This week, The Cut declared their enthusiasm for Noah Baumbach’s forthcoming Netflix film Wedding Story, which they billed as a “movie about Adam Driver’s face.” Then a trailer for The Report, an Oscar hopeful from Amazon, also starring Driver, hit our social feeds; Polygon reported that he “continues his ascension to acting god,” further characterizing this stage of his career in messianic terms: “In the year 2019, Adam Driver stood atop the mountain and we bowed down.” That narrative will culminate around Christmas, when Driver takes the screen once again as the emo Star Wars villain Kylo Ren, rounding out a third trilogy for the franchise.
But I have to wonder, with all due respect: Is this too much Adam Driver? Also, is he getting enough sleep? How about some vacation time? I’m worried.
Here’s the paragraph where I assure you that I enjoy watching Driver do his thing. He’s funny, sly and surprising, and he can really smolder when he has to. I suppose his current rate of three to four major movies a year isn’t that extreme, particularly not for a guy who wants to make hay while the sun is shining (and quickly build a résumé with cinema legends from Scorsese to the Coen brothers). And when I’m not very engaged in a performance — what does he do in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, again? — I tend to chalk it up to an underwritten role. But the more I see him anchoring a big project, the more concerned I am at his level of saturation. Even the loyal stans are beginning to sound flummoxed at his omnipresence. This could be a catalyzing moment.
What, exactly, is happening here?
I think of it as an enthusiasm that shades into a false scarcity and then overexposure. For better or worse, Driver has turned into convenient Hollywood shorthand for “white millennial man” — a gawky, emotionally unpredictable hipster type of the sort he played in HBO’s Girls, a breakout turn. His mainstream success since then says something about the gradual disappearance of the conventional male movie star: lately we seem to want guys with a more individual, “realistic” look. Yet we pursue this corrective to a comical degree. While Driver is an unhinged highlight of the current Star Wars saga, it’s bizarre to recall he’s meant to be the son of characters played by Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.
Meanwhile, you can bet almost anyone with a screenplay about the domestic lives of thirtysomethings has said “I’m thinking Adam Driver” in a pitch meeting. So while he’s headlining a multibillion-dollar Disney property, he also has his pick of prestige roles, as evidenced by the string of top-flight directors he’s acted for. As such, he occupies a wide spectrum of genres and budgets.
Hollywood prophecies are, of course, self-fulfilling. The more Driver is cast across the board, the more peerless he becomes, and the more inevitable he is in future casting decisions. Say you have a drama in development that needs a tall, 30-plus-year-old white dude with unique sex appeal and solid acting chops. Who else are you going to get? Paul Dano will only do the weird shit. Jesse Eisenberg won’t sign on unless he’s allowed to mutter at Sorkin speed. I’m pretty sure Robert Pattinson is the legal property of A24 by now. You might take a gamble on a promising up-and-comer like Nicholas Hoult, but with movie ticket sales on a downswing outside of the tentpole blockbusters, studios may err on the side of name recognition. Having invested much in Adam Driver’s fame, it’s no surprise they want to keep cashing in. Rinse and repeat.
Which, all things considered, is hardly the worst-case scenario. He’s actually quite good! It’s also sort of fitting that as the industry makes its very slow progress toward adequate representation for women and minorities, the remaining work for guys of my demographic falls to a single talented man, who must represent the entirety of our experience, from bus-driving poet to senate staffer. The trouble is, the bigger he gets, the less he’s able to disappear into a part — and the more you notice the tension between his character-actor vibes and leading-man responsibilities. Watching the trailer for The Report, with its sober political themes and speechifying, you almost miss when he was a supporting player, doing weird stuff at the fringes of a story instead of carrying it. Hate to be a naysayer, but I suspect that can only go so far.
Point is, Adam Driver is probably best used as a potent spice in high cuisine, not the ketchup you glop over an uninspiring diner lunch. Here’s hoping that after some time on the A-list, he and Hollywood will have a better understanding of his value. Until then, I’ll keep saying it: