Kristen Wiig and the Naked Truth

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Comedian Kristen Wiig is starring in a weird little movie called Welcome to Me, rolling out in limited release May 1. We’re not the ones calling the project weird, by the way. That’s what Bill Murray called it, and if Bill Murray thinks something’s a little out there, you know you’re in rare territory.

But as weird as it may be, the thing that’s been causing the early buzz is something pretty familiar: an actress shedding all—including her clothes—for the sake of the story.

Wiig is the one stepping out of her clothes this time. She plays a woman with a borderline personality disorder, and at one point her character apparently dons her birthday suit and walks naked through a casino.

“That scared me because I knew if I did the movie I’d have to do that scene,” Wiig tells Entertainment Weekly. “I didn’t want to say yes and then take that scene out. I just thought it was important to the story and the character—so the thinking was if I make this movie then I have to do the scene where I’m totally naked.”

Wiig talks about the scene being “important to the story and the character.” It’s a familiar rationale for flaunting one’s all for paying moviegoers. And I understand the argument to a certain point, I suppose. If someone was to film a dramatization of the Adam and Eve story, to dress the both of them in jeans and sweaters, especially pre-fruit, wouldn’t really serve the story. In fact, it’d run counter to the whole point.

But here’s the deal: We’ve seen plenty of iterations of Adam and Eve on screen in which our two main players are shot from the shoulders up. Does that cinematic decision hurt the story in any way? I don’t think so. We already know our two Edenites are walking around in the buff. It’s important that we know the characters are nude: It sets up the conclusion, after all. But we don’t need to see it.

Is nudity really important for a given story? Is anyone really saying that Casablanca or Citizen Kane or Vertigo would’ve been better with some nudity or on-screen noogie? That Katharine Hepburn’s or Bette Davis’s careers were pretty OK, but with a nude scene or two could’ve really been something? No one says such things, because they’re demonstrably not true. Which seems to undercut the argument a bit.

A few weeks ago, I watched 1934’s It Happened One Night, starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable. It was considered quite risqué at the time, what with a runaway heiress gallivanting around the country with a morally questionable journalist. They even shared the same motel rooms—their beds separated only by a blanket Gable called “the walls of Jericho.” But even though the sexual tension was palatable, the most uncovered skin we saw was Gable’s bare chest.

It was the first movie to win all five major Academy Awards, by the way—Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor and Best Picture.

I suspect that if It Happened One Night was remade today, there’d be nudity in it. We’d all be told that it was necessary. The plot demands it. The filmmakers would need to show just what sorts of temptations were on the other side of the walls of Jericho. It would be important for the story, we’d be told. Important for the characters.

But of course, It Happened One Night won’t be remade anytime soon. It’s too high in Hollywood’s pantheon, too revered to mess with. It makes me wonder whether the art of cinematic storytelling is getting worse, not better—wherein films must resort to on-screen nudity as a narrative crutch.

Kristen Wiig is a talented actress and comedian, no question. But when she, or anyone, says that on-screen nudity is a necessary part of a given story, I call foul. It may serve the publicity machine. It may serve the bottom line. But the story? There are better ways to serve.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

MikeTime More than 1 year ago
Was the full nudity in Schindler's List "necessary"?  Could they have gotten the same point  and impact across if they were in bras and underwear if historically it wasn't accurate?

Was the full nudity in Requiem for a Dream (Aronofsky) necessary?  Maybe not as much, but when you're dealing with the desperation of drug addiction and willing to do anything to get your fix graphic depictions might be forgivable.

Point being I don't know if you can make such a blanket statement as "full nudity on film is never permitted or should be considered 'art'"? (Michaelangelo's David anyone?).  I agree that much of it on screen is unnecessary and meant merely to titillate, but some I think does serve a purpose.
Kal El More than 1 year ago
I don't think there's an absolute in either direction here. Nudity for the sake of nudity is pointless and, dare I say, even unhealthy, but it's not always pointless either.

I do think it can generally by avoided or at least moderated (seeing a bare backside isn't a huge deal, but prolonged full nudity is usually very avoidable).

At the same time, I will say that for me all of the tellings of Adam and Eve I can think of do feel extremely censored, which is very off putting for me. Nudity isn't inherently sinful, it's the sin people often attach to it that's the problem, and I'd rather glimpse Adam or Eve's backside then to feel like I'm watching yet another whitewashed church group movie. I'm not saying lets get super graphic or excessive, but the opposite (being too censored and legalistic) is constricting and damaging in a different sense.

As with most things, I think there's good keys for filmmakers (and viewers) to