10 years ago today, What’s Your Number? hit theaters, eventually closing out the weekend behind Moneyball, The Lion King 3D release and 50/50 (also new that week) in terms of domestic box office gross. Despite eventually making its money back, the romcom was critically panned—save for Anna Faris’ effervescent performance, which rescued a movie predicated on slut-shaming.
And that seems to have been Faris’ strange curse all these years. She’s always funny, but most movies she appears in tend not to match her comedic talents. That’s not to write off some of her better films—we’ll get to those later—but just to note a trend that has dogged the actor throughout her career (and uh, let’s not go into her nine year marriage to the worst Chris).
Many comedic actors nowadays fall into the writer/actor category—think Ilana Glazer, Tina Fey, Amy Schumer or Tiffany Haddish. Which begs the question: Where are the Whitney Houstons of comedy acting? By Whitney Houstons I mean the people who are simply born to perform; Houston wasn’t a songwriter, but she was beloved for her earth-shaking voice, and knew how to make any song her own. Likewise, Faris deserves recognition for her impeccable comedic timing and wacky energy.
Faris’ appeal is pretty evident once you’ve seen her onscreen; NPR hailed her as “a modern-day Lucille Ball” in their review of the 2018 Overboard remake, despite a generally tepid feeling towards the film. She fully commits no matter the role and barrels ahead with full-throttle zaniness. Faris lends her characters a breathy sincerity that proves both likeable and incredibly funny.
Her talent shines brightest in the 2007 cult film Smiley Face, one of the few woman-centered stoner movies and a spiritual predecessor to Broad City. Her character, Jane, manages to stumble into more and more trouble as she attempts to pay back her drug dealer and, of course, consumes plenty of weed. It’s a pretty simple premise and one that Faris executes with perfection, looking around in glazed wonder as she gets into plenty of hijinks.
The following year, Faris starred in The House Bunny, which was basically marketed as a slightly racier Legally Blonde. Faris’ credulous hero Shelley Darlingson is a delight, and she has great chemistry with Emma Stone’s nerdy Natalie Sandler. The movie wasn’t perfect, but The House Bunny was a box office triumph, grossing over $70 million worldwide. This moment in the late ‘00s felt like the tipping point where Faris could be a big draw as a comedy lead—a status that the ill-fated What’s Your Number? was intended to solidify.
Faris has even more substantial box office returns under her belt, most notably the Scary Movie franchise (even though plenty of those films haven’t aged well). Faris’ top-notch physical comedy and dotty manner were stand-out parts of the parody. In fact, the first Scary Movie was such a financial success that it made its budget back over 14 times in terms of worldwide gross and spawned four sequels.
After the failure of What’s Your Number? she had a long run on the CBS sitcom Mom, where she had the opportunity to show off her comedic chops on a weekly basis. Ostensibly launched as a star vehicle for her with Allison Janney as a co-lead, Faris was regularly overlooked by the Emmys, never receiving a single nomination while perennial Emmy nominee Janney scored one for supporting actress every season. Ultimately the show continued for a full season without Faris, who left before its final season—a weird fate for a sitcom that was heavily dependent on her fame and talent when it launched.
All this to say: she has the chops and the track record, so Faris deserves more than what’s come her way over the last decade. How in the hell is her latest movie from all the way back in 2018?
It’s all guesswork when it comes to parsing out why exactly Faris’ career hasn’t had the trajectory her talent merits. Maybe it’s bad film selection on the part of Faris and her team. Or, more likely, some misogyny is at play. Faris is conventionally attractive—she’s refreshingly open about having had a breast augmentation—so possibly sexist casting directors think of her as being “too hot” to be a real comic star. Hollywood has also historically been shitty to any woman in show biz over the age of 35. There’s also the general reluctance to release comedies starring women. And even when it does happen, you sometimes end up with misogynistic backlash like the ridiculous hullabaloo over the female reboot of Ghostbusters. Whatever the reason, from this vantage point it feels unjust.
What Faris needs is a farce of some kind. The Overboard remake didn’t necessarily work, but that kind of slapstick-friendly film is a great vehicle for her. Imagine Faris in a remake of Noises Off or Bringing Up Baby, or an original script with just as much vim and vigor. Or what about her harried energy playing off a frenzied Charlie Day? Or in a new Knives Out film? The possibilities are endless.
Let’s do it now; we’re all making vision boards for Faris and manifesting a career full of gut-busting roles for her. It’s what she deserves.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast, hibernophile and contributing writer for Paste’s music and comedy sections. She also exercises her love for reality TV at HelloGiggles every now and then. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.