burr.

What’s the problem, right?  That’s right in the Tessa Altman wheelhouse.  Well, the problem is that the character I described is played by Victoria Justice, best known as the lead in Nickelodeon’s Victorious.  How does our favorite redhead, Jane Levy, fit in?  She is the lead character’s popularity and boy-obsessed best friend who will dress like a slutty cat at Halloween and would rather literally jump from a moving car than be seen with a bunch of losers.

This:

tessa-altman
Photo credit: kittenhood.wordpress.com

Became this:

fun-size-jane-levy
Photo credit: allure.com

As a point of reference, this is how Tessa Altman dresses at Halloween:

Now, this isn’t Neve Campbell in Wild Things nor is it Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez in Spring Breakers.  I am not talking about an actress playing raunchy to combat type-casting.  Her outfit isn’t all that revealing, and Fun Size is a PG-13 teen comedy from Nickelodeon Films that features a climactic party scene where Wren has to decide whether or not to kiss a cute boy at a party.  It is basically the plot of a standard R-Rated teen sex comedy in a mostly sex-less, tame package designed for tweens but capable of being enjoyed by all ages.  It’s more a case of Levy simply playing a very different kind of character.

In truth, her character is a pretty thinly drawn boy-crazy party girl.  She is the flame-haired devil on Wren’s shoulder consistently urging her to irk all responsibility and get to the cool party at all costs.  She is the one who could hardly care when the lead character’s little brother is separated from them during trick or treating.

Maybe it’s because red has so often been associated with the devil, I don’t know, but in American popular culture we tend to associate red-haired women with fiery passion and heightened sexuality.  Just ask Jack White as he won’t freakin’ stop singing about those “red-haired senoritas.”  And Emma Stone appeared to basically be a femme fatale in Gangster Squad.  So, her spiritual little sister, Levy, could certainly do something similar.  She could play someone the audience is meant to find incredibly attractive, as she is in real life 23-years-old but playing 16/17 on Suburgatory.  But…she’s Tessa Altman.

Trailer for Fun Size

Of course, if I want to put Jane Levy into a box and cannot accept her playing against type that is my own problem.  In fact, one of the most enjoyable discoveries film and TV fans can have is seeing an actor you had pegged as just being one thing prove you completely wrong, i.e., Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, Robin Williams in Insomnia, and John Stamos on latter-era ER (don’t laugh – Uncle Jessie was actually kind of awesome).  However, Fun Size is the odd occasion where you have an actor playing against type opposite a part she would have been perfect for, in this case the role that went to Victoria Justice.  To me, the films plays almost like a Freaky Friday situation in which the two lead actresses switched bodies prior to filming, although I might not think that if I was more familiar with Justice’s prior work on Nickelodeon television.

I don’t know that I am not ready to see Jane Levy do something different.  Heck, Suburgatory has only been around for a season and a half, and I’m a relatively recent convert.  She is going to be a girl who practically goes through hell in the upcoming ultra-gory remake of the already ultra-gory Evil Dead, and that gives me no pause.  I don’t typically have such a problem adjusting to an actor playing against type.  In the case of Fun Size, it was just too easy for me to imagine Levy playing Victoria Justice’s character.  It was distracting.  It was, however, an actual welcome distraction since the overall film is very, very not good.

What about you?  Is there anytime you just haven’t been able to accept an actor doing something you didn’t expect?  Have you seen Fun Size and think Jane Levy was awesome in it?  Let us know in the comments.  However, if your first comment is, “Why on Earth did you watch Fun Size?” don’t bother because I honestly don’t know other than maybe blind faith in Jane Levy.

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