We Don't Talk Enough About: Peter MacNicol's World Class Freak-Out in "Bean"
There should be an Oscar for "losing your shit."
There are few cinematic pleasures more satisfying than watching an actor stick the landing on a well executed freak-out; I’m talking Shelley Duvall screaming as a deranged Jack Nicholson chops down a hotel door freak-outs; I’m talking Drew Barrymore realizing she’s totally fucked during the opening moments of Scream freak-outs; I’m talking Jake Johnson meeting Prince freak-outs. For my money, however, there’s one cinematic freak out that stands head and shoulders above all the rest. It is the single greatest eruption of panicked energy ever caught on film, and yet, for some reason, almost no one I know even remembers it exists.
Reader, I give you: Peter Macnicol losing his shit over the defacement of a priceless piece of art history in 1997’s Bean – an absolute Godzilla of a movie freak out that we don’t talk about enough.
The context here is inconsequential, but if you must know, Bean was arguably the high point of America’s brief, pre-millennium flirtation with unironically liking British stuff. MacNicol plays a museum curator scrambling to finalize the upcoming debut of painter James Whistler’s iconic “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1,” only to learn — as we see above — that it’s been mutilated with a particularly phallic smiley face by the film’s eponymous Mr. Bean. Har har har.
While it floundered in the States, Bean was a box office success internationally, but has since been mostly forgotten as one of those hazy pre-Y2K memories that hardly seems real at this point. I challenge you to find someone who actually saw Bean in the theaters, and get them to accurately describe its plot. They won’t. They can’t. To the extent that it exists in people’s minds, it mostly does so as just a movie poster they walked past once, and not an actual film they sat down and watched.
But watch the scene again. Watch it a third time. Let it really sit with you. Marvel as MacNicol slides effortlessly from horror to revulsion to fascination to wrath, combining this complex mélange of extreme emotions into a single, potent, primal scream. It’s a moment that transcends the corny PG-13 trappings of its lukewarm material and now lives on in my head as the gold standard for actors losing their fucking minds.
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