I’ve started watching the second season of Russian Doll. I’m only a few episodes in, so I don’t have an overarching assessment yet (though I do love seeing Annie Murphy in a role I will not specify to avoid spoilers). However, there is definitely one thing I am really enjoying, which was also a strength of the first season, which I thought was excellent. It’s all about watching Natasha Lyonne do her distinct thing in the lead role.
In a lot of the show, Lyonne’s Nadia is by herself, but unlike Daniel Plainview she doesn’t remain silent just because nobody is around to hear her. Nadia is always saying something, even if it is just her thinking out loud. It’s for the benefit of the view audience, of course, but it is very much beneficial. I thoroughly enjoy waching Lyonne just muttering to herself. The Blank Check podcast hand out yearly awards in a category they call “Putters and Murmurs,” and Lyonne in Russian Doll is very much an all-star in the world of puttering and murmuring.
There’s just something fun about watching an actor who really excels at this. They make a solo scene kinetic. They can be funny without anybody else to play off of. One of the pleasures of Russian Doll is just Nadia’s asides to herself. Some of her best lines are to nobody. Sometimes she is really just muttering. It’s still a pleasure to watch.
It reminds me of one of my favorite “Putters and Murmurs” performances, which is one of my favorite performances period in a movie that may very well be in my top 20 of all time. I’m talking about Elliott Gould as Phillip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye. For like the first 20 minutes of the movie Gould is muttering to himself. We spend so much time up front watching Marlowe tried to feed his cat. It could have been dull, but instead it’s gripping. Honestly, it was watching the saga of Marlowe and his finicky cat that made me realize I was watching something special the first time I watched The Long Goodbye. Gould, like Lyonne, is great at holding a screen solo just by thinking out loud.
Big, bold speechifying can make for compelling film, to be sure. Don’t know the joys of somebody muttering to themselves, though. Some of the best performances out there rely on it.