Weekend Binge

Idina Menzel is a grand dame. Can we also recognize she’s a great actress?

Menzel in ‘Uncut Gems’

Welcome to the Weekend Binge. Every week, we’ll suggest a binge-able title designed to keep you from getting too stir crazy. Check back throughout the weekend for even more gloriously queer entertainment.

The Diva: The Idina Menzel Film Festival

With Wicked and Rent diva Idina Menzel further cementing her reputation as grand diva this weekend in Cinderella, we’d like to offer up another observation: she’s also a terrific actress. As our Weekend Binge this week, we suggest a rewatch of some of Menzel’s best big-screen parts. Of course, none of them could substitute for seeing her ferocious talent on stage. That said, they do show off her incredible gifts as a singer and actor, further cementing Menzel’s already-glowing reputation: she’s one of the most exciting talents in the world.

Rent

For all the flaws of the big-screen adaptation of Rent, the movie does get one thing very right: it allows Menzel a chance to reprise her performance as Maureen, a role she created in the original stage production. Cynics grumbled at the time of the movie’s release that Menzel, along with several other original Broadway cast members, had gotten too old for the part. We firmly disagree: not only does Menzel give a youthful, vibrant performance, but the fact that her Maureen comes off more like a veteran Bohemian rather than a naive post-adolescent underlines the character’s passion, and gives her performance a certain profundity. Her Maureen will succeed as an artist, even if it kills her. That Menzel also gets to belt the character’s iconic numbers also doesn’t hurt.

Streams on HBO Max, Amazon, iTunes & VUDU.

Enchanted

Before Menzel would step into two iconic fairytale roles, her work in this movie hinted at her future success. In Enchanted, Menzel plays Nancy, the snooty girlfriend of Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a lawyer that falls in love with a fairytale princess. It just so happens that Nancy also falls for Edward (James Marsden), the vain, slightly dopey fairytale prince trapped in contemporary New York. Menzel approaches Nancy as a woman of confidence and intelligence, though one that never stopped to consider the meaning of true love. A lesser actress would have made Nancy into a one-dimensional bitch. Menzel makes her into a relatable, poignant character.

Streams on Amazon, YouTube and VUDU.

Frozen

Speaking of fairy tales, Menzel became a bonafide international superstar thanks to landing the lead in this Disney animated film which became an unexpected smash. The success of the movie owes a lot to Menzel’s performance as Elsa, a self-loathing queen with a penchant for manipulating ice. It helps too that Menzel gets to belt out the movie’s most iconic number, “Let It Go.” Apparently, Disney had originally envisioned Elsa as the villain of the piece. Then the producers heard Menzel sing the song, and rewrote the entire film to make her character into a reluctant hero based on her performance. That speaks volumes unto itself.

Streams on Disney+, YouTube & VUDU.

Uncut Gems

Who’d have thought that Adam Sandler would give the performance of his career in a heist drama about a jeweler? In the film, Sandler plays Howard, a gem dealer and gambling addict trying to pay off his debts. Menzel plays Dinah, Howard’s suffering but sophisticated wife, furious with her husband’s constant gambling and dalliances with a younger mistress. Menzel’s performance in the film walks a very fine line. Dinah has every reason to hate her husband and does to some degree. At the same time, she still has a certain fondness for him, occasionally allying with him in his scheme to get out of debt. Menzel commands every moment she’s on screen, and brings the best out of Sandler who rises to dramatic heights unseen in his previous work. The movie remains an (excuse the phrase) overlooked gem.

Streams on Netflix, Amazon, YouTube & VUDU.

Cinderella

Menzel steals the movie right out from under her co-stars in this lavish reimagining of the classic fairytale. Given the pedigree here–Menzel plays opposite Camilla Cabello, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver, and Billy Porter–that’s one Hell of an achievement. Cast in the role of Cinderella’s Stepmother, Menzel could have easily played the role as a one-dimensional, flat-footed villainess…kind of like every other portrayal of the character. She doesn’t. Writer/director Kay Cannon gives a new layer of depth to the Stepmother, and Menzel runs with it, making the Stepmother into a complicated, traumatized, loving woman whose talents went unrecognized because of her gender. It’s a profound performance…one which also gives Menzel a chance to belt out tunes by Madonna, Gloria Estefan, and even a new ballad she penned herself. It’s good to know someone is finally coming around to utilizing Menzel’s talent to the extreme.

Streams on Amazon Prime Video.