Tribute: Betty White

Posted on January 1, 2022 at 12:37 am

It was a privilege to write a tribute to the wonderful Betty White for rogerebert.com. An excerpt:

White’s utter fearlessness as a performer was grounded in the delight she took in delighting others, especially if she could shock them just enough to make them laugh. She had unbounded enthusiasm, she loved a challenge, and she never worried about whether the character she was playing was likeable. Whether appearing as herself or in character, she always enjoyed the unexpected twist, especially if it was insulting or raunchy. When more than half a million members of a 2012 Facebook group successfully petitioned to have her host “Saturday Night Live,” her opening monologue let them know she did not take herself – or them – seriously. “When I first heard about the campaign to get me to host ‘Saturday Night Live,’ I didn’t know what Facebook was, and now that I do know what it is, I have to say it sounds like a huge waste of time.” That appearance won her an Emmy, one of five, with 21 nominations going back to 1951.

From CBS Sunday Morning:

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Actors Tribute

You Again

Posted on February 9, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Cute people getting mired in a cute situation? Good. Cute situation getting mired in unimaginative slapstick? Not so much. This is yet another one of those movies about characters who have clearly never watched a romantic comedy. If they had, they would know that: trying to break up a loved one’s wedding two days before it is scheduled is not a great idea (“My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Made of Honor,” etc.). You only embarrass yourself by showing embarrassing footage of the bride at the rehearsal dinner (“27 Dresses”). Wandering off by yourself on a visit to the prospective in-laws often results in getting wet and ruining property (“Father of the Bride”). Taking a wedding-related movie down to a PG instead of a PG-13 is usually a sign that the studio does not have much confidence in it (“Bride Wars”) because the script is weak. The characters in this movie are the only ones on earth who haven’t been there, seen that.

It is a cute situation. Marni (Kristen with an “e” Bell) is a smooth, capable, professional woman who is proud of triumphing over her teenage years as an ugly duckling, constantly abused by the mean girls led by head cheerleader J.J. (Odette Yustman). Her comfort during those years was her golden boy brother Will. Now Will is getting married to none other than Joanna, formerly known as J.J. The calm, professional Marni instantly reverts to a cowering mess, and then things really get complicated. It turns out Joanna’s only family is her aunt Mona (Sigourney Weaver), who is none other than the former BFF-turned WFF of Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis), mother of the groom — and of course of Marni as well. Add to the mix a wedding planner (Kristin with an “i” Chenoweth), the bride’s ex-beau, a wise-cracking granny (Betty White, of course), a dance-off, a fluffy dog, and a dad who eats his meals blindfolded (okay, that one I didn’t see coming), and you have pieces that never quite work.  

Just to see the glass as half-full for a moment, I’ll point out that this movie does not have a big but highly touchy client who gets caught up in the chaos or a child to spout out-of-the-mouths-of-babes wisdom.  There are no funny clergy.  There are a couple of genuinely welcome surprise cameos.  Weaver and Curtis do their best to elevate the material and sometimes succeed.  

On the glass half-empty side, there is an icky dentures joke.  Serious injuries are dismissed as blithely as are serious infractions of trust and good judgment.  It is under-written, running out of steam — and ideas — long before it is over.  Ultimately, there’s too much com and not enough rom.  

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Comedy Romance

We Love You, Betty White

Posted on May 8, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Here’s to tonight’s host of Saturday Night Live! Ms. White has been on television since the very beginning, in 1939, when television was just an experiment and no homes had sets. She co-produced and starred in one of the first sit-coms when television began broadcasting, “Life With Elizabeth.” She appeared in an early talk show and in commercials and other series and game shows. And she found romance on television in her real life, marrying Password host Allen Ludden.

My favorite of her roles was Sue Ann Nivens, the “Happy Homemaker” on the fictional Minneapolis television station where Mary Richards produced the news on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Her ribald and often acid humor contrasted delightfully with her dimpled smile and musical voice. She put them to good use as a murderer on “Boston Legal.” Many people remember fondly her addled but always sweet and optimistic Rose on “The Golden Girls.” And she all but stole “The Proposal” from Sandra Bullock. Her faux “behind the scenes” video, where she pretended to be a demanding diva, was far better than the movie it was promoting.

A group dedicated to making her the host of “Saturday Night Live” got half a million supporters. It wasn’t the producer of the show they had to persuade. It was White herself, who had turned down previous invitations to host. She graciously accepted this time, and it is a great way to end the season. If only she could join the cast as a regular!

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