100 Years, 66 Villains: #12 – #7
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 16, 2008
“I Was Going To Do It Tonight Anyway” Edition
Professor Edward Alcott, Loser
Played By: Greg Kinnear
M.O.: I’ve spent far too much time contemplating and writing about just how awful a movie Loser is, but I suppose I do have to give it credit for presenting one of the all-time great schmuck characters in movie history. Kinnear’s character has a direct precedent in Fred MacMurray’s character in The Apartment (the movie is, more or less, a remake of Billy Wilder’s classic Best Picture winner), but as unlikeable as MacMurray was in that movie, he never seemed to rejoice in causing Shirley MacLaine misery the way Professor Alcott seems to revel in abusing Mena Suvari this movie. He spends 75% of his scenes with Dora (the college student he’s having an unsanctioned affair with, played by Suvari) insulting and mocking her, and spends the other 25% commanding her to perform various tasks (the part where he reprimands her for not bringing him his tea in the correct manner probably being the most egregious example). He hangs her out to dry when she OD’s for fear of ruining his good (?) name, and apologizes by lying to his parents about her being his assistant after inviting her to spend Thanksgiving. The best moment, though, has to be when Dora’s asking Alcott some questions about Paul (Jason Biggs) to find out whether or not he’s in love with her, and an annoyed Alcott snaps back, “Hon? I’m reading!”
Classic Villain Quote: “If I wanted all this teenage angst, I’d watch reruns of My So-Called Life!” (In response to Dora’s laments about getting kicked out of school and possibly being homeless)
O’Bannion, Darla and Clint, Dazed and Confused
Played By: Ben Affleck, Parker Posey and Nicky Katt
M.O.: Hard for me to separate these three characters in my mind, since each so perfectly represents their respective particular brand of High School bullying to utter perfection. O’Bannion (Affleck) is the dumbass who seems to delight in physically tormenting kids three or four years younger than him since mentally, they’re already way out of his league. Darla (Posey) is the Queen Bitch that rules over her clique with an iron fist, indoctrinating the weak-spirited Freshman girls into a world of caustic bititerness and needless self-absue. And Clint (Katt) is perhaps worst of all, the tough guy who is willing to take any sort of provocation, however unintended, as a call to flex his near-fascist bodily strength and punch-first mentality. Given that 1976 was also the same year that John Travolta and Nancy Allen poured pig’s blood on Sissy Spacek in Carrie because she was, uh, too quiet I guess, I suppose my generation had it relatively easy by comparison.
Partners-in-Villainy: These are only a handful of the remarkable number of baddies to be found in this movie. There’s also Don and Simone (Sasha Jenson and Joey Lauren Adams), there’s watered-down equivalents to O’Bannion and Darla, there’s Coach Conrad (Terry Moss) who wants protagonist Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) to sell his soul for the team, and there’s Pink’s sycophantic friend Benny (Cole Hauser) who persuades him to do so. There’s even that father who cancels he and his wife’s weekend trip when they discover son Kevin (Shawn Andrews) has a party planned. For a movie that makes me happier to watch than just about any other in existence, it’s amazing that it survived with even half the good vibes that it did.
Tracy Flick, Election
Played By: Reese Witherspoon
M.O.: I don’t care who you were in High School, Tracy Flick had to get under your skin at least a little bit. No high school type is as despised from all corners–the jocks, the stoners, the nerds, whomever–as the Humorless Overachiever, and no HO has ever impressed her will on a movie quite like Tracy. It’s not even the deliberately underhanded stuff that she does–how she tries to railroad her potential competitors out of the race, even sabotaging their campaigns and letting others take the fall for it–that really creeps. It’s the personalized “PICK FLICK” cupcakes. It’s the countless campaign maxims (“You know, Coca-Cola is the world’s number one soft drink, but they spend more money than anybody on advertising. I guess that’s how come they stay number one”). And it’s the genuine belief that somehow a High School election is actually a path to legitimate authority, something really worth winning. Principals don’t cause students to have to sit through mind-numbing assemblies, students cause students to have to sit through mind-numbing assemblies.
Sympathetic Reading: I almost had to disqualify Tracy from this list because as villainous as the movie clearly makes her, they also do a commendable job of showing how Tracy’s parents shaped her to be this way, and how despite her many superficial victories, she’s generally a very lonely and unhappy person. Still, if I was Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), I probably would’ve thrown my drink at her limo at the end of the movie too.
