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Saturday Night Live‘s Melissa Villaseñor made her hosting debut during the 2021 Independent Spirit Awards on Thursday night.
“As you may have noticed, we’re not in the big tent on the beach. Instead we’re in a place more familiar to independent film fans: a completely empty theater,” she said to an audience only consisting of production crew.
Villaseñor utilized her monologue to poke some fun at the lack of moviegoing amid the pandemic: “This was a tough year to get people to watch independent movies. Who spends all day reading COVID statistics and says ‘ooh, I could really go for a long film with an ambiguous ending right now.’ ”
Though Villaseñor didn’t deliver any major jabs at the nominated films, that didn’t stop the host from poking some fun. Of Minari, Villaseñor quipped that the film featured the “funniest grandma not played by Tyler Perry.” Of Sound of Metal, which centers on a deaf drummer, she said that “it would sound like every metal band.” Meanwhile, Villaseñor described Regina King’s One Night in Miami — which is being honored with the Robert Altman Award (“which honors films where people talk over one another,” she joked) — as the “best film that sounds like porn but isn’t.” “Better luck next time Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” she added.
Then of Nomadland, she said the film “really changed the way I look at people who drive around alone in beat up vans.” “I used to think, ‘oh there goes a sex offender.’ But now I think, ‘there goes a nice lady navigating grief and economic uncertainty.’ ” Later, she advised that instead of pretending to be drunk to catch “men being jerks” like Carey Mulligan does in Promising Young Woman, the character “could’ve just made a joke on Twitter” to achieve that.
Ahead of emceeing the pre-recorded event, Villaseñor told The Hollywood Reporter that she aimed to make herself the butt of the jokes instead of the nominees which included top contenders Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Minari, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Nomadland.
“We’re not making fun of any of the movies because they’re all pretty heavy. I’m kind of the butt of the joke. I think, with the writers, that we have come up with some pretty fun stuff. Of course, they know my voice and style. I’m not a mean comic. It doesn’t work for me,” she said.
To kick off the festivities, Villaseñor performed her signature impressions of fellow SNL alums John Mulaney, Kate McKinnon and comedian Sarah Silverman, all of which have previously hosted the Spirit Awards before. In the sketch, Villaseñor seeks advice on how to perfect her debut emcee gig in a FaceTime session.
Later on in the show, she continued to deliver impressions including Billie Eilish, Kristen Wiig and a parody of Promising Young Woman. She also performed a parody song called “One Night With Melissa” dedicated to Minari star Steven Yuen. While performing, the actor could be shown laughing while watching.
Ahead of the ceremony, Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always scored a leading seven nominations, including for best feature, with Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari landing six nods and George C. Wolfe’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland scoring five nominations each. All four films are nominated for best feature alongside Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, which was also nominated for best director and best supporting male (Orion Lee). Meanwhile, Regina King’s One Night in Miami received the Robert Altman Award, given to one film’s director, casting director and the ensemble cast.
Villaseñor hosted the 36th annual awards show amid a pandemic-hit awards season, with the show having sought innovative ways to carry on. Earlier this month, Film Independent teased that the virtual venue would be a fully interactive audio and visual experience, that would act as an online equivalent of the show’s annual beach tent.
The Spirit Awards, hosted by Villaseñor, took place on Thursday and aired live on IFC and AMC+.
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