I kinda fell in love with Julie White when she won a Tony last month. In an auditorium full of mellifluous thespians, this Texan gave an endearingly shrill and unapologetic acceptance speech. The video is crap, but you can catch her priceless reaction to hearing her name. "What!" she screams, enraged, and starts marching down the aisle in a fury. After all, she beat Redgrave, Lansbury and Swoosie Kurtz, and wouldn't you be mad? I wish I'd seen her on Broadway in "The Little Dog Laughed," in which she played a Hollywood agent who (I've heard) could -- in a battle of the superbitches -- drive Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly into the ground.
What a delight, then, to settle into Transformers last week and find White with a plum role: Shia LaBeouf's endearingly shrill and meddlesome mother. It's a part that she (with the able assistance of on-screen husband Kevin Dunn) conjures into a kind of mini-master class on how to act in a blockbuster. A blockbuster gives an actor a silly, wide open canvas. White works herself into Michael Bay's broad strokes and adds flashes of color and flourish, turning the standard Mom-of-the-Hero role into a delightful portrait of a suburban Amazon -- fierce and demanding and cracked-out and incapable of swallowing bullshit but still prim and manicured and focused on family. "It's been a weird day," she tells LaBeouf at one point, "and I've been drinking." The delivery is superb. The rhythm of the movie swallows it up almost immediately, but it's a great moment -- a comic arrow slinged into the movie's proverbial bullseye. The audience in Wellfleet, Mass., erupted with laughter and the hits kept on coming: "You touch that dog and I'll kill you!" she screeches at a police officer as she's kidnapped by the authorities. "Were you masturbating?" she says immediately when she and Dunn walk in LaBeouf's bedroom. When Dunn suggests that the word and the topic are only for fathers and sons, White says curtly, "We could call it 'Sam's Happy Time.'" It's an obvious joke, but the delivery is expert.
In short, White steals the movie from a bunch of giant (mostly boring) robots. She is her own special effect. I want more. And if you stay through the credits, you'll get it. Clearly, the filmmakers had too much good footage of her to include in the actual movie.