Troy, Reality Bites
Played By: Ethan Hakwe
M.O.: I promise this is going to be the first and last time I do this on this countdown, but because I can’t spend any more mental energy contemplating just how much I hate this character, because I’ve already said just about all I can possibly say on this movie in general, and because I don’t want Ethan Hawke to start taking it personally just in case we ever have the chance to hang out someday, I’m just going to quote my previous breakdown of Troy’s most larcenous scene here:
The best (or at least, most memorable) scene in Reality Bites is when Troy is waiting up for Laine (Winona Ryder) after her Frampton makeout with Michael (Ben Stiller), and she demands to know why he’s suddenly acting so jealous. He gets up from his seat, walks over to her, puts his hand on her cheek, and says with total brown-eyed sincerity: “I am really in love with you.” And for a second, Laine just melts–her eyes drop, her lips quiver, and her previously indignant and pissed-off attitude instantly vanishes. With that one line, you can tell that Troy is, at the absolute most, two moves away from the boudoir. But then his straight face cracks into a smile, and he bursts the bubble: “Is that what you want to hear? Is it? Well…don’t flatter yourself.” It’s a greater act of cruelty from one human being to another than anything I saw in Schindler’s List (well, arguably anyway), especially because from her one-second reaction, it was clear that in fact that was exactly what Laine wanted to hear. But rather than save both of them a lot of time and effort by sinking the pink right then and there, Troy opts for the more immediately self-satisfying taunt approach instead. Like I said, Troy is not a nice guy.
I mean, do you really need any more?
Not Without Precedent: As the twin cinematic paragons of Generation X, Reality Bites and Singles will forever be associated with one another, and rightly so. Therefore it should be no surprise that the Troy type should receive a sort of trial run with Singles‘ Andy (James LeGros), the ex-boyfriend of Linda (Kyra Sedgewick) with an elitist, world-be-damned attitude and a goofy ponytail. If he had been in the movie for more than a couple of scenes, there’s no doubt he would’ve been featured prominently on this list.
Regina George, Mean Girls
Played By: Rachel McAdams
M.O.: To put it simply, no movie has ever made me feel more grateful to have a penis than Mean Girls. Say what you will about guy-on-guy bullying–and I got a bit of it in my day, if maybe not as much as I probably should have–it may be painful, it may be humiliating, but at least it’s almost always straightforward. After all, there are only so many ways that getting punched in the face, getting your bookbag stolen or getting called a “faggot” can be interpreted–unless they’re particularly clever, bullies rarely make the effort to disguise their cruel intentions. On the other hand, the world of female teendom, as promised in Mean Girls, is one of unreletnting subtle psychological torture, filled with lies, mind games and betrayal. And leading it all is Regina George.
Regina terrifies me in the way that only a hott, evil High School girl can. It’s not just the three/four-way phone attacks, the domineering of her friends’ social lives, the long brags about the ways in which she ditches her uncool ex-friends. It’s the fact that–and the movie did a brilliant job of articulating this–despite all this, you still really want the Regina Georges of the world to like you. You might protest to hate them, you might even genuinely feel animosity towards them, but with one word of kindness, you’d be putty in their hands. It’s the kind of power that no one should ever have, much less someone in the mentally formative and emotionally fraught years of high school, but power that Regina harnesses and abuses like no other villainess in teen film history.
And that Rachel McAdams always seemed like such a nice girl.
Small-Screen Equivalent: Maybe a bit of a stretch–and definitely a little of a creepy thought–but did you ever wonder what Angelica Pickles would be like once her body, fashion sense and wallet started to develop?
Steff, Pretty in Pink
Played By: James Spader
M.O.: Oh, Steff. Of all the people on this list–and certainly of all those closest to the top–Steff is both the most monomaniacal and ultimately purposeless in his villainy. He serves but one purpose in the entire movie–to persuade friend Blaine (Andrew McCarthy) not to date Andie (Molly Ringwald), and then once the two do start dating, to persuade Blaine to break up with her. Whether Blaine serves any other purpose in life–if he goes to classes, if he has other friends, if he has any interest in his girlfriend Benny (Kate Vernon) beyond having a partner to make fun of Andie with–is totally unclear. But at every turn in the movie, there he is, telling Blaine what trash Andie is, threatening to friend-dump him if he doesn’t break up with her. And evidently, Blaine is equally co-dependent in this relationship, since he actually listens to STeff’s advice/threats, despite his displaying absolutely zero of the qualities towards Blaine that would be conventionally interpreted as friendship. Such a douche is Steff that he even prompts Duckie (Jon Cryer)–a “lover, not a fighter” if there ever was one–to both initiate and hold his own in a hallway scuffle.
Impressive Resume: William Zabka and James Spader are that perfect example of that classic paradigm: When two people occupy the same pop cultural space (in this case, that of the smug, preppy, blonde teen asshole), one will inevitably go on to a long and successful career elsewhere while the other languishes in relatively obscure PC relicdom. Maybe if Zabka went on to star in indie sensation flicks and win an Emmy or two, we’d be looking back on Spadey’s roles in Endless Love, Less Than Zero, Wall Street and Mannequin instead and cackling at what could have been.