02 March 2012

Profiles: Jonah Hill - Getting Skinner & Getting Better

Jonah Hill has become a big actor suddenly. He's actually due for an impressive first half of the year coming off an Academy Award nomination for Moneyball (2011), actually looking entertaining in the upcoming 21 Jump Street (2012), and looking part of an ensemble A-list comedian class for this summer's Neighborhood Watch (2012), the trailer for which just came out.

So how did this little chunky virgin turn into the hot Hollywood property? Half a decade ago he was a staple of terrible but cult-ish slapstick comedies and now he's the talk of the town. There is an obvious correlation here that as he has gotten skinnier he has also become less stupid. We'll have to get into what that means for comedians as well, as often, as Jonah put it himself in Funny People (2009), no one wants to laugh at a physically fit man.

Jonah The Fat Virgin: 2006 - 2007

Jonah has had plenty of smaller roles, mostly in big comedies. For the purposes of this profile though, we'll stick to his culturally significant roles. And yes, for us that starts with Grandma's Boy (2006), one of his first larger speaking roles. For a while it seemed as though Jonah as the equivalent to this guy, just a fat nerdy kid who would awkwardly pop in places. I don't understand why Grandma's Boy is so great while all the other Happy Madison productions have been so terrible. In both this and Accepted (2006) he plays the same kind of weird, awkward kid but definitively the straight man to some of the crazier characters. Although he did get his first 13-hour boobie suck. Still he exhibits this kind of dry snide humour throughout that he would overplay in later roles.

As this time period progresses we have Knocked Up (2007), where he was really just part of Seth Rogen's buddy group, and probably the least developed out of any of them. After that though we have what will likely be forever be the definitive Jonah Hill role, Superbad (2007). He plays perfectly between that Fat Virgin and the Beta Male trying desperately to be an Alpha. To Michael Cera's extremely straight character, Jonah was also finally able to express his wilder range outside of just the sarcastic but otherwise quiet and sheltered fat kid. Both of these films introduced the potential of Jonah appearing in...well, everything.

Jonah The Bit-Player turned Leading Man: 2007 - 2010

For the next few years Jonah had some bit parts in plenty of Apatovian Comedies, and some are kind of memorable. He had had this kind of distinction with appearances in "blink or you'll miss them" kind of roles in flicks like The 40-Year Old Virgin (2005) and Click (2006), but as an important yet small part of the ensemble Walk-Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007), he really showed that he has the confidence to become more than he was. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) was the same kind of story, although that film is fantastically better. He's a solid contributor here and moving away from both either the confident nerd or the Fat Virgin into more of a well-rounded actor. In Funny People he continued this development in playing some kind of hipster comedian, although his purpose serves more as an alternative to Seth Rogen's storyline that defines that character more than his own.

I should mention Strange Wildnerness (2008), which is underrated as one of the worst movies of all time. It's this weird amalgamation of Happy Madison, Broken Lizard, and Apatovian Comedians that isn't pulled off at all. Jonah plays an off-the-wall hillbilly character who has no purpose at all. It's really something we should all forget. Immediately.

Towards the middle of 2010 Jonah started finding his career taking off, or at least being considered for some big parts. Get Him to the Greek (2010), the Forgetting Sarah Marshall spinoff, features a role arguably bigger than Superbad, although thankfully not with his original character. He moved on from playing naïve young high schooler to naïve young professional. The same year he starred in a slight departure from his typical films with Cyrus (2010), which was like transpotting the signature weird Jonah character into a more dramatic scenario. Cyrus above everything else probably proved his resume good enough for Moneyball.

Jonah The Trim Jim: 2011 - Present

Although Jonah slimed down in 2011, the movies he made when he was fat were still coming out, but they got better and better for him. That said, his animated television project, Allen Gregory absolutely fell on its face. That show was awful and lasted half a season on FOX before it got the axe.

So we come to Moneyball. Actually Jonah in Moneyball is like a more sober version of the character he played in Get Him to the Greek. He's a young professional learning the ropes and trying hard to prove himself and impress his much-more famous boss (P. Diddy / Brad Pitt). Again, he's having success by taking his downtrodden, sarcastic and witty character into different film territory.

A few months later he had his first solo vehicle, The Sitter (2011). I didn't see The Sitter. It looked pretty funny, where Jonah played an extremely selfish and sex-obsessed babysitter. It was a nice little comedy, although possibly more into Fat Virgin territory than anything that moved Jonah forward. Still, the fact that he can now carry a movie in production is something. Superbad was fueled by literally everyone else involved, from Apatow to Cera, and Get Him to the Greek was more a chance for Russell Brand to document his life than anything else.

Jonah was first able to show off his new tight bod in the above Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011) commercial. I'm wondering how what kind of persona Jonah has settled on. He's not really the helpless nerd, nor the aggressive Beta anymore. He seems to be filling a gap for some kind of fully capable yet endearingly sarcastic eternal rookie who gets himself in all kinds of zany hijinks. 21 Jump Street (2011) opens up in a few weeks as another installment in the Jonah wrinkle. It seems like he's basically turning into a respectable actor, but using his youth to his best ability. As the pounds keep dropping it seems like he's no where to go but up.

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