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What Is Cameron Diaz’s Best Performance?

A look at the not-retired actress’s standout roles

Cameron Diaz and her ‘Shrek’ character, Fiona Dreamworks/Warner Bros./Newline/Ringer illustration

On Monday, Selma Blair told Metro that her former costar Cameron Diaz was retired from acting, and for a short but intense period of time, the world mourned. Then Selma Blair tweeted that she was joking, and all those things she said about Cameron Diaz being “done” were just, like, this funny goof. (Selma, stop playing.) So it turns out that all is fine and back to normal. But the brief scare made us realize that we shouldn’t wait until Diaz calls it a career to honor her, so here are some odes to the actress’s best performances.


Alison Herman: A recent Saturday Night Live sketch centers on a young man, played by Sterling K. Brown, utterly derailing a standard meet-the-parents dinner with his rabid insistence that the 2001 fairy tale spoof Shrek is the greatest animated film of all time. On its surface, the sketch appears to be a classic example of the show’s noted absurdist streak; to a certain microgeneration of millennials, it just sounds like the truth. Though neither the turn-of-the-century CG animation nor the prominent use of Smash Mouth have aged particularly well, Diaz’s turn as human turned ogre Princess Fiona has. We just got a blockbuster about a female protagonist learning to embrace her flaws in the face of oppressive beauty standards. Fiona chose to go full-time monster 17 years ago, providing an important lesson in both self-esteem and the comedic value of fart jokes for young children everywhere. As a voice actress, Diaz holds her own against the likes of Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy; as a character, Fiona subverts the pretty-princess trope enough to provide fuel for undergrad media studies papers for decades to come (and with that sequel money, probably pay for a Diaz beach house or three). Cheers to her.

The Mask

Miles Surrey: First, a disclaimer: Voicing Fiona in Shrek is Cameron Diaz’s best performance, and everything else is secondary. (Shrek is love, etc. etc.)

Now, The Mask. Maybe it’s because I was born in 1992, but it’s easy to forget that mid-’90s Jim Carrey was Peak Jim Carrey, much in the way Will Ferrell’s comedy dominated the 2000s. Costarring with Carrey was a huge, huge deal—and Diaz crushed it in The Mask. What’s more, she reportedly did so with zero acting experience; the casting directors just saw her leaving a modeling agency and thought she’d be great in the role. You know you made an impression when the movie where Jim Carrey wears a horrifying green mask and flushes Mafioso Peter Greene down a fountain is maybe the third thing people remember about it because of a red dress.

Another sure sign of Diaz’s stardom: She did not show up in the sequel, Son of the Mask, which came out around the same time as Shrek 2, a masterpiece.

Any Given Sunday

Michael Baumann: Any Given Sunday is a ridiculous movie, showcasing a brand of football so violent it strains the suspension of disbelief, even for longtime NFL fans. It’s shot in a style that makes Michael Bay look like Alfonso Cuarón; IMDb’s trivia page says the film has 3,000 cuts, which might not be true, but it feels true. And it’s peopled by some of the least-chill actors of the age: Old Shouty Al Pacino, James Woods, and Jamie Foxx, with a sprinkling of real football players. And not only that, but football players renowned for being unchill themselves: Lawrence Taylor, Jim Brown, and Terrell Owens. There is so much going on moment-to-moment in a movie that goes on for about six hours that entire plotlines fall into the crashing waves below.

But not Cameron Diaz as Christina Pagniacci, the meddlesome and Machiavellian owner of the Miami Sharks. Jerry Jones in heels and a pantsuit. She has to work to make herself heard, not only as a woman in sports, but as a character trying to make her way in a profoundly busy film. And yet, even as she sometimes has to raise her voice, she never looks strained. That’s quite an achievement in a movie where the only calm person is Jim Brown. Pacino, Foxx, and Dennis Quaid all play characters we know from other sports movies, but Christina has more depth. She’s an underdog on one level, trying to fill her late father’s shoes and earn respect in a chauvinistic workplace. Her most memorable scenes have her going head-to-head with Pacino, either as a trailblazing feminist hero or the meddling bitch who won’t let the movie’s protagonist do his job, depending on your perspective. But take a step back at the evils of pro football that Any Given Sunday decries: drugs, self-destructive machismo, pride, callousness toward player safety. Who enables those things and profits off them the most? Christina—and there’s a knowing quality to the performance, a quiet, veiled contempt for the players and coaches that you can see bleed out around the edges. There’s subtlety to her performance, in one of the least-subtle movies ever made.

In Her Shoes

Kate Knibbs: Diaz first endeared herself to me with her commendably terrible karaoke in My Best Friend’s Wedding, but even there, she struck me more as game than especially talented. I watched the (ridiculously underrated!) 2005 movie In Her Shoes on a plane, expecting more easy entertainment. I was full-on crying by the time we landed. Diaz played a charming, reckless party girl named Maggie, who behaved badly enough that the only place she can find to live is with her estranged grandmother in a retirement community in Florida. Maggie is selfish and prickly but also struggling with a severe learning disability, and Diaz takes her seriously. Maggie’s emotional growth is buttressed by not one but two dramatic readings of poetry—I cannot think of another contemporary film that uses poems to such considered dramatic effect—and Diaz creates a complicated and tender character whose transformation feels fully earned. I’m so glad she’s not retiring from acting.

My Best Friend’s Wedding

Juliet Litman: The deck was stacked against Cameron Diaz in My Best Friend’s Wedding. Julia Roberts was in her prime playing the archetypical journalist who couldn’t find love. Rupert Everett changed the rom-com best-friend game by pretending to be Roberts’s fiancé with so much charm that it didn’t matter that his role was the least believable aspect of a relatively far-fetched movie. Dermot Mulroney smiled wide for about 90 percent of the movie. There was not much room for the 25-year-old Diaz. But just as the young Kimmy Wallace escaped every trap that Julianne Potter set for her, Diaz managed to hold her ground. In a movie with multiple memorable musical moments, she turned in what was objectively the worst, but still the most charming.

Her expert shoulder motions and mini dance moves never let the audience question how she managed to keep her sweater on her shoulders throughout her karaoke performance.