After watching Justin Timberlake host this past weekend’s episode of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE I am inclined to think he is the most talented performer going these days. He can sing, he can dance, he can do imitations…and as he showed the nation Saturday night, he’s actually a better player on SNL than any regular cast member. And with the estimable Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis amongst that current crew, that’s quite an accomplishment.
Timberlake is nothing if not versatile, even within the same show. What makes his hosting turns on SNL so extraordinary is the range he shows off. He can do broad and subtle, sometimes in the same skit. Just watch him in his monologue from the May 23rd show embedded below and you’ll see what I mean. In mere minutes, he shows more talent than most hosts do in an entire 90-minute show.
Later, in a skit entitled “What’s That Name,” Timberlake and Lady Gaga played themselves on a game show where they had to guess people’s names. Gaga was good albeit she underlined every line. Timberlake, on the other hand, showed a master’s class of nuance, as his comedic reactions were subtle yet hilarious. The audience howled when he failed to identify both a female fan he slept with two weeks ago as well as his former ‘N Sync band member Chris Kirkpatrick (SNL cast member Taran Killam in those awful dreads that Kirkpatrick used to favor). It’s funny writing for sure, but Timberlake’s expressions of worsening humiliation made it sublime. (The skit is embedded below because you have to see it for yourself.)
Another amazing feat he displays whenever he’s on the show is his ability to keep from cracking up. Even when he’s getting the hugest of guffaws from the live audience, he keeps a straight face, which is something Jimmy Fallon could never boast. Timberlake is a consummate show biz pro. He’s funny, focused, and fearless. Is it any wonder he was the first host ever to win an Emmy for SNL hosting chores?
As impressive, Timberlake can vary his natural charms to villainous effect. He played the bad guy in ALPHA DOG (2006), BLACK SNAKE MOAN (2006) and most effectively, as Napster creator/hanger-on/con man Sean Parker in last year’s best movie THE SOCIAL NETWORK. As Parker, Timberlake dialed up his charisma to the point of unctuousness and it made for oily evil. Timberlake employed a fixed stare, directing his unblinking eyes at his prey, and it gave his Parker the look of a deadly cobra. It was a deliciously evil feat in a film filled with great performances. Perhaps because there were too many marvelous turns in that powerful movie Timberlake was overlooked when Oscar announced its best supporting actor nominees this year, but then again, his equally worthy cast mates Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer were egregiously overlooked as well.
Justin Timberlake has approached his entire movie career with care and a rare humbled quality. Up until this year, he has not carried a film yet, choosing instead to take good supporting roles, learn his craft, and build the resume. In July he plays his first lead when FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS opens. It’s a sex comedy essentially, with Timberlake bumping bits and quips with the equally bright Mila Kunis. Timberlake has another movie comedy due this summer as he is set to play opposite his old flame Cameron Diaz in BAD TEACHER. Timberlake has conquered music, TV and now it would seem that a burgeoning film career is his for the taking.
And he’s only 30. Imagine all the years and all the things he has oodles of time to do. He’d be a great song and dance man in a Broadway musical. He should certainly take a stab at a movie musical or two. And I’d imagine he would end up writing and directing some day as he’s shown a brilliant penchant for penning his own material during his music career. He’s not only the guy who brought sexy back, but I think he might be the next Warren Beatty as well: a talented and handsome leading man capable of doing drama and comedy, who will assert creative control over his projects and further awe us. We can only hope.