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100 Years, 66 Villains: #2. Maxine in Being John Malkovich

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 6, 2008

$15 to the first person who can guess #1. No cheating.

One of my favorite lines in Being John Malkovich comes when Maxine (Catherine Keener) tells the smitten Craig (John Cusack) how she’s fallen in love–with Craig’s wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz), when she’s in the body of John Malkovich (Malkovich himself, and if you’ve never seen the movie you better stop reading right now, because it doesn’t get any easier to explain from here). Craig, heartbroken and extremely outraged at this proclomation, offers his rebuttal. “I don’t think so. I’ve fallen in love. THIS is what people who fall in love LOOK LIKE!!!!” What Craig looks like, of course, is desperate, disshevelled, and about a half-step away from complete lunacy–the result of half a film’s worth of romantic torture at Maxine’s hand, and a far cry from her current state of light bemusement. Unimpressed, however, Maxine explains the distinction: “Hm, you picked the unrequited variety. Very bad for the skin.”

So, you’ve got two female leads in Being John Malkovich–Lotte, Craig’s frumpy, nagging animal psychologist wife, and Maxine, Craig’s sexy, spontaneous, and highly incorrigible co-worker. Give 100 directors the casting pool of Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener, I’d think it’s relatively safe to say that at least 95 of them would put Diaz–perhaps Hollywood’s most bankable babe at the time thanks to the runaway success of My Best Friend’s Wedding and There’s Something About Mary, and a proven bitch as well in A Life Less Ordinary and Very Bad Things–in the role of Maxine. But the powers that be (likely either writer Charlie Kauffman or director Spike Jonze) decided instead to cast Keener–indie queen extraordinaire, but mostly known for the neurotic, emotional characters she played in The Real Blonde and Walking and Talking–in the femme fatale role, and Lotte as the neglected housewife. It payed off to the tune of an Oscar nomination, a revitalized career, and the #2 spot on this list.

Fact of the matter is, Keener is not particularly sexy when you first see her in the movie, quickly conjuring shivers of Glenn Close Syndrome and fear that the entire movie will hinge on a rather large suspension of disbelief. But a strange things happens over the course of BJM–Keener grows into Maxine. She plays the character with such unbelievable confidence, and is responded to so perfectly by John Cusack’s Craig, that it didn’t take me long to legitimately believe that this incongruous starlet was every bit the deadly sexpot that the movie wants you to see her as. It’s a credit to Keener, sure, but it’s also a credit to a character so unbelievably overpowering that it seems like any actress of half-decent pedigree could easily be transformed.

The thing I find truly remarkable about Maxine is how, well, honest she is. I’ve called her a femme fatale at least once in this article already, and while technically speaking it might be an accurate description (knowing this woman definitely does increase your chances of death, for any number of reasons), she’s not really the heir to Phyllis Dietrichsons, Brigid O’Shaunasseys or even Bridget Gregory/Wendy Kroys of the world, for one primary reason–she’s not nearly duplicitous enough. All of those FFs had to con their way into the beds, lives and financial affairs of the men they wanted to corrupt and exploit, but Maxine wouldn’t ever bother to put herself out like that, instead either plowing straight through to what she wants or letting it come to her. Craig probably wishes she’d be a little bit more duplicitous, so he could at least momentarily taste the illusion of love or sex, which would no doubt be preferable to the insult, rejection and humiliation she regularly subjects him to.

Indeed, Maxine can say it a whole lot better than I can, so let’s get a highlight reel going, huh?

Craig (Telling Maxine about the JM portal): “This is a very odd thing. It’s supernatural, for lack of a better word. I mean, it raises all sorts of philosophical-type questions, you know… about the nature of self, about the existence of a soul. You know, am I me? Is Malkovich Malkovich? I had a piece of wood in my hand Maxine. I don’t have it any more. Where is it? Did it disappear? How could that be? Is it still in Malkovish’s head? I don’t know! Do you see what a metaphysical can of worms this portal is? I don’t see how I could go on living my life the way I’ve lived it before.”
Maxine: [Suggestively gestures towards open window, gets up, leaves]

