Amanda Mae Meyncke April 1, 2010
For a long time I thought Greg Kinnear played the dad on 7th Heaven. I didn’t understand that they were two separate people with entirely different careers and was well into my 20s before someone set me straight. He’s not the dad. Not even close. It shouldn’t have been so confusing, especially since Kinnear has made plenty of movies — in fact, he’s made 31 movies and earned himself an Oscar nomination for As Good As It Gets. Kinnear has a particular vibe, a certain Kinneary-ness that is instantly recognizable; he’s a well-meaning and attractive guy whose mouth occasionally gapes open with excitement as he transitions to a toothy grin. Knows how to wear a collared shirt. Seems nice. Would probably be a bad boyfriend since he is too good-looking to be normal. In addition to his looks, he’s funny, in sort of a stunned kind of way. But mostly he just seems to be inoffensive, the right guy to throw in front of forgiving audiences. “Oh yeah, Greg Kinnear, I like him,” we say to ourselves as we chomp on popcorn in the dark of the theater, because there’s really nothing to dislike about him. At this very moment, I am looking at a picture of the man himself, and it is good. Sandy-brown hair, warm blue eyes, and just the barest hint of needing a shave. He is wearing a tan sweater and has one hand delicately obscuring just the right amount of his wry smile. As I stare at this picture I try to think of what has become of Greg Kinnear. How did he go from strong supporting actor to … supporting actor? Was he ever anything more? Will he ever be again?
Kinnear started out in talk radio and made quite a name for himself, but the nation first became keenly aware of Kinnear not for his stint as Talk Soup‘s first host, but rather through his first extensive film role as David Larrabee in the well-intentioned if not slightly dated 1995 remake of Sabrina. From there on out the smiling charmer was in a ton of movies, but the best showcase of his personality was perhaps You’ve Got Mail. Paired with Meg Ryan as her blustering and clueless boyfriend, Kinnear was affable and daffy and somehow made a fascination with typewriters seem entirely feasible. Now you might say the following decision is debatable, but the all-time best Greg Kinnear movie is Someone Like You, and yes, it is a controversial choice, but he plays the adorable cad with such utter panache you can’t help but like him even as you despise him for his lowly behavior. The Kinnear charm-attack was in full force during this early 2000s era, and Kinnear was starting to appear in multiple films a year.
Kinnear has certainly made his fair share of weird one-off films, including the utterly bizarre Stuck On You, where Matt Damon and Kinnear star as conjoined twins. (The best thing I can say about this 2003 film is that when it came out, one of my friends had just gone through a traumatic breakup and cried through the film, touched to his core. So there is at least one documented case of Kinnear personally healing a broken heart.) Then came his turn as a perfectionist father turned motivational speaker in Little Miss Sunshine; he was really good and everyone liked it. And then a year later it wasn’t cool to like Little Miss Sunshine anymore and everyone rolled their eyes whenever it was mentioned. And now, here in 2010, a 46-year-old Greg Kinnear takes a turn first as a Pentagon chief in Green Zone, and then as the father of Miley Cyrus in The Last Song. The trailer for Last Song makes him out to be sort of his usual cad self, unable to deal with Cyrus and her teenage self, awkwardly attempting to reconnect with the daughter he barely knows. I strongly suspect he’s going to discover a lot about himself in this incredible emotional journey. Plenty of self-deprecating smiles and awkward silences. There may even be tan sweaters and warm blue eyes involved.
Of course I’m glossing over a multitude of films, but we’re trawling for the highlights of his career. I bring this all up to make a case that yes, Kinnear was at one point poised to become a bonafide movie star, replete with a niche market and sex appeal. And yet, why is he so forgettable? Half the time people only remember that he was in any given film when you remind them. People like him, but he’s chosen a strange path, one filled with humor, drama, and roles that lead to Best Supporting Actor nominations.
These tenuous forays are not exactly the work of a star concerned with building a canon of important work, but at his age, who exactly is Kinnear still trying to impress? There’s something respectable about a working actor who is in a variety of films that are middle of the road. Perhaps being the world’s biggest star was never his intention, perhaps making movies for the joy of the effort, the steady work and chance to try different types of films was enough. These films aren’t the best of the year, but they’re not terrible, and people still really like Kinnear at the end of the day — which is more than most movie stars can boast. Perhaps Kinnear truly is the world’s Best Supporting Actor, and what’s best, he seems to know it.
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