Jake Gyllenhaal remembers how to have fun on a largely fun SNL
This week Jake Gyllenhaal returned to the Saturday Night Live scene for the first time in 15 years, or “there are 400 Marvel movies,” as he put it in the monologue. At the time, Gyllenhaal was enjoying praise from Brokeback Mountain and angling to become an action star, but his first stint was distinctive. As he remembers, he performed his first SNL monologue in “full drag, singing a song of dream girls“, noting that it was “probably the least problematic thing about this episode”.
Gyllenhaal returned to the show, he explained, because he had become too focused on method acting and “kind of forgot how to have fun”. “To act is stupid work,” he says, which “should be about embracing joy.” (Comic or truth? In the preview of this episode, I wondered why the show didn’t pick up Gyllenhaal to host. Is it possible that he thought SNL was under him for a while?)
Anyway, dissatisfaction was a priority tonightand to that end Gyllenhaal grabbed a microphone to sing “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” by Celine Dion, with slightly re-suitable for accommodation SNL. This seemed to inflame the studio audience. IIt’s clear that the producers and writers were in love with Gyllenhaal, too. He appeared in nearly every skit this week, including the pre-movies. The results were mostly solid. Gyllenhaal was capable and attractive in everything he received, although there were a few sketches he should have passed on, a fun-loving new eye.
“Dream Home Cousins” was a solid take-off on this cable and streaming cockroach, the HGTV build-my-house show. Gyllenhaal and Mikey Day are the planners who were tasked with creating a dream home for a couple (James Austin Johnson and Heidi Gardner) but had to rearrange it because Johnson’s estranged mother and her 27-year-old cat move in. the often highly manufactured conflicts that surface in these shows are self-evident, the writing has gone to some pleasantly weird and occasionally laugh-out-loud places. (Of course, the obese cat should get a stair lift, the master bedroom reworked for three twin beds, and the bathroom windows removed because mouth-mouth fears voyeurs will see her “doing dirt.” ) Everyone does a great job, and Johnson hits the right notes as the sweet, basically dumb husband caught in the middle.
I’m recorded approaching SNLGame show sketches with dread: Eight or nine out of ten times they indicate that there is some level of writer’s block that week. But “Why do you like him?” was kinda effective to tell the uncomfortable truth about ourselves. Three contestants are asked why they liked a particular image on Instagram, and a seemingly clairvoyant buzzer indicates when they’re screwing up. All three offer many explanations for their choices that all boil down to one thing: they want to fuck. It’s funny because it’s true, no, a dominant cultural accent. (A clever touch: The award-winning Chloe Fineman contestant liked a photo of her ex’s five-year-old sister, hoping it’ll lead to a mention and she can fulfill her fantasies about her ex’s brutality in the Starbucks bathroom.) It’s a slight premise, but it nailed something about modern social rituals, and it’s the kind of thing the show could do more of.
In a highly amusing send-off of the increasingly surreal thing that is modern corporate human resources, Ego Nwodim, Fineman and Melissa Villaseñor are co-workers who endure an HR session with a colleague they’re in conflict with. This colleague: Chucky, the murderous doll from the horror series “Child’s Play” (Sarah Sherman). This setback at work has an added layer: Chucky is offended because he overheard the trio in the bathroom comparing him to Janet (Aidy Bryant), a co-worker everyone hates. But HR wants to find a solution! It’s a solid concept executed well: Janet being everyone’s problem is a fun twist, Fineman’s character attributes Chucky’s eavesdropping to the new gender-neutral bathroom policy, and Gyllenhaal is particularly good at as an unctuous HR lackey, telling Chucky he belongs in the company because “each one of us has a different story”, even as the doll repeatedly stabs his leg.
In “Spring Flowers,” Gyllenhaal, Sarah Sherman, Cecily Strong, and Chris Redd play flora in a garden that sings the praises of spring before a series of increasingly undignified events unfold. Bowen Yang shows up as a bee to bump Flower Jake and fight his way down the line. “I squeeze a load of goop out of my butt and people eat it. Pretty naughty, right? said the bee. You can see exactly where it’s going, and what you envision is essentially what you get: a cascade of childish, fetishistic sex pranks. (Kyle Mooney appears as a weed asking if he can smother Flower Sherman: “I think you might like it.”) A dog comes to piss on the foursome, and Flower Redd is in it. Overall the effect was so stupid even E.Buzz Miller would turn away. It would be nice to see SNL aiming upwards in its perspective on sex and kink instead of always starting from the junior high school basement.
The Movie Appreciation Show Achoo Camera Lights celebrates “sick performances in the film,” a questionable premise that plays out in questionable ways. Playing the tubercular Doc Holliday, a yellowish, sweaty Gyllenhaal farts, coughs blood into a handkerchief and sneezes gallons of stage blood and snot on Alex Moffatt and Andrew Dismukes. Body humor works about 1% of the time (see Dan Akyroyd’s Julia Child bleed on set and Cecily Strong vomit wine all over “Weekend Update”). It wasn’t one of them. (After two years of the pandemic, who thought lung disease was a slam-dunk comic premise?) Worse, it ends in about the most junior way possible: Gyllenhaal collapses, revealing he has the drug against herpes Valtrex in his pocket. So “you’ll always have something to remember me by,” he told a nearby prostitute. Go on. The sketch ends with the host signing off Cecily Strong, “preferring to remain anonymous”. I can’t blame her.
• This week’s MVP: Aidy Bryant made the strongest impression based on her pure character: trend forecaster on “Weekend Update”, reviled Janet in the Chucky HR skit and pitchwoman in person for a time . “Truck Stop CD(a skit that would have been better without the emphasis on peeing in bottles).
• Musical guest Camila Cabello brought daytime dance action to her first performance and a duet with Willow Smith on guitar to her second. She was capable but did not set the stage on fire.
• “Weekend Update” lines of the week: Michael Che describing a photo of beaming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as “watching the Oscars ‘In Memoriam’ package,” and a fox’s story rabies on the loose in DC – “Authorities suspect the Fox contracted rabies after being bitten by Marjorie Taylor Greene.
• The “Cabaret Song” sketch almost worked out: four slightly sad singers celebrate their disappointing accomplishments, like using an entire hit of Chapstick before losing it. A solid concept provided some fun moments but was ultimately disappointing. In a list sketch like this, comedic examples should be rock solid, and here things petered out quickly (unlike, say, the wedding reception sketch on the Zoe Kravitz episode).
• However, “Cabaret Song” provided the most underrated line of the night: the Gyllenhaal singer scans the supperclub crowd in front of him and says, “I see a lot of delicious breads and water in the crowd .”
• It was good to see Punkie Johnson play the lead role in a skit, and she was very effective as a “Couples Counselor” who tries to work with Gyllenhaal and Villaseñor while fielding phone calls and text messages from a jealous girlfriend – a solid premise that unfortunately crumbled in Gyllenhaal’s reading of a series of euphemisms for female genitalia (another example of the series’ approach to college sex).
• For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was seeing a satisfying percentage of the 21-person cast tonight.
• It was also nicer with Melissa Villaseñor than usual, even if her roles were a little thankless. Seeing the super-talented impressionist cast like the non-verbal El Chapo in the trucker skit was actually a painful reminder of how underused she was on the show.
• Gyllenhaal waved goodbye in a sweater evoking Donnie Darkoit’s the rabbit. Nice fanservice, JG.