Career Prospectus: Michelle Monaghan
(For previous installments of the Career Prospectus series, please click here.)
I have often wondered about the missing link for Michelle Monaghan’s career. Is she just not that interested in the fame game? Is she missing the “something” that sets her apart? She’s THAT girl where I always go, “Oh yeah!” when she pops up in Sunday re-runs of Bourne Supremacy and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. And wasn’t there an attempt at a rom-com with Patrick Dempsey? But I was reminded of her potential this past weekend when I finally got around to watching Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang - in 2005, obviously someone thought she was leading lady material. Then came Mission Impossible and Gone Baby Gone. I liked her in Source Code but I don't know that I would remember her in it unless Wikipedia reminded me. Was True Detective a detour to TV or the sign of things to come? Sarah help me make some sense of what we might see (or not see) from Harmony Faith Lane!
First of all, big ups for the Kiss Kiss Bang Bang shout-out. That’s the movie that gave us back RDJ. Everyone always says Iron Man, but it was really Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Iron Man was his homecoming parade but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is when he scored the winning touchdown. Without Kiss, there is no Tony Stark, and also no Iron Man 3 (which was written and directed by Shane Black, who wrote/directed Kiss and got a Marvel gig based on RDJ’s recommendation). It’s also the movie that made me think, for half a second, that Val Kilmer was going to have a third career resurgence.
And this is the problem with Michelle Monaghan: She is always the least-interesting thing about any project she is in. That’s kind of a terrible thing to say about a woman who is a very good actress, but D, you nailed it—she’s a total That Girl. Monaghan is a career character actress, not lacking in talent, but she doesn’t really have the It that creates stars. Monaghan is perfectly serviceable, capable of holding the screen and delivering a solid, convincing performance. But she’s yet to set cinemas ablaze with her presence or woo audiences with an abundance of charisma.
She also has a problem with being in the least-interesting movie in a franchise. Mission: Impossible III is terrible and no one wants to remember it—least of all Tom Cruise, who used Mission: Impossible IV to pretty much push reset on that whole thing. Her character did get a hat tip at the end, but it served to say, “Don’t expect to see her again.” In fact, now that I think about it, they basically fridged Monaghan to make way for Jeremy Renner’s character.
TV didn’t help her much, either. She was the female lead in one of the year’s most exceptional and talked-about shows, True Detective, but did she really register at all with audiences? Some of that is undoubtedly that, compared to Rust and Marty and the mystery of the Yellow King, Maggie Hart was an afterthought. She wasn’t a particularly complex character—I don’t hold that against the show, but I am side-eyeing Nic Pizzolatto for acting pissy when people called out his comparatively lax writing for women—and Monaghan wasn’t required to do much other than be an object for the men to snarl over. She did a good job of that because she’s a good actress, but when you think True Detective, let’s be honest, you’re not also thinking Michelle Monaghan.
But Monaghan’s career is not in bad shape. She works a lot, and with a lot of very good people. She’s hurting for work, although, to be honest, her upcoming projects aren’t very interesting. There’s the Nicholas Sparks weepy romance The Best of Me due in October and the coming-out-this-year-or-maybe-never Chris Evans movie A Many Splintered Thing, which is some kind of musical/fantasy/romantic comedy/Amelie rip-off. And then there’s Pixels, about video game characters attacking the real world. It’s probably going to be stupid but at least it co-stars Peter Dinklage with a sweet mullet. Still, she’s well-liked enough and connected enough that she can land work in pretty much any size/type of movie at any moment. I don’t think she’ll make a habit of TV, though, especially since she didn’t get much out of True Detective.
Monaghan doesn’t play the fame game, which isn’t helping her in terms of profile. She’s been with the same (non-famous) dude since 2000 and she keeps a low profile. She hasn’t commoditized her private life, she isn’t selling out her kids, and to date there’s been no effort at becoming a life-style guru or turning browsing Etsy into a career. These are all things to like about Monaghan, but it also keeps her from having a distinctive celebrity persona. Celebrity is storytelling, and Monaghan is electing not to tell us a story. So we pay more attention to someone else, with a more interesting narrative.
The only “fix” for Monaghan is just to keep doing what she’s doing. Unless she wakes up tomorrow and decides to get aggressive about her media presence, there’s just her professional reputation, which is very good. It’s unlikely she’ll ever be the most famous of actresses, but she is the kind of person who can potter along for years and then BAM, one good part and suddenly she’s an Oscar winner and topping everyone’s get list. She just needs to get that right part at the right time. It’s the most overlooked aspect of the celebrity formula—luck.
Attached - Monaghan at the Emmy Awards last month.