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What’s Your Plan, Anna Kendrick?

A brief, well-meaning investigation of some recent career choices

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

Hey, Anna Kendrick’s gonna be in a new movie! That’s great news — I’ve enjoyed Anna Kendrick’s work in the past. Let’s see what she’s up to, according to Justin Kroll of Variety.

“Currently going by the running title Nicole, the story revolves [around] Santa’s daughter who is forced to take over the family business when her father decides to retire and brother ends up getting cold feet prior to his first big Christmas Eve flight.”

Oh. Dude.

There was never a point in Kendrick’s career at which she wasn’t mailing in the occasional C-minus filler movie, and that’s fine. Some of those — Get a Job, The Accountant — were probably conceits that looked good on the page and didn’t land; even if that weren’t the case, there’s nothing wrong with just showing up to collect a paycheck from time to time. If making Twilight enabled Anna Kendrick to make Drinking Buddies, then Twilight is an undeniable good.

But there was a time when Anna Kendrick was fucking awesome, when she was threading that impossible-to-thread, ridiculous-that-we-even-ask-actresses-to-do-this needle of being cool, funny, clever, and likable — of being all things to all people. Somewhere along the line, that just stopped.

How and when this happened could have something to do with what made Kendrick so great (or at least why I liked her so much) in the first place. Her best early performances were as heightened versions of people I was friends with in high school, which is to say, the kind of people who would hang out with a band geek/uptight AP-circuit weenie. Rocket Science, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, 50/50, Drinking Buddies, and, most importantly, Up in the Air established Kendrick as Hollywood’s Designated Girl Next Door, until Jennifer Lawrence body-checked her out of that spot three years later with the press tour for Silver Linings Playbook.

Peak Kendrick was soon revealed with Pitch Perfect, because Kendrick always came across as the kind of person who’d freak out about her homework until you got two or three beers in her, at which point it’d come out that she knew all the words to every song in Beauty and the Beast, and that it’s not weird that you also know all the words to every song in Beauty and the Beast, and we should sing all of them, straight through together, right now.

Once it became clear that Kendrick could sing, she landed roles in The Last Five Years and Into the Woods. If Drinking Buddies and Up in the Air are movies for sort of generalized liberal arts tryhards, The Last Five Years and Into the Woods are catnip for the tryhardiest tryhards of all: drama club tryhards. The Last Five Years is what the younger brothers and sisters of annoying RENT fans were singing in the halls of their dorms circa 2014.

So when promo clips for The Last Five Years started coming out, they showed Anna Kendrick, new Queen of the Drama Tryhards, wearing a yellow scarf and making out with a dude in a convertible in all of the show’s sung-through glory.

God, I’m quivering in my tap shoes, clutching my old Godspell cast T-shirt, just thinking about those heady days. Almost reminds me of when Glee was good.

But The Last Five Years tanked: middling theatrical reviews, low-six-figure box office return on a limited theatrical release, and concurrent direct-to-VOD distribution. Pair that with Into the Woods, another monumental theater-kid totem, starring Chris Pine and Emily Blunt and no less a luminary than Meryl Streep herself, came out looking like the nighttime scenes from a Transformers movie and missing significant portions of the show.

That’s a crushing one-two blow for a drama kid — a “I guess I’ll just make Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” kind of blow. (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates feels particularly like Kendrick doing penance because it features Kendrick’s Pitch Perfect costar Adam Devine plus Zac Efron, the Greek god of Funny, Pretty Young Actors Who Tanked a Musical Once and Are Trying Like Crazy to Get Their Groove Back.)

Anna Kendrick mailing in children’s movies — yes, I listened to a song on the Trolls soundtrack — does nobody any good. Anna Kendrick playing Santa’s daughter does nobody any good.

So here’s what I promise to do to change that. [Turns to address the audience.] In service of restoring Fun Anna Kendrick to the Hollywood Universe, the next time she tries to get back in the musical theater game, whatever that show may be, I will go see the movie and encourage everyone I know to do the same. If she wants to do Wicked, I’m there on opening night. If she wants to do a film adaptation of Chess, I will sit through Aaron Tveit signing “One Night in Bangkok” and stand up and clap at the end. I will move heaven and earth to support her Gilbert and Sullivan revue on NBC, if that’s what it takes to get fun Anna Kendrick back.

Because she’s gone, and I miss her everywhere.