Sock it Tomei

Work it, Marisa.

Work it, Marisa.

We should stop and take notice of Marisa Tomei, and I don’t mean slo-mo-ing her nude scenes in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. In a fairly remarkable comeback, Tomei has become one of the best actresses working today.

Consider the odds against it; when Tomei won a surprising Oscar for her brassy performance in the otherwise worthless My Cousin Vinny, it was suggested without evidence that presenter Jack Palance read her name by mistake. Her award became synonymous with false validation, and her subsequent work was regarded with unfair suspicion.

She was put through the Hollywood ringer of dreadful rom-coms (Only You) and other parts unsuited to her talents. Instead of pursuing this dead-end course, Tomei became a staple of independent films, starting in the 1990’s with Slums of Beverly Hills and Welcome to Sarajevo.

Unlike most recent Oscar-winning ingénues (Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon, Adrien Brody, Cuba Gooding Jr., etc.), Tomei actually worked to improve her craft, and she’s been rewarded with two more nominations (In the Bedroom and The Wrestler, where she breathed miraculous life into a tired cliché).

It’s difficult to find precedents for Tomei’s story in the acting world; the closest example might be 47-year-old baseball pitcher Jamie Moyer, who is washed out as a phenom yet has won more than 200 games since turning 30. Now 45, Tomei is more talented than ever, more diverse than ever, and definitely sexier than ever (this is where her career arc deviates slightly from Moyer’s).

Meanwhile, Cyrus has become the sleeper hit of the summer; it’s a challenging role, alternately sweet and perverse, and Tomei pulls it off without mugging or gooey sentiment. The directors are too skittish to appropriately develop her character, but hopefully Tomei will find even better parts in the future. Amazingly enough, she deserves them.