Why it's best not to think too much about celebrities

Posted on 12 Mar 2010 at 10:11am

If there was one most deserving award at this week’s Oscar ceremony, it was Mo’Nique. As Mary Jones, she kept you glued to the screen. The sassy comedian showed a dark, terrifying side that left you breathless.When he name was read, all was right with the world.

And I hope I never have to endure her again.

I don’t really like Mo’Nique. Not her comedy, nor her other movies, nor her personality. She bores me on talk shows and I think she should shave her legs and her acceptance speech was the height of arrogance. But all that has nothing to do with whether she deserved to win the Oscar. It’s just hard to root for someone when you don’t like them all that much.

The same is true of Sean Penn. When I first heard he was playing Harvey Milk, my initial reaction was, “Really?” Then I saw his performance and was transfixed. Penn became Milk, an actorly transformation that established him, in my mind, as an actor of incalculable skill and bravery. Last year, the conventional wisdom was that Mickey Rourke would win the Oscar for The Wrestler. I never wavered, though. Rourke had a good story, no doubt; but Penn’s work was simply the best.

I just didn’t want to think too much about Penn himself. Penn is the epitome of the navel-gazing “actor,” who sniffs his way through life with contempt for us lesser humans. People who criticize his charitable activities as vanity should die slowly of colon cancer, he said just this week on CBS Sunday Morning. His latest comment that tickled me? Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is NOT a dictator, he maintains, and anyone who calls him one should be put in prison.

Ummm, Sean, jailing people for critizing their leaders is, uhh, the earmark of a dictator. So maybe Chavez isn’t a dictator; but you sure as hell sound like one.

My final Oscar observation: Lauren Bacall. The legendary actress was a surprise loser of her only Oscar nomination, in 1996 when her work in The Mirror Has Two Faces fell to Juliette Binoche in The English Patient. She got the first standing O of the night this week when he was recognized for her honorary award. So meeting her yesterday was quite a thrill.

Except she was kinda bitchy.

I met her at the Nasher Sculpture Center, where she appeared as part of the Nasher Salon, and she walked through the museum with her adorable Papillion, Sophie. I joked with an employee that I didn’t know dogs were allowed in the Nasher, and I’d bring mine next time. Feet shuffled, nervous laughs. The point: Lauren Bacall’s dog is welcome; yours isn’t (until you are of the stature of Lauren Bacall).

When I was introduced to Bacall, I mentioned how beautiful her dog was; she seemed slightly impressed that I recognized Sophie as a Papillion, and not a long-haired Chihuahua. I joked with her, “She’s beautiful — she looks like a fancy version of my Chihuahua.” “Not to me,” Betty snarled. “To me she looks just like a Papillion! And she’s the best looking Papillion ever! Everyone tells me that they have never seen a prettier one.” She didn’t seem to be kidding; she seemed pissed.

Maybe she needs a cat: Me. Ow.

It’s difficult meeting heroes; it’s too easy to be disappointed. Bacall — the prototype for the independent woman on screen — has her rep in part by being a no-bullshit personality in real life. At 85, that can translate as snippiness. During her hour-long presentation, she made catty remarks about Woody Harrelson, picked fights with the master of ceremonies, accused Nancy Nasher with that most dreadful of insults— she said she was “a journalist” (uh, no, her dad built the room you’re sitting in), and when one man got up to use the restroom, she asked him if she was boring him.

Still, it was a treat meeting her. Not many people will be able to say the met her in the future. But maybe it’s best not to think too much about how she thinks her Papillion is better than my one-eyed Chihuahua when I’m watching her movies. No good can come from such comparisons … for Sophie or Lauren.

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