I’m annoyed with myself for being unable to write up a short appreciation of Chris Eigeman here; particularly in the context of these two films. I’ve meant to do it for a while; thankfully I don’t write for a living. These two films have recently come out in Criterion editions, and both were quite excellent debut features by directors who had little idea how to make movies going into these. Though Criterion has been releasing some newer American films, I think it’s worth noting that they didn’t do a batch of Stillman or Baumbach; just these two films close together, which have in common only the presence of Chris Eigeman.
I can also say that both of these movies would be – well, not terrible – but not nearly as good without Eigeman, who raises the bar on both. (Kicking and Screaming at least benefits from a decent Eric Stoltz part, but it turns out it was written for him just as filming began, and it seems a little tacked on.)
So, I’m just throwing this out there hoping that Reynolds or someone else will pick up the ball and write somthing interesting about him and the movies he’s been in.
In a better world, Eigeman would have gone on to fuller characters playing the lead rather than the secondary guy, or at least gotten roles with more range. However, in a less perfect world, the American TV version of Red Dwarf would have been picked up and Eigeman would have been condemned to bad TV roles years earlier than it eventually happened, like a 90s version of Rene Auberjonois. So it’s not all bad.
So what happened to this guy? I’d start off by saying that the two directors who got so lucky to cast him in the first place – and kept him on for their subsequent films – failed him. Both Whit Stillman and Noah Baumbach just stopped making movies. Baumbach finally returned with The Squid and The Whale – minus Eigeman – which I thought was over-praised. And Stillman stopped after the underrated The Last Days of Disco, and has not returned. Still, this shouldn’t have stopped Eigeman’s career, and it didn’t, but it did seem to keep him stuck several rungs down the ladder.
In a way, he’s kind of like a male Parker Posey – a smart-ass that kicks up every scene in which he appears, never evil, but often perceived by half the people on-screen to be unlikeable and loutish. He carved a niche on two successful TV shows, Gilmore Girls and Malcolm inthe Middle, and while he’s been seen more on those shows that he’d have been in a dozen Whit Stillman films, it’s a little sad to know that it’s unlikely he’ll now ever get the big roles that he might have been great in.
In both Metropolitan and Kicking and Screaming, Eigeman’s primary purpose is to be “a friend.” Despite his rudeness, paranoia, scheming and cutting lines directed at others, he starts both films as a friend in a close-knit group that is past its prime and just waiting to dissolve. While knowing the limits of the friendships better than those around him, he’s never the one to put an end to the group. He is simply a good friend in both these films (and in Stillman’s subsequent movies), though he does end up sleeping with his friend’s girlfriend in both films. And the girl in K&S is none other than Parker Posey, who deserves her own post.
Both of these movies tread close to being unbearable to me, yet I always come back to them and enjoy them, and mostly for Eigeman’s performances.
There’s some 2002 Frankenheimer TV film called Path to War with Michael Gambon that sounds interesting. Eigeman plays Bill Moyers, one of my favorite people. And Alec Baldwin as Robert McNamara! And Michael Gambon! Why, it’s a veritable festival of my favorite underutilized actors. Actually, Gambon is out of that club now, having gotten a couple dozen good roles over the last decade. Maybe there’s hope for Eigeman yet.