Friday, May 29, 2020

Performance Piece: Jennifer Tilly, "Seed of Chucky" (2004)

(Every month or so, I choose a different performance in a film to highlight and analyze what makes it work so well. This is the first:)

The Performer: Jennifer Tilly

The Performance: Playing "Jennifer Tilly" and "Tiffany Valentine" in Seed of Chucky

Why Her?

For the debut entry in my "Performance Piece" series, I wanted to write about an actor whose performance I believe is legitimately iconic. And what better performance to select than one from a film that I personally love, but has otherwise been dubbed by some people as, and I quote, "truly the shit stain of the [Chucky] franchise"? While I won't deny that Seed of Chucky is...baroque, to put it lightly, there is at least one reason to give it at least one watch: The performance courtesy of the film's female lead, Jennifer Tilly.

Jennifer Tilly as Tiffany & herself in Seed of Chucky (2004)

Jennifer Tilly stars alongside Brad Dourif (reprising his role as the titular doll) in Seed of Chucky. Tilly plays a dual role in this film: She plays Tiffany, Chucky's wife and fellow doll, as well as herself. Seed has many, many plots, but one follows Tilly, dissatisfied with starring in the movie within a movie "Chucky Goes Psycho", trying to fight for the role of the Virgin Mary in rapper/director Redman's (playing himself) upcoming biblical epic. Meanwhile, in another plot, the newly resurrected Tiffany, who is coincidentally Tilly's number one fan, plots to switch bodies with Tilly so that she can usurp Tilly's fame and be a star. Tiffany also plots to secure Redman for Chucky to switch bodies with, and also plans to use Tilly's body as a surrogate to carry a baby for her and Chucky's gender confused spawn Glen/Glenda (Billy Boyd) to use as a host. If you didn't get the hint from that small description of two of Seed's various subplots, Don Mancini, who wrote and directed the film, stacked this film with a lot.

However, the main aspect of Seed that makes this movie work, despite it having possibly too much going on, is Tilly's performance. To begin with, Seed would completely fall apart without Tilly's total commitment to lampooning herself: One of her first lines in the film is lamenting the state of her career, saying "Look at me: I'm an Oscar nominee for Christ's sake, now I'm fucking a puppet." That line sets the tone for not only the film's meta humor, but also Tilly's willingness to go all the way to satirize herself in more ways than one: At one point, when Tiffany is dragging an unconscious Tilly away, you can hear the doll grunt, "Fuck she's fat; I can't believe that she's not even pregnant yet." Not only does Tilly as Tiffany's delivery make that line land, but Tilly revealed on Seed's DVD commentary that she improvised that line while recording. Not many would be willing to go there about their looks, but Tilly goes there. Not only does she crack jokes about her weight, but also of her trademark unique voice: During one scene in which a distressed Tilly is calling her assistant Joan (played by Hannah Spearitt of S Club 7 fame) Tiffany intercepts the call to mess with the two women. Tilly, who thinks Joan is impersonating her, shouts that she does "not sound like that", to which Tiffany responds, "Oh, yes you do!" Which, again, thanks to Tilly's deliver makes the joke hilarious instead of eye roll-inducing.

"Why don't I get taken seriously?"

Which brings us to another reason why Tilly's performance works so well: Using her skills as an actress, including her trademark voice, she is able to separate Tiffany and herself as two individual characters. Tilly as herself is a self-centered somewhat unlikable diva, while Tiffany is struggling to transform her new family into her ideal of the perfect family, while remaining in denial of her unhinged psychopathy and the effect it has on others. On a purely vocal level, Tilly uses a subtly higher register for Tiffany, while using a lower register for her performance as herself. This acting choice by Tilly works in her favor, as her separating of the characters wouldn't work without it, especially in scenes requiring the two of them to interact. Tilly's separation of herself and Tiffany allows for a hilariously antagonistic dynamic between her two characters to be formed, resulting in exchanges like Tiffany repeatedly urging Tilly, while giving birth to Chucky's spawn, to push, which gets the response, "I am pushing, you little starfucker!" from Tilly. Again, this may not seem super funny in text form, but Tilly's line deliveries will make you laugh hard.

Jennifer Tilly does not get along with Jennifer Tilly

Finally, the other thing in Tilly's favor is, surprisingly, Mancini's screenplay or, specifically, the material Mancini's screenplays affords her. Outside of the Chucky films, Tilly commonly plays two types of roles: Either the bimbo, or the vamp. While she definitely gets to play shades of those two types in Seed, Tilly also gets to perform aspects of several different genres throughout the film, sometimes more than one at once. You've got her impeccable comedic timing on display throughout, successfully delivering lines like "Hell would be ending up on Celebrity Fear Factor in a worm-eating contest with Anna Nicole Smith," and "Well, Bound is on cable. Gina Gershon is fingering me." Then, you've got her playing through horror tropes: In one sequence, Tilly's attempt to seduce Redman to secure the Virgin Mary role is interrupted by Tiffany knocking Redman unconscious. Tiffany then looks to attack Tilly next, as part of her plan to use Tilly's body as her vessel and surrogate, and the latter reacts as you would expect one to act in a horror film. Tilly sells the horror with her facial expressiveness and her screaming capability. She even gets some dramatic beats, such as the end of the climax where Tilly comforts the tearful Glen after he kills Chucky via cutting off his limbs and head in what is a surprisingly moving little moment. No matter what Mancini throws at her, Tilly is ready, willing and able to knock it out of the park.

The versatility of Jennifer Tilly in Seed of Chucky

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