Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Chemistry Test

Recently I've been hearing about something called the "chemistry test". Naturally I thought it had to do with chemistry, as in bunsen burners and bubbling glass containers. But no, it's not that at all, it's something more abstract. 

It's about actors.

Apparently the producers and studios want to be absolutely sure that the lead actors have chemistry, otherwise known as attraction,  compatibility, comfort and any other vague quality that might translate to the movie.

Basically it's about how two actors relate to each other.

 Bogart and Bacall had it. Astaire and Rogers had it. Hope and Crosby had it. Sean Connery and Candice Bergen had it. And lately Owen Wilson and Marion Coitillard had it.

Harrison Ford and Karen Allen had it in the first Raiders of the Lost Ark. But in the sequel with Kate Capshaw didn't have it.

Chemistry with actors is difficult to define, and there are probably as many theories as there are actors. Simply put, it means that the two actors, usually leads, seem to fit like a perfect glove.

One of the best examples is the Thin Man series with Nick and Nora, played by William Powell and Myrna Loy, who were probably one of the first couples that looked and felt like they really were in love with each other. It's also fun to count the number of cocktails they could down in the course of an 80 minute movie.

So now there is a chemistry test. 

They take two actors, usually one is a big star and one is lessor, although it's not a rule. It's hard enough to learn lines but now to see if you get along and what's more, you can't really fake it. Chemistry is real, either it's there or it's not.

Johnny Depp and Angelina had no chemistry in The Tourist, just read the reviews. Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise had none, but Cameron and Jim Carrey had. And I'm sure Johnny and Angelina didn't test, they're too big. What it comes down to for you is this:

You enjoy watching them.

 It's a magic of sorts that works sometimes, sometimes not.  And the irony is that it has always been going on in Hollywood. They would test every actor together within the studio system, nobody was too big to not test, at least not for them. When a big star was tested, it was more likely for the actor who would play with them.

Testing seemed to disappear after the studios lost their actor talent to independent agents but it seems it is back.

Unfortunately, we don't have the caliber of actors we had in the 30's right through to the 80's. Watching most of the young "stars" now is less than exciting. Put Ryan Reynolds with Emma Stone and you have zero chemistry.

I'm sure there will be some who disagree but the movies show it. Some of the last few romcoms, Friends with Benefits and Crazy Stupid Love for example, took steep dives even with alleged "star power" of people like Ashton Kutcher and Steve Carrell whom some reviewers even remarked on the lack of chemistry between him and his female lead.

But the king of chemistry is probably Jack Nicholson, who seemed to work with all the actresses he worked with, Diane Keaton especially. He's one of those guys you always like to watch.

But there are fewer of them.

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