Maxine: “Have you ever had two people look at you, with complete devotion, through the same set of eyes? No, I don’t suppose you would. It’s quite a thrill, Craig…”

Craig: “I like you. I don’t know what it is, exactly…”
Maxine: “My tits?”
Craig: “No, no, it’s your energy, your attitude, you know, the way you carry yourself…”
Maxine: “You’re not a fag, are you?”
Craig: “No, I am really attracted to you.”
Maxine: “‘No, I am really attracted to you.’ Christ, you are a fag. Well, we can share recipes if you like, darling…”

Maxine: “You’re not someone I could get interested in, Craig. You play with dolls.”
Craig: “Puppets, Maxine. It’s the idea of being inside someone else, feeling what they feel, seeing what they see…”
Maxine: “Yikes.”

Maxine: “You know, if you ever got me, you wouldn’t have a clue what to do with me. That’s the thing, Romeo.”

And that’s barely the tip of the iceberg. Maxine is pretty much every guy’s absolute nightmare girl–the kind that gives you no encouragement, is impressed by absolutely nothing, and ultimately ends up running off with your recently transsexualized wife, but enthralls you so much that every villainous move makes you more and more eager to please. It’s made all the better by the fact that she genuinely seems to enjoy abusing Craig, but only as long as it doesn’t necessitate too much effort, because she doesn’t really even care enough about Craig to get that much pleasure out of his misery–if she can mock “awwww” to his confessions of love on the way back from getting coffee in the morning, that’ll about do it for the day for Maxine.

The act of taking over another man’s body is cool enough to win him a couple of months’ worth of Maxine’s affections, but once that’s up, she’s gone for good, and Craig’s right back where he started. The fact that Maxine seems to develop a soul at the end, appearing to legitimately care for Lotte, barely registers, since the lasting image of her breakthrough is still a more-pathetic-than-ever Craig running after her in the rain, swearing his eternal love to her, and being told to fuck off. Of course, Craig couldn’t possibly be surprised by this at this point, since his character has already summed up Maxine better than I ever could, in three simple words:

You’re EVIL, Maxine.”

(Here’s the list so far, for those of you just tuning in, all of which can be read about in detail from here):

66. Ian / Ray (Tim Robbins), High Fidelity
65. Jacy (Cybil Shepherd), The Last Picture Show
64. Jesus’s Entourage (Bill Nunn, Rosario Dawson, Arthur J. Nascarella), He Got Game
63. Sarah Mitchell (Bridget Fonda), A Simple Plan
62. Agents Big Johnson and Little Johnson (Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush), Die Hard
61. Taylor Vaughn (Jodi Lynn O’Keefe), She’s All That
60. Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), Varsity Blues
59. Philip Stuckey (Jason Alexander), Pretty Woman
58. Mrs. Chasen (Vivien Pickles), Harold and Maude
57. Officer Coffey and Officer Graham (Jessie Lawrence Ferguson and Kirk Kinder), Boyz n the Hood
56. Oliver Slocumb (Ryan Philippe), Igby Goes Down
55. Rick Spector (Michael Bowen), Magnolia
54. Jeanine Pettibone (June Chadwick), This Is Spinal Tap
53. Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston), The Cooler
52. Muriel Lang (Rosie Perez), It Could Happen to You
51. Zachary “Sack” Lodge (Bradley Cooper), Wedding Crashers
50. Bert Jones (George C. Scott), The Hustler
49. Little Bill’s Wife (Nina Hartley), Boogie Nights
48. Amber (Elisa Donovan), Clueless
47. Warden (Patrick McGoohan), Escape From Alcatraz
46. Various Game Ruiners (Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Rooker, Richard Edson, Kevin Tighe, John Anderson, Don Harvey), Eight Men Out
45. Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor), The Craft
44. Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), The Ice Storm
43. George Willis Jr. (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Scent of a Woman
42. David Bedford (John Laroquette), Blind Date
41. Ronny and Donny Blume (Ronnie & Keith McCowley), Rushmore
40. Jonathan Poe (Michael Nirenberg), Searching for Bobby Fischer
39. Bernie and Joan (Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins), …About Last Night
38. Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep), Kramer Vs. Kramer
37. Principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
36. Bill Houston (David Morse), Dancer in the Dark
35. Sid (Voice of John Morris), Toy Story
34. Mike (Joe Mantegna), House of Games
33. Buck Grotowski (Peter Boyle), Monsters’ Ball
32. Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels), The Purple Rose of Cairo
31. Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant), Donnie Darko
30. Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), Office Space
29. Mitch Hiller (Billy Campbell), Enough
28. Mrs. Lisbon (Kathleen Turner), The Virgin Suicides
27. Rose Chasseur (Glynis Johns), The Ref
26. Cobra Kai Dojo (William Zabka, Martin Kove, others), The Karate Kid
25. Heathers (Shannon Doherty, Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk), Heathers
24. Cal Hockley (Billy Zane, Titanic
23. Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
22. Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald, Happy Gilmore
21. Jo (Gretchen Mol), Rounders
20. Ruth Folwer (Sissy Spacek), In the Bedroom
19. Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavettes), Rosemary’s Baby
18. Earline and the Rest of the Fitzgerald Clan (Margo Martindale, Others), Million Dollar Baby
17. Coach Jack Reilly (Lane Smith), The Mighty Ducks
16. Jack Lopate (Thomas Hayden Church), Sideways
15. Walter Peck (William Atherton), Ghostbusters
14. Stephen Glass (Hayden Christiensen), Shattered Glass
13. Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore), Ordinary People
12. Professor Edward Alcott (Greg Kinnear), Loser
11. O’Bannion, Darla & Clint (Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Nicky Katt), Dazed and Confused
10. Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), Election
9. Troy (Ethan Hawke), Reality Bites
8. Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Mean Girls
7. Steff (James Spader), Pretty in Pink
6. Biff Tannen (Michael F. Wilson), Back to the Future trilogy
5. Mr. Perry (Kurtwood Smith), Dead Poets Society
4. The Egan Sisters (Nicole Gelbard, Mia Weinberg, Julie Hermelin, Karen Hermelin, Lisa Spector, Hazel Mailloux and Mary Lynn Rajskub), Punch-Drunk Love
3. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), Fargo
2. Maxine (Catherine Keener), Being John Malkovich

16 Responses to “100 Years, 66 Villains: #2. Maxine in Being John Malkovich”

  1. Daniel F. said

    Since he isn’t listed anywhere else on this list I would say it would have to be Amon Goeth from Schindler’s List.

  2. Mitchell Stirling said

    I’m going to go with Maxine from Memento I think.

  3. Mitchell Stirling said

    or Natalie even.

  4. Garret said

    At the rate that this blog is going, I would say that it’s a toss-up between Anton Newcombe/Courtney Taylor from ‘Dig!’ and that Asian doctor bitch who pisses off Ellen Page’s mom in ‘Juno.’ Because, no, John Huston in ‘Chinatown’ is just TOO. DAMN. OBVIOUS.

  5. Brent said

    I’d lay money on it being Chad from In the Company of Men (provided Andrew’s seen it).

  6. Jason L said

    I’d be pretty happy if it was Patrick Swayze in “Donnie Darko”…

  7. Garret said

    I hacked into Andrew’s account and I’m pleased to inform all of you that number one is, in fact, television station mogul and U62 arch nemesis R.J. Fletcher in ‘UHF.’

  8. Joe said

    Benjamin Caine (Rob Lowe) in Wayne’s World.

    Or my favorite, stalker dad Cullin Crisp (Richard Tyson) in Kindergarten Cop.

  9. Tal said

    Gozer the Destruktor

  10. Anton said

    Kathy Bates’ husband in Fried Green Tomatoes. TOWANDA!!

  11. Greg said

    My best guess is the Principal from The Breakfast Club, but there’s lots of people it could be.

  12. Ken said

    nurse ratchet

  13. Ken said

    *ratched*

  14. billy said

    Colm Meaney’s DEA agent in Con Air should’ve made this list at some point.

  15. billy said

    Marcia Gay Harden should’ve gotten some attention for selling out Tim Robbins in Mystic River.

  16. […] the list, as well as some of the guesses and suggestions you all made in the comments box of our #2 entry. Kevin Spacey deserved some props as the sniveling, incompassionate middle-management type John […]

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