Every so often, an actor whom you’d written off as a generic pretty boy surprises you with hidden reserves of talent. Usually, this happens through a series of rigorous performances in gritty independent dramas (see Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
James Marsden has gone about it another way, by turning out to be a completely charming PG-rated song and dance man – albeit one who, well into his thirties, can still rock a super-hot black-and-white photo shoot.
Marsden was so dreamy as Corny Collins, the Denny Terrio-style Baltimore TV host, in Hairspray, that he singlehandedly threw off the equilibrium of the plot by making Zac Efron look like the skinny Kristy McNichol lookalike that he is. Why would Tracy be so crazy about Efron’s Linc when the host of the show is cuter, a better singer and dancer, and old enough to have a job?
Marsden, unlike Efron and most of the film’s other marquee names, also wins points for having the balls to perform a number from the movie live on The Today Show. He wasn’t very good, but at least he tried (take that, Miss Travolta!).
And now, he’s at it again, delivering a totally goofy, committed, infectious performance as a clueless Prince Charming in the surprisingly well-crafted Enchanted (which I did indeed pay to see, and yes, there were a lot of other twentysomething gay men in the audience, thankyouverymuch). And while Amy Adams deserves every rave she’s getting as the fish-out-of-water heroine, Marsden is every bit as adept in the musical numbers and as a physical comedian. His prince is supposed to be sweet but a little buffoonish – a lightweight next to Patrick Dempsey (and let’s all pause a minute to consider the outlandishness of that phrase) – but he’s pretty lovable nonetheless.
Prior to these two breakthroughs, Marsden had mostly been relegated to stock roles in franchise blockbusters and leads in indies that nobody saw (although he was very good as a Manhattan closet case in the excellent Heights from 2005). Hopefully now he’ll have more opportunities to show off his talents without being typecast in kiddie fare.