And now for a long and rambling note about something relatively unimportant and open to debate…

Reading this review of Cheri, an upcoming Stephen Frears film that stars Michelle Pfeiffer, I felt a momentary surge of hope. But I’ve learned not to keep that hope in check…

It started in 1986, when I saw Pfeiffer in Richard Donner’s Ladyhawke (which is, in spite of its soundtrack, still my favorite Donner film) and I fell in love. It wasn’t just that she was beautiful… it was that this was a perfect match of actress and character, an opportunity that made us all sit up straight and realize that this was why God made Michelle Pfeiffer… for roles and performances like this. Whereas most actresses would have just turned the character into “the pretty girl,” Pfeiffer actually made me care about Isabeau.

Ever since, I’ve been rooting for Pfeiffer to find that Next Great Performance… the role that people would talk about with reverence and nostalgia. I’ve been waiting for that thrill of seeing someone capture her particular strengths in an unforgettable way.

Alas, it hasn’t come. There have been some memorable turns: Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence was as close as she’s come, and I may come to decide that it really as a Great Performance. And then there are her striking supporting roles in Stardust and Hairspray. But where is The Great Michelle Pfeiffer Role? It seems inevitable. The day will come. The movie will be made. But by whom? And when? [UPDATE: Victor Morton had reminded me of Pfeiffer’s performance in The Fabulous Baker Boys. Sure, she was sexy and she proved that she could sing.But I’m not sure if that was The Performance I’ve hoped for.]

I’ve been experiencing the same sense of prolonged frustration with Kevin Kline. In A Fish Called Wanda, he was just too good to be true. And on many occasions since, he’s been impressive, including Dave, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and his small but endearing appearance in The Anniversary Party. The previews for The Emperor’s Club made me eager to see it, but then the film fell flat (at least for me). When will we see The Great Kevin Kline Performance?

Do these two actors need better agents?

Which actors give you a perpetual sense of unfulfilled potential, of greatness that just hasn’t found the right opportunity yet?

I’m not talking about Steve Martin, Harrison Ford, and Robert DeNiro–great actors who have already given us several iconic performances and then somehow lost their grip on greatness (or even goodness). I’m talking about actors who teased us with greatness… once… and then never came close to that again.

Like Charles Grodin in Midnight Run.

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