In Praise of Rosemarie DeWitt

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in NY Press Exclusive.


Rosemarie DeWitt. Photo by Pullcciano, courtesy of Flickr Commons

Anyone who’s seen the ad for the new summer sci-fi comedy The Watch, in which a bunch of nerdy male ne’er-do-wells team up to battle alien invaders, know that it’s largely a sausage fest. Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade round out the primary cast. But anyone who’s seen the preview knows that there’s also a woman with a prominent role in the cast, Rosemarie DeWitt, as Stiller’s wife.

 

And that’s the casting that has me excited.

 

DeWitt, you see, is on that small roster of incomparable actresses who can really do no wrong; versatile actresses who plumb the depths of their soul just to make their work look easy. And perhaps DeWitt has done far too good a job of that, as she has yet to land on that list of actresses people immediately refer to when discussing her generation, names like Blanchett, Watts, Winslet, Connelly, Adams, or Gyllenhaal. (Fun fact: DeWitt is the great-granddaughter of boxer Jim Braddock, the man chronicled in the Russell Crowe vehicle Cinderella Man, and even played a small role in the movie.) But anyone unfamiliar with what this major talent can do would be wise to catch up to some of her biggest career triumphs.

 

For instance, while co-star Anne Hathaway got the Oscar nomination for Rachel Getting Married, it’s DeWitt – who plays Rachel and does indeed get married – that really embeds herself onto the audience’s heart. Rachel is a complicated woman who seems to have everything together but harbors deep-seeded hurt and anger. Unlike Hathaway, whose addict character Kym got to unleash her vitriol at regular intervals, DeWitt had the trickier job of telegraphing the fraying tectonics within Rachel over the course of the film. The results are harrowing for being all the more realistic.

 

So, too, was DeWitt’s work on Showtime’s now-cancelled The United States of Tara. Again, DeWitt played the supporting role of sister to a more outwardly problematic leading role – in this case, Toni Colette’s multiple personality disorder-afflicted title character. And bot did DeWitt peel back the layers to show a self-absorbed, traumatized, scared, confused woman in both her dealings with her sister and the men in her life. It’s a pretty perfect ongoing portrayal of adult confusion.

 

And then she got to parlay said confusion into a leading role (and also sort of, another title role) in this summer’s Your Sister’s Sister, directed by Lynn Shelton and featuring a largely improvised script of scenes with co-stars Emily Blunt as her sister and Mark Duplass as a man accidentally on purpose caught in the middle. Sister is one of those great comedies that makes you laugh at people in moments of great sadness, and again, all one has to do is read DeWitt’s face to glean a lifelong history of fear and frustration, with a hint of naughty fun thrown in. Her ability to make complex characters immediately accessible is a rare gift. It’s no wonder she has also worked with genius creative types like Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret) and Matthew Weiner (she was on Mad Men’s first season, before it became everyone’s dream gig).

 

Regardless of the gig, DeWitt makes every single moment count. And while she excels at playing flawed characters, they are never weak. So regardless of whatever brings you to The Watch, don’t forget to watch her.

 

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