For decades, the movie business has been searching for "another Carole Lombard," that is, a woman with comedic talent, star quality, beauty and, dare we say it, sex appeal. No, there'll never be a precise copy of Carole, but the goal is to find someone who can continue the tradition, walk in her footsteps. And while Lombard's shoes were size 4 1/2 B, they certainly seem bigger to fill as time goes on.
For much of the '70s and '80s, Goldie Hawn was deemed holder of the "new Lombard" torch. For a brief time, that honor seemed passed on to Teri Garr. Others have been mentioned, too, such as Tea Leoni (who because of her early success in TV was more often compared to Lucille Ball). Candidates needn't be blonde, either -- some viewed Sandra Bullock as a candidate. (Keep in mind we're discussing actresses with Lombard-like attributes, not necessarily someone who could portray her.) More recently, Cameron Diaz has been labeled in that tradition (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/102453.html).
Now, another candidate is on the horizon, drawing comparisons to Carole. Her name? Anna Faris.
She first gained renown in the "Scary Movie" series of horror spoofs, then made a splash last year with "The House Bunny," a film she produced:
Okay, it's apparent she's got the looks to be considered an heir to Lombard. But does she have the acting skills? Several critics have said yes:
* Nathan Lee, the New York Times: "All hail Anna Faris, fake bimbo par excellence, master of the birdbrained double take, our reigning queen of intelligent stupidity."
* Dennis Cozzallo at the blog "Sergio Leone and the Inflield Fly Rule" (love that title!), wrote of her performance in the little-seen 2007 comedy "Smiley Face": "The sublimely goofy, rubber-faced Anna Faris lifts [it] out of its self-imposed aimlessness and into rarified air, borne on clouds of pot smoke and good cheer. It’s not much of a movie — actress Faris accidentally ingests a baking sheet’s worth of marijuana-laced cupcakes and spends the entirety of the picture's running time stumbling from place to place, trying to show up on time for an audition, desperately trying to come up with the money to pay off her dealer, and having the occasional conversation with the disembodied voice of the late Roscoe Lee Browne. ... Faris, who could be a Carole Lombard for the stoned slacker set, makes it worth following along on this not-so-long, not-so-strange, but good-natured and occasionally hilarious trip."
* Scott Foundas, LA Weekly: "['The House Bunny'] is basically on one level and Faris on another — in that exclusive aerie occupied by Judy Holliday, Carole Lombard, Lucille Ball and a few other blissfully original comedy goddesses. If only there was a Hawks or a Lubitsch around to keep her in steady employ."
Therein may lie the problem. The decline of the studio system has made it rough terrain for actresses, particularly those whose forte is comedy (a genre that's still viewed as somewhat subversive for a woman). Faris -- who has said she loved watching Lombard, Ball and other classic comedic actresses in her youth -- no doubt understands the problem she faces.
To her credit, she's not afraid to take chances. In "Observe And Report," the Seth Rogen film issued earlier this year, Faris gives a darkly comic edge to her role as Brandi, a shallow cosmetics saleslady in a mall who falls in with Rogen's security officer. (The movie did lackluster business, probably because it came on the heels of Kevin James' similarly-themed "Paul Blart: Mall Cop.")
Faris has amassed some capital with her fans and critics, and over the next few years, it will be interesting to see what she does with it. Here's hoping she can parlay her considerable talent into a vehicle with the sophistication and intelligence worthy of someone compared to Lombard...that she can become more than merely "this year's girl."