Friday, October 1, 2010

Greek Chic

It appears I have been wrong all this time. Up until today, I pronounced the name as "Gal-E-Fee-AH-Naw-Kis". I've been told by his fans that he pronounces it "Gal-Eh-Feh-NAW-Kis", rendering the first A silent. Be that as it may Zach Galifianakis has gone from hip yet under the radar stand up to a star thanks to one film.

Now, as probably with most Americans, I was unaware of who he was pre-The Hangover. His style of comedy appeals primarily to college-age groups. From the clips I've seen his comedy is clever yet at times self-deprecating to being almost harsh. From his looks it isn't hard why he was cast as Alan in The Hangover: his girth, unmanaged hair and wild beard make him look like a cross between Falstaff and Rasputin.

It was The Hangover that provided Galifianakis with something rare in Hollywood: a star-making turn. The film wasn't created to be the monster hit that it became, yet it was embraced by the public. I think there were a few factors for this: the intelligent script was one, the regular-guy nature of the cast was another. In the mix was Alan, this man-child who was both insane and endearing all at once. He was touching in his need to be part of a 'wolf pack', but his innocence is mixed with vulgarity (naming the found child Carlos only to have Carlos, well, best not to say) and stupidity (getting the four of them into trouble in the first place). In spite of himself, we LIKE Alan (though it's questionable whether we would want to be with him for long periods of time).

This is the thing about Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover: he emerged from a relatively small project into the mainstream. Few actors can claim to have been made a star from ONE role (note I did not say one FILM or call him an overnight success, since he has been working for several years to get to The Hangover). From here, he can go anywhere, and it appears he is going for two roads: a continuation of his unique man-child persona (Due Date) along with slightly more grounded/serious fare (It's Kind of A Funny Story). This isn't a new strategy: he appeared in both Dinner for Schmucks (offbeat comedy geared at more commercial fare) and Up In The Air (a small role in more prestigious fare). This shows that he is going for not just a variation on a theme of Alan, but to be a reliable actor, or at least a comic with a reliable career. It brings to mind Robin Williams, who both went for the big laughs (Night at the Museum, Death to Smoochy) with more dramatic work (One Hour Photo, Good Will Hunting) and at times a mixture of both (Mrs. Doubtfire).

Right now, from my vantage point, Galifianakis can write his own ticket. He is on the cust of a major career...or not. It really depends on him. I do wonder about The Hangover 2 though--whether we can go on anothe ride with this wolf pack--and on the fact that his face is on t-shirts. Alan has made him a bit of an icon. It is up to him whether he wishes to have a long-standing career or merely be a source of a memorable quote.

With that, I wish a Happy Birthday to Zach Galifianakis.

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