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Some of this year’s best supporting performances in film didn’t arise from your classic scenery-chewing powerhouse monologues or even a de rigueur prolonged cameo by a stalwart veteran — the kinds of smaller dramatic roles that net major industry awards. For every heartrending speech in Women Talking, The Whale and The Fabelmans, there are still dozens of biting one-liners and sidesplitting visual gags in a handful of 2022’s strongest comedies that should not go ignored. Comedies are often honored for their screenplays, but it takes distinctive talent to bring those vibrant pages to life.
At the top of my personal ballot are the performances I was not expecting when I settled in to watch their films. Thanks to the marketing materials for movies like Triangle of Sadness, Everything Everywhere All at Once and The Menu, for example, I anticipated that I would be struck by one or two lead roles in each — your Charlbi Deans, your Michelle Yeohs, your Ralph Fienneses and your Anya Taylor-Joys. But many of the smaller roles in these films popped brighter and louder onscreen than the leads. I cannot forget Dolly de Leon in Triangle of Sadness, who starts off as little more than a background player in the class satire, playing a put-upon Filipina maid aboard a luxury yacht who suddenly finds herself in a position of authority when events on the ship go awry. Watching de Leon is like listening to a simmering growl crescendo into a full-blown roar. As her character, Abigail, begins to revel in the spoils of hegemony, she is absolutely masterful in her justifiable impiety.
Both Jamie Lee Curtis (Everything Everywhere All at Once) and Hong Chau (The Menu) also play women in service roles who wield their small amount of authority to exact a sociological revenge of sorts. Curtis hilariously plays against type as a frumpy IRS auditor, beaten down after decades of bureaucratic banality, who gradually tightens her squeeze on the struggling Wang family merely because she can. Chau, on the other hand, is deliciously devilish as a luxury restaurant hostess who uses her bleached eyebrows and cruel tongue to intimidate her dark-hearted patrons. De Leon, Curtis and Chau let their rage drip, drip, drip and then gush in these uproarious performances.
Watching these women inflict their pent-up wrath is just as funny as watching pent-up wrath inflicted on piggish Justin Long in Barbarian and priggish Janet McTeer in The Menu. These horror-comedies do not spare the wicked, and their moments of cinematic justice are that much more satisfying thanks to the hysterical precision in Long and McTeer’s performances. Viewers should go in cold to Barbarian, one of the creepier charmers of the year, but rest assured that Long’s seemingly effortless petulance punches up the morality play at the center of the film. His character is as slovenly as McTeer’s is measured, the latter playing a snide restaurant critic so deeply impressed with her own words that every florid pseudo-intellectual comment she utters about “eating the ocean” or “a neediness to the plating” just pushes her closer to the edge of destruction.
Sometimes, though, it’s fine to root for a comedy underdog who just wants to live their life in peace. Ke Huy Quan delivers one of the best performances of the year as Everything Everywhere All at Once‘s emotional heart, a nebbishy husband and laundromat owner who, thanks to the chaotic misfirings of the multiverse, transforms into the martial arts action hero his wife (Yeoh) didn’t know she needed. His range flitting from beta to alpha while his character redefines physics as we know it displays a unique talent for splicing comicality, vulnerability and brawniness.
Additionally, while Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson remain the most buzzed-about players in The Banshees of Inisherin, Martin McDonagh’s tragicomedy of manners set in 1920s Ireland, I couldn’t stop thinking about Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan afterward. Condon appears as the acerbic sister of Farrell’s bland everyman, a woman increasingly fed up with the abrupt feud that develops between her brother and his only friend and how it suddenly makes everything on their isolated island seem unbearably small and insignificant. Keoghan’s village simpleton, who becomes a poor substitute friend for Farrell’s character, is both delightfully weird and gradually gutting as the traumas of his upbringing become clearer.
Awards prognosticators expect these two films to go the distance to the Oscars, but several under-the-radar supporting roles knocked me out this year. Funny Pages, the sweatiest and most stress-inducing movie since Uncut Gems, boasts compelling performances from Matthew Maher, as a psychologically unstable comic book colorist, and Miles Emanuel, a scene-stealing geeky best friend. Meanwhile, Jane Austen adaptation Persuasion may not exactly have been a critical hit, but Mia McKenna-Bruce playing a young Regency wife and mother with all the poutiness of a modern-day teenager had me in stitches. And who could forget Rachel Sennott in Gen Z slasher satire Bodies Bodies Bodies? She flushes her rich, narcissistic wannabe-podcaster character with genius dummy-girl line readings as epic as ones you might have heard from Judy Holliday herself. Sure, I appreciate it when actors wring tears from me, but it feels so much more organic to guffaw instead.
This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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Sundance Film Festival