Surely you remember the “McConaissance”, right? The popular term describes a recent critically-acclaimed period of Matthew McConaughey’s career during which he apparently established himself as one of the great working actors; after a decade and a half of being relegated to rom-com eye candy duty ever since his breakout. After some attempts at more serious stuff with The Lincoln Lawyer and Bernie, it really started with the title role in Jeff Nichols’ Mud. The film is so unapologetically, effortlessly southern that it’s hard to imagine anyone other than McConaughey at the forefront. It remains McConaughey’s best work. After that there was Magic Mike, the most fun McConaughey has been since his classic supporting turn in Dazed & Confused. By this point, people had noticed.
Then came True Detective and Dallas Buyer’s Club, two roles that brought with them a plethora of awards and the recognition McConaughey had seemingly been searching for. They’re both good performances even if they did feel designed-in-a-lab-for-McConaughey. The meat of True Detective is little more than a creatively aged McConaughey drunkenly telling stories and occasionally going on philosophical tangents, the type of overlong monologuing that ruins most TV shows. But it works because McConaughey really was that good in the role. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. Whether or not you had any clue what the fuck he was talking about is another story, but it’s a remarkably .gif-able performance despite it’s lack of actual action or movement.
Dallas Buyers Club was always going to win McConaughey that Oscar. Given what it touched on/real-life basis and the physical transformation from McConaughey, it was a surefire hit with an actor’s branch that loves to believe they’re genuinely saving the world one acceptance speech at a time. It’s a good performance and a good-enough movie but it reeks of McConaughey trying to become the American version of Christian Bale (there can only be one Christian Bale, remember). Hey, it worked. He got the Oscar. After that and a leading turn in the not-very-good but widely discussed Interstellar, Matthew McConaughey was one of the biggest and best actors on the planet.
But now, in late 2016, the McConaissance seems to be little more than fodder for Oscar hindsight columns. McConaughey’s recent self-serious attempts have struggled to land with audiences or critics. Gus Van Sant’s suicide drama The Sea of Trees -starring McConaughey- was booed and literally laughed at upon premiere at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival; and has grossed a whopping $825,000 in the states (against a $25M budget, no less). This summer’s Free State of Jones played too similar to the white savior films Kevin Costner keeps making. It failed to resonate with anyone, really. Middling reviews and bad word-of-mouth led to it only pulling in $21M (on a $50M budget) despite being a decent enough movie. Two high-profile critically-panned bombs later, both of which feature McConaughey trying way too hard, and now McConaughey looks desperately in need of a hit. He has Gold coming later this year. The Weinstein Company is hoping it plays to awards bodies but McConaughey, a fat version with a bald cap, seems to be again trying a bit too hard.
McConaughey needs another McConaissance. Actually, he needs the opposite of another McConaissance. He needs to harken back to what made McConaughey great to begin with and have some fun again. It’s a neoclassical movement he needs, I guess. Neoclassicism. There may be no fun pun playing off his name that fits, but that’s what he needs.
I have two plans of action.
1- Go back to romantic comedies.
One of the problems with modern rom-coms, the reason they’re almost B-movies at this point, is because A-list stars don’t seem to do them anymore. Specifically, A-list males. The genre still serves as a launching pad for movie stars (see Gosling/Reynolds, Ryan), but rarely do you see a male star in their prime jump onboard a romantic comedy; a genre that is still primarily targeted at women. I’m talking Mel Gibson doing What Women Want in 1995, Tom Hanks doing You’ve Got Mail in 1998, Will Smith doing Hitch in 2005. Make the rom-com great again.
McConaughey also happens to be really good at rom-coms, so good that the genre defined a decade of his career. The best of the bunch is of course How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, in which McConaughey and Kate Hudson have so much chemistry together it’s shocking that they were never a thing in real life. It’s a perfect movie and he’s perfect in it, a date night movie both parties can laugh at and genuinely admit to having liked. McConaughey may be mostly eye candy but he’s fun, dudebro eye candy.
Some ideas for McConaughey starring rom-coms.
Night Class: McConaughey plays a young-enough, widowed, practical teacher at a community college. One of his students, played by Jennifer Lawrence or Anna Kendrick, isn’t particularly attentive but seems to be fun and carefree in a way that reminds McConaughey of his long-deceased wife. The two forge a secret but not-too-weird romance through which SHE learns the realities of life and HE learns to live life to the fullest, proving “age is just a number” (goes on the poster). Dan Aykroyd plays a clumsy administrator at the school suspicious of the two, but he ultimately realizes that true love knows no boundaries.
Going Stag: An overworked McConaughey is going solo to his brother’s (someone uglier but just as charming, like John C. Reilly) destination wedding. The wedding is somewhere tropical and warm so McConaughey can be super tan and show off his CGI-enhanced abs. His brother’s best friend since college, a vulgar-mouthed but sweet woman (Sandra Bullock), is also at the wedding going solo. McConaughey has known her for years but it’s not until he spends time with her -since they get paired up for couples activities- that he realizes she’s the one he’s been searching for all along. The film ends with two weddings.
2- Become a super cool action star
Why has McConaughey never really tried to be the badass? He can certainly carry a film. Seeing the late-career success folks like Denzel Washington and Liam Neeson have had with the genre should change his mindset. I mean, those commercials he does for Lincoln are basically just him driving around and saying “I’m super fucking cool”. Put a drug kingpin or terrorist in another car and you have a movie.
A lot movie stars bounce between action films and more prestigious work. The aforementioned Denzel, of course. But also folks like Matt Damon as well. Hell, even Michael Fassbender has an Assassin’s Creed movie coming out.
I don’t have any specific ideas for films, but something where McConaughey plays a disgraced former cop who was set up by his crooked partner (Michael Shannon) makes sense.
3- Play Han Solo’s absentee father in the upcoming “Young Han Solo” movie.
Someone make this happen, please.