Five Films That Prove Cameron Diaz Can Act

by Andrew Osborne

In There’s Something About Mary, Cameron Diaz portrayed the Farrelly Brothers’ fantasy ideal of the perfect woman:  hot, goofy and non-threatening – an approachably attainable sex symbol for the Age of Geeks.  Since then, Diaz has worked her standard bubbly schtick often enough to be parodied by Sofia Coppola in Lost In Translation via Anna Faris (who admittedly felt bad about it later).

But this week, Diaz plays somewhat against type as the titular flawed educator in Jake Kasdan’s Bad Teacher – which got your pals here at Nerve searching our memories (and the Internet Movie Database) for evidence to determine if there’s more to America’s favorite Cuban-European-Native American movie star than just a toothy grin and a happy bouncy butt.

1. My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)

For most of P.J. Hogan’s classic anti-romantic comedy, Diaz is up to her sunny old tricks as yet another perfect dream girl:  inexplicably devoted to the charmless Dermot Mulroney and willing to do anything (up to and including an endearingly tone deaf karaoke serenade) to please him.  But once she catches interloper Julia Roberts snogging her future husband (in an attempt to derail her best friend’s wedding), the character (and the actress playing her) reveal an unexpected vein of steely determination beneath the frothy façade, cutting down her rival as a “two-faced, big-haired food critic” with enough righteous indignation to convert a crowded rest room of bystanders into the rom-com equivalent of a torch-wielding mob.

2.  Being John Malkovich (1999)

Immediately after establishing herself on the A-list with My Best Friend’s Wedding and Mary, Diaz signaled her desire to be taken seriously as an actress by eliminating all traces of what made her a star for this bizarrely offbeat role.  Disguising herself beneath frumpy brown locks more drab than her character’s personality, she earned the respect of film critics (not to mention BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations) as a mousy wife who reinvents herself with the help of a famous actor/puppeteer’s body and the love of a good woman (Catherine Keener).

3.  Vanilla Sky (2001)

Diaz played a ballbusting businesswoman in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday, a kick-ass crimefighter in Charlie’s Angels and an ogre in Shrek, but her most formidable (and scariest) character to date was the best thing in Cameron Crowe’s loopy, uneven brainteaser.  As a suicidal spurned lover who wipes the smile (and most of the skin and cartilage) from Tom Cruise’s pretty face during a vehicular manslaughter attempt, she exudes visceral madness in a dark-side depiction of her typical “dream girl” persona curdling into vindictive rage.

4.  In Her Shoes (2005)

After scoring another Golden Globe nod (and the street cred of working with Martin Scorsese) for Gangs of New York, Diaz surfed along on sequels for a couple of years before delivering one of her best (and most underrated performances) in Curtis Hanson’s adaptation of Jennifer Weiner’s bestselling tale of sisterhood.  As Maggie, the pretty party girl sister of Toni Collette’s successful, judgmental Rose, Diaz works in a quiet register to portray the sadness and resolve of a woman grappling with her own limitations while the rest of the world alternately ogles and judges her outward appearance.

5.  My Sister’s Keeper (2009)

Critics were divided on the merits of Nick Cassavetes’ adaptation of Jodi Picoult’s button-pushing tearjerker about a girl brought into the world to serve as a kidney donor for an older sister with leukemia.  But the film is worth noting for Diaz’s deliberately unlikable turn as an obsessive, unyielding matriarch — a role she pulls off with all the ease and assurance of her daffy comedic work.  Few actors of either gender are quite as comfortable (or credible) in so many genres, meaning there’s still something about Cameron that keeps us coming back for more.

(Or Click Here for the Nerve version!)


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