There’s been a lot of talk this summer about Judy Greer, mostly that she’s been underused in four of this season’s biggest movies. Watching the actress in sidelined mom and ex-wife roles in Ant-Man, Jurassic World and Tomorrowland and as a casting agent in Entourage has been tough for her fans, but at least it’s not a big role in something like Marmaduke, right? Meanwhile, most moviegoers probably don’t even really know who she is or why she would deserve anything more than what are basically featured-extra parts.
Most complaints about her summer of slight are failing to note that these are just a fraction of her 2015 output, which includes two upcoming movies, one where she’s the co-lead playing against type (Addicted to Fresno, out in October). She also stars in two TV series, one on screen, one in voice only. She’s keeping busy, and she’s hardly struggling. I assume she at least got paid well for those four blockbuster gigs, to allow her to do other great work.
For anyone not familiar enough with her great other stuff, though, we’ve compiled a list of Judy Greer essentials. These movies, TV shows, documentary short and book are recommended for anyone who saw her all too briefly in anything this summer and wants more. We consider this the real Greer Effect.
With her breakout role as Fern Mayo (turned “Vylette”) in this teen black comedy mashing up Heathers and high school makeover movies like She’s All That, Greer first proved she can play both homely and sexy. It’s a balance – and, as seen here, occasionally a combination – that would make her very employable over the next 16 years (and beyond). Her performance, mixing vulnerability and ruthlessness, also provided an early indication that she was right for playing seemingly meek yet decidedly bold, sometimes even villainous, women.
The Specials (2000)
Long before James Gunn got to make big-budget Marvel movies, he wrote this indie comedy about a lower-tier superhero team. Greer plays Deadly Girl, a goth-y member of that group who can enter the world of the dead and also summon demons. Again, she teeters the line of attractiveness and the line of wickedness while maintaining a certain foothold on funniness. There’s no reason why she shouldn’t also just be in the next Guardians of the Galaxy, too, but it hardly matters since we already have this to enjoy.
Arrested Development (2003–2005; 2013)
Greer says this is the thing she’s most recognized for, and that’s great since it’s genuinely the best role of her career. As the boisterous Kitty Sanchez, a character that grew from bit part to popular recurring scene-stealer thanks to the actress’s hilarious portrayal, she further exaggerated her talents to play vile and repugnant at the same time as she’s (for some) an irresistible love interest. Kitty could be Fern Mayo grown up, as she’s another awkward girl with low self esteem who becomes a conniving adversary with increased agency. Even though she’s not a series regular, the show would not be the same without her, so we can expect her to return for a fifth season, if Netflix follows through on the promise of one.
13 Going On 30 (2004)
Before Greer aged into allegedly nothing but mom roles in mainstream movies, she was mainly known for playing the best friend of female protagonists in rom-coms. This gender-swapped sort-of-remake of Big is by far the most beloved of that group of movies, I think even for herself. Generally she’s described such roles as significant for being the character viewers identify with, despite their wanting to relate to the heroine. This time, though, Greer’s character is too awful for such identification, once again falling towards the side of evil as the grown-up version of one of the popular girls like those who ruined her life in Jawbreaker.
If you love Arrested Development and especially Greer’s involvement with that show, you’ll probably love this animated series. The two share a number of actors (Greer voices a character who is the secretary of a character portrayed by AD regular Jessica Walter) and a similar sense of humor, and understandably they make reference to each other. It’s surprising Greer hasn’t done more voice acting work, as she’s a natural and not too distractingly recognizable for this sort of thing. Maybe it’s because a kids’ cartoon wouldn’t allow her to curse and be so vulgar?
Barry Munday (2010)
Maybe Greer just needs stuff like Jurassic World to make the dime in order to later make the time for little indie comedies like this, where she can shine with the sort of crazy and crude but ultimately very sweet characters that only she is perfect for. Characters that are more fun to play but unfortunately don’t see much play in front of audiences, at least not comparative to those of even a box office disappointment like Tomorrowland. If we need her to play a non-distinct ex to Ant-Man in order to play a terrific pregnant partner to Patrick Wilson and be his comedic equal all the way, we’ll take her prolificness with its ups and downs.
The Descendants (2011)
Here’s how Greer is best utilized in the briefest of roles (about 13 minutes long by her count), receiving a number of accolades as a result. Her character can most simply be described as the woman whose husband was cheating on the dying wife of the main character. There’s already a good amount of dramatic layer there that characters easily summed up as “best friend” and “mom” don’t come close to having. And she executes the emotional portrayal of that character exceptionally, to where it’s a surprise it didn’t lead to more well-written dramatic parts. Maybe her bad Oscars red carpet experience caused her to swear off Oscar-quality work. At least here she got to meaningfully kiss George Clooney, 12 years after playing a part in Three Kings that can be pretty much summed up as “reporter who has sex with George Clooney.”
“I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star” (2014)
If you want to know the bad Oscars red carpet story, you can find it in this book, in which she brilliantly depicts her career, obviously with acknowledgment of how she’s only on the fringe of movie stardom. And how she actually prefers it that way, being able to work all the time yet still shop at Target without being swarmed. It’s a very funny and very frank memoir of her life before and experiences since arriving in Hollywood almost two decades ago. Much of it is the usual horror stories of women, particularly character actresses, in the industry (like the recent documentary That Gal… Who Was In That Thing) but with more insight, details and humor.
Transcendental Meditation (2014)
Greer made her directorial debut (I’m pretty sure it’s her first) with this short documentary, part of a series produced by Christine Vachon called In Short that puts actors behind the camera for personal little films. This episode is a first-person documentary in which Greer, a practicer of transcendental meditation, visits a junior high that incorporates David Lynch’s methods of meditation. It’s a totally different side of the real Greer than her book presents us with, though not entirely as no-nonsense as it sounds and first appears – she is with kids, after all.
Nat Faxon just barely gets top billing over Greer in this FX series, which recently began its second season, and he may have more screen time, as her “idiot” husband. But in spite of this technically being an ensemble show, with co-stars Jenny Slate, Paul Reiser and Brett Gelman getting their own simultaneous plotlines in each episode, Married often feels first and foremost like a showcase for Greer. Maybe she just shines brightest in her portrayal of a middle-aged woman who balances her responsibilities as an adult, a mother and a wife while still being fun and hip and beautiful and maintaining a sardonic sense of humor in response to her life partner, who is only really interested in the former, freer, more enjoyable side of life. It’s a series that is criminally under-appreciated, and we should all be talking about Greer’s performances here rather than getting upset that she doesn’t have enough screen time in dumb but widely seen paycheck gigs.