It was only recently that I started to appreciate Jeff Goldblum’s special appeal. I’d respected him as a character actor who’d flirted with big time stardom, in movies like The Fly and Jurassic Park and Independence Day, but who rarely had his name above the title. It’s a good place to be, career wise. It speaks to his longevity.
But then there was that recent meme, the one where people tried to populate Facebook with his image. And I thought, huh, why Goldblum? What is it about him that gets people excited? I did notice that all the people who were participating in the meme, aside from myself, were women.
So, I thought, OK, he’s got a certain charm, maybe even more so as he ages. The actor is 62, but it’s hard to see the years on him. He’s tall (6’4″) and fit. His performances, as one would expect for someone who works as much as he does, have become deeper and more interesting as time has gone on. But he seems largely unchanged.
And then my mother mentioned him in relation with one of the Law & Order shows he starred on, and I began to realize how far Goldblum had extended his reach into the culture.
I think maybe his greatest work is still ahead of him, which is probably the best thing you can say about any artist. I think what distinguishes Goldblum is his confidence, the ease with which he inhabits a role. And the sound of his voice. And maybe that way he moves his hands.
I realized we’re in the Golden Age of Goldblum when I recently watched a movie called Le Week-End. Directed by Roger Mitchell and written by Hanif Kureishi, the film is largely a two-hander, about an older British couple Meg and Nick (played with aplomb by Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent) who, feeling a certain malaise once the kids’ departure empties the nest, go back to where they honeymooned: Paris.
The film is quite a charmer, but a little more bitter than sweet, something I can imagine Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater doing in, say, 18 or 27 years.
Le Week-End‘s biggest surprise is, however, Goldblum. It’s remarkable how he can play such an obnoxious character and still be completely sympathetic. Here he’s Morgan, an associate of Nick’s from days past, old times of political rabble-rousing. But where Nick is unemployed, feeling his age and struggling to hold onto his marriage, Morgan has left his wife in America to shack up with a young, and now pregnant, French bride. He’s written a book and hobnobs with Parisienne intellectuals at dinner parties in his perfectly appointed flat. He’d be utterly insufferable if he wasn’t Jeff Goldblum. It creates a great tension, this opposition. It’s classic Goldblumism. A Goldblumesque quality.
And that’s the key here. I feel like a Hollywood producer for saying this: The guy is just so likeable.
Besides Morgan in Le Week-End, here are 10 other Jeff Goldblum roles that I think crystallize his peculiar appeal.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Goldblum made a mark with his one, excellent line in Annie Hall, but it was in this, the 70s—and in my humble opinion, the best—version of the paranoid alien invasion picture. Alongside other notable tall guys Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy, his natural way with conveying anxiety shines through. For years after he played nerdy, awkward characters. It took awhile for him to be recognized as a leading man.
The Big Chill (1983)
The template for his asshole characters going forward. He’s basically Morgan from Le Week-End 30 years ago. Gold is bright and funny, while also being a bit of a dick that none of the other people in the picture really like. He’s a writer for People, after all. Classic line: “That’s the great thing about the outdoors. It’s one giant toilet.”
Into the Night (1985)
This is a wonderful and little-seen mid-80s comedy thriller from John Landis, with Goldblum playing a cuckolded husband and insomniac who drives through the Los Angeles night, picking up a jewel thief (the vivacious Michelle Pfeiffer) and running from a bunch of hostile Iranian thugs. Los Angeles after dark has rarely looked as alluring, and the film’s also notable for a host of Hollywood directors in small roles, as well as David Bowie as a hitman.
The Fly (1986)
The signature Goldblum role in David Cronenberg’s romance/AIDS allegory. For the first time Goldblum gets to convey genuine anger and, when the insect begins to take over, despair. I love his expression of wonder and horror as he pulls off his fingernails.
The Tall Guy (1989)
In the late 80s Goldblum made a number of movies in the UK, and this Richard Curtis-scripted comedy is one of the gems from that period. Goldblum plays an American actor working in London theatre who nabs the title role in the Elephant Man musical—check out the classic tune, “I’m Packing My Trunk.” Notable for one of most wild and hilarious sex scenes in cinema history, featuring the wonderful Emma Thompson.
Mister Frost (1990)
Sporting a spectacular mullet, Goldblum is Mr Frost. He may be The Devil, or just a psychopath who kills a lot of people. He’s delightfully hammy here, chewing up every scene and turning his therapist, Kathy Baker, into a believer. Hard to find on DVD, the movie is available on YouTube.
Deep Cover (1992)
Bill Duke’s crime drama has dated in some ways, but it offers a great leading part for Lawrence Fishburne as a cop who spends too long undercover. As a greasy lawyer for drug dealers, Goldblum gets to go big.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
He was in the first one, too, but his presence in the sequel is as the true skeptic, having survived the horrors of the first. He gets to be the audience’s knowing avatar. Delightfully weird, he keeps everything slightly askew. And the key line here is in the trailer: “‘Ooh, Ah,’ that’s how it always starts. But later there’s running, and then screaming.”
Igby Goes Down (2002)
The real star of this movie is a spectacular Soho loft. It isn’t Kieran Culkin, who fails to raise this smug but confused rich kid into the realms of sympathy. Or maybe it’s just that he’s too much like Holden Caulfield. I read Catcher In The Rye far too late (you need to find it as teenager, I think) to want to do anything but smack that little prick. But The Dandy Warhols and early Coldplay on the soundtrack are well-chosen, and Goldblum plays another in his gallery of perfectly poised sleazes. The scene where Igby walks in on him with his pants around his ankles is a great one.
Adam Resurrected (2008)
In this is weird little picture, Goldblum is a former magician, musician and entertainer who uses his talent to stay out of the Nazi’s gas chambers and is later crippled by guilt and living in a sanatorium in the Negev. I found it a bit of a mess, despite Taxi Driver‘s Paul Schrader at the helm and strong roles for Willem Dafoe and Ayelet Zurer. However, for Goldblum, Adam Stein is a gift of a role, maybe the the best he’s ever had. I don’t think he’s ever been as damaged or as moving.