For many years, Libby Gelman-Waxner, an assistant buyer in juniors’ activewear, moonlighted for Premiere magazine and Entertainment Weekly as the world’s most beloved and irresponsible movie critic. Now she’s been coaxed out of retirement to make her mark in online criticism, at the urging of her close personal friend, the playwright and New Yorker contributor Paul Rudnick.
I’m feeling so empowered by the current crop of take-no-prisoners actresses that I’ve decided to start my own movement, called either #FedUpToHere, #SoOverIt, or #Don’tStartWithMe. Jessica Chastain is becoming, in the most fabulous way possible, a postmodern Joan Crawford, by making chilly Vulcan intensity seem totally glamorous. In movies like “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Miss Sloane,” and the terrific “Molly’s Game,” she plays beyond-brilliant career women who sip white wine alone in their apartments or hotel rooms, as a blessed relief from the stupidity of everyone around them. Sometimes I can see Jessica calmly and silently counting to ten and trying not to roll her eyes, as she waits for the mostly male imbeciles nearby to catch up.
In “Molly’s Game,” Jessica is a hyper-educated, Olympic-calibre athlete who, after a tragic injury, begins running high-stakes poker games in hotel suites in L.A. and Manhattan, which is just how I’d process any similar trauma, with the addition of a huge vat of chocolate-covered almonds from Costco. The movie does one of my favorite things, which is to persuade me that I’ve become an expert in a subject I have no interest in, such as poker or nuclear fission or Nascar. “Molly’s Game” was written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, who really knows what he’s doing, by which I mean that he’s worthy of Jessica, who unreels acres of brilliant dialogue as if it all just occurred to her, while poured into sleek cocktail dresses with plunging necklines, for a Megyn Kelly-with-a-Ph.D. feeling.
The only person who could possibly hold her own with Jessica is, of course, Frances McDormand, who’s made being gloriously disgusted into a great American art form. In “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Frances plays a small-town woman whose daughter has been raped and murdered, with scant police follow-up. To jump-start the authorities, Frances points out their ineptitude, both on those billboards and by stalking into the precinct house and facing off with good-ol’-boy cops played by Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, who don’t stand a chance against Frances, because her hard-nosed stare can see into their souls and snort with disappointment. I bet Frances’s epic disdain could even wrangle Verizon employees; I wish Fran would march into the White House, glare at Trump, and watch him run back to his bassinet and start blubbing.
Both Fran and her movie are spectacular, and, like Aaron, the writer-director Martin McDonagh seems properly grateful for his astonishing star. Fran wears sensible coveralls, and on awards shows she favors similarly no-nonsense outfits, for a no-makeup Amish chic. I’m currently wearing a rubber bracelet printed with “What would Frances McDormand do?,” which I brandish at Uber drivers who text while careering down the West Side Highway. I also like to scold my kids by warning, “Don’t make me go all Frances McDormand on your asses.”
Jessica and Frances, whose names both sound like Supreme Court Justices played by Katharine Hepburn, are genuine movie stars, because they’re true originals, and way too interesting to play girlfriends or wives. I kept thinking about them while I was watching “The Last Jedi,” which is the latest “Star Wars” installment—it’s making a fortune, so it’s not the last of anything. “The Last Jedi” is dutifully filled with a multicultural cast of strong women, but they’re all a little bland and Junior Achievement-y when compared to Frances or Jessica. Except for Carrie Fisher, who’s done up in severe, high-collared capes, as if she’s a literary priestess along the lines of Maya Angelou or Edith Sitwell. Carrie died shortly after filming this movie, and she easily outclasses the well-scrubbed, earnest young actors around her, who all seem to be prepping for some intergalactic college interview. If Frances or Jessica were onboard any of the various spaceships, they’d either vanquish the bad guys in five minutes or crash land out of boredom.
Like so many sci-fi stories, “The Last Jedi” is all about postponement. There’s no story other than creating obstacles that park the characters on different planets until they can finally meet up, hug chastely, and toss weapons to each other. There’s no normal life in the “Star Wars” movies—doesn’t anyone on the Millennium Falcon ever read a magazine or surf the Web for stories about celebrity sexual harassment in other solar systems? They all seem obsessed with finding their real parents and choosing between chess-club notions of good and evil; “The Last Jedi” is like an especially morose episode of “Dr. Phil,” where the family members can settle their you-never-really-loved-me-not-like-you-loved-crystal-meth battles by slicing each other in half with lightsabres.
My favorite part of “The Last Jedi” was the opportunity it provided to watch the trailer for “A Wrinkle in Time,” an upcoming sci-fi epic that stars Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, and Reese Witherspoon as astral goddesses guiding a young girl on a quest to find her time-disrupting dad. The three ladies are decked out in igloo-shaped gowns, origami-like wigs, and makeup designs that employ neon lip liner and rhinestone accents, so their faces look like the most dazzling homemade greeting cards. I would kill to be guided by this trio, and there’s a shot of Mindy running in her cumbersome getup that makes me deliriously happy. The concept of meeting Oprah, Mindy, and Reese in some alternative dimension is like coming across a new Entenmann’s product with even more all-butter French crumb-cake topping.
Oprah just declared that she’s not running for President—personally, I agree that she doesn’t need the headache, even with Gayle as her campaign manager and Stedman taking care of the dogs. But I’d be thrilled if she and Mindy and Reese ran the country together, with emerald sequins glued to their eyebrows and purple clip-on braids, plus lots of hugging. Hugging is how celebrities express both solidarity with the oppressed and the tingle of an entire Limited Series cast of zillionaire performers winning Golden Globes together. (The Globes have become summer camp for stars, where they can squeal at each other and promise to co-produce something for Amazon.)
Sometimes I wonder if I should run for President, just for the joy of standing across from Trump at a debate, putting up my fists, and declaring, “Meet Jessica and Frances,” and then pounding him. Life nowadays can feel as grim as an endless “Star Wars” chase, the kind where the fighter pilots keep announcing, “I’ve got this!” We need Frances McDormand with a “Karate Kid” bandanna knotted around her forehead more than ever, if you ask me.