Five Essential Roles
United 93 (2006)
Olivia Thirlby doesn’t have a very big part in United 93, but really, none of the actors do. The ordeal is the part. The day, the terror, the hell. In truth, Thirlby’s performance as United 93 passenger Nicole Carol Miller is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role. But that matters little. The moments she is on screen, Thirlby, like everyone else in the cast, sells the horror of the day with stark authenticity. There’s virtually no acting in this picture, only panic and pain. If I cover other actors from this film for In Character posts, their role in United 93 will get listed as one of their best, based on principle alone.
Audiences and critics had a lot to say about Juno when it first came out: the stylized script, the star-making lead performance, the jamin’ soundtrack. But the entire time I watched the movie, the one character I couldn’t take my eyes off of was Juno’s sarcastic and reliable best friend, Leah. Not only did Thirlby have many of the best lines of Diablo Cody’s snappy script, but she delivered them with a refreshing sincerity that outshined every other performer in the film.
Thirlby auditioned for the role of Juno, but when director Jason Reitman cast Ellen Page, he immediately offered Thirlby the Leah role instead. And while I would love to see a version of this film in which Thirlby plays the titular character, I have no problem enjoying her work in the film as is.
The Wackness (2008)
One of my favorite scenes of Olivia Thirlby’s career is when she and Josh Peck spend a weekend alone in The Wackness. They go to the beach, get drunk, smoke weed and try to have sex. Peck’s character, Luke, is a virgin, so Stephanie offers to teach him some things. After a few lessons, the two make passionate love in an outdoor shower, which results in Josh whispering to Stephanie that he loves her.
“Whoa dude,” she coldly says before walking off. They head back home, silent for most of the trip. When Stephanie returns to her house, her mother asks her how her weekend was.
“Uneventful,” Stephanie apathetically replies.
Pretty much says everything about Stephanie that you need to know.
Nobody Walks (2012)
Martine is a young woman with a distinct brand of naïveté, as if she’s unaware of her effect on men. But as we get to know her, we realize she is keenly mindful of what her sexuality affords her. Take, for example, an early scene in which Martine makes out with her boyfriend in an airport parking garage. He wants to hookup, but she instead thanks him for the ride he’s about to give her. Come to learn that this isn’t her boyfriend, it’s just some random dude she flirted with on her flight, all in an effort to get a free ride home from the airport.
Nobody Walks is full of Martine’s subtle deceptions, but what makes the character interesting is that Thirlby never plays her as a floozy or a sociopath. She’s just an immature girl who has not yet learned that actions have consequences. Or, has she?
Pete Travis’ Dredd is not my kind of flick. At least that’s what I thought before watching it for this post. In fact, I was thrilled to learn that the film is completely aware of what it is, and never dares to be something more profound. In addition, Dredd is shot gorgeously by Oscar winner Anthony Dod Mantle, and boasts a fantastic supporting performance from Olivia Thirlby. Thirlby has a unique dignity that separates rookie Judge Anderson from the other characters in the film. The actress uses innocence to evoke humanity, while also, in the film’s best moment, embraces the command of her sexuality. Thirlby’s performance as Judge Anderson is the type of role that makes a movie worth it.
The Best of the Best
Snow Angels (2007)
David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels is a simple story about a simple place. For every marriage failed, there is a young love born. For every act of pain, there is an act of adoration. One of the core romances of the film is the teenage love that blossoms between Arthur (Michael Angarano) and Lila. Arthur is the kind of kid who blends in – never causing trouble, never standing out. A few people do notice him though, including a geeky and unapologetically sweet girl named Lila. We meet Lila in the halls, putting her hand in wet paint because she can, smiling at Arthur while he’s in band practice, and so on.
There’s a scene midway through the film where Lila nearly gives up on her potential love with Arthur. She’s admitted that she likes him, but he’s too shy to reciprocate the feeling. Fed up, she demands to know why he’s resisting. “I’m nice. And I like you,” she says. There’s something about that moment that has always felt so real to me. It’s a conversation hundreds of girls have had with hundreds of boys, yet here, it feels oddly new. Green has said that much of the dialogue in this film was improvised, including in this scene. Knowing this, it’s clear to me that every time I watch Thirlby in Snow Angels, I’m literally watching a star being born.
Other Notable Roles
|As Denise in Being Flynn, Thirlby has the best line of the film: “We’re done. You look really fucked up, by the way.”|
Love Comes Lately (2007)
The Secret (2007)
New York, I Love You (2008)
Solitary Man (2009)
Bored to Death (2009)
The Answer Man (2009)
The Darkest Hour (2011)
Good Vibes (2011)
No Strings Attached (2011)
No Strings Attached (2011)
Being Flynn (2012)