Brie Larson has joined the cast of Fast & Furious 10, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, she seems like a pretty perfect pick, but on the other, she feels a million miles away from a Fast cast member, and mostly it provides an opportunity to look back on the weird and wonderful career of Academy Award winner Brie Larson.
It's important to mention that Larson is an Oscar winner, because it often feels like she herself has forgotten it. I want to stress before we go any further that I'm not a movie snob. I love the MCU, and already have my tickets for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. I've seen all of the Kong/Godzilla/Whatever We're Calling That Franchise movies. I've not seen every Fast & Furious movie, but I've seen enough to know their deal. They're not for me, but I'm not surprised they have an audience. I still don't necessarily like Brie Larson being in them.
I don't think it's beneath Academy Award winners to do genre flicks, in fact I think more fluidity across the industry is a good thing – as long as it goes both ways. I mentioned Doctor Strange above, and in the time since Cumberbatch has signed on, he's starred in an MCU movie in every year but one (that one being the year of the biggest pandemic delays): Strange in '16, Thor in '17, Avengers in '18, Avengers again in '19, Spider-Man in '21, and now Strange again in '22. That's a busy filming schedule of physically demanding movies which require a lot of stunt and VFX work, and for most people (not so much Cumberbatch, but as a general rule) intense physical training to get themselves in shape. In amongst all that, including the press tours, promotion, and time off with your family, there aren't many gaps to find for other projects. Cumberbatch choosing The Power of the Dog made him an Oscar nominee, but for most MCU stars, their long-running contracts puts intense pressure on the projects they select.
The MCU (and, while we're at it, the DCEU) snaps up a lot of talent these days, and it's pointless to fight against your favourites being in a superhero movie. Like Thanos, it just seems inevitable. What's more important is not that your particular fave misses the five-year, seven-picture jail cells of the MCU, and instead that actors attached to those movies still have space to explore fresh ideas. Elizabeth Olsen has one of the most interesting resumes of 30-somethings working today, but her last three movies were MCU flicks, and aside from an upcoming six-part miniseries, we have no idea what she's set to star in. Conversely Margot Robbie, probably the closest DCEU comparison to Olsen by acting resume, has Canterbury Glass, Babylon, Asteroid City, Ruin, and Barbie all in the next couple of years.
Does the MCU have a tighter leash? Certainly Olsen and Larson aren't the only examples of stars who joined the MCU and then flipped their careers on their heads, but maybe Marvel just pays more, or has higher cultural prominence that you can rely on your career to pick back up right where you left it in a few years. Regardless, the fact Larson is using her precious free shooting time for Fast 10, another action-heavy franchise flick with VFX and popcorn moments in place of character development is easy to resent. Fans want something that tests her as a performer, and this is not that. But it's also impossible not to respect.
While I might want the Short Term 12 Brie Larson, the Room Brie Larson, Larson herself may not want that. The filming of Room, which won her the aforementioned Oscar, was arduous. Larson prepared by isolating herself to get into her character's headspace, she went without washing her face throughout filming. The titular Room was not a deconstructable set either, meaning Larson really did spend several hours a day cooped up in there, having to figure out how to hit her marks and deliver her lines in a cramped space made even smaller by the cameras and shooting crew in there with her. The ordeal of this is why she opted for the safer blockbuster option of Kong: Skull Island, which was followed almost immediately by Captain Marvel, and the rest was history.
It also should be said that Larson has attempted to use her shooting breaks more ambitiously in the past, only for it not to pan out. Basmati Blues, a musical about a white girl who moves to India and falls in love, flopped hard. I can't imagine why. Meanwhile Just Mercy, easily her most challenging role since Room, failed to leave much of a mark, despite excellent performances from herself and Michael B. Jordan.
Larson has won the Oscar for Best Actress, something other performers spend their entire careers chasing. Amy Adams is 0-5 at the Oscars, Glenn Close is 0-8. Ed Norton is 0-3, which feels like too few nominations, let alone the lack of wins. She deserves huge respect for what she has achieved, and taking a few years off from similar projects for the likes of Marvel, Kong, and Fast (which bring far more media pressure, even if they're less challenging as performances) might just be the way it goes for the next decade or so that the MCU remains a cultural juggernaut. I want the Short Term 12 Larson back, and I want the Ingrid Goes West Olsen back, but if this is what they need for their own mental health, and to lock enough money in the bank that once the MCU train leaves town they have enough cash to do whatever projects they feel like, this is a price I'm prepared to pay. Just please don't put Elizabeth Olsen in Fast 11.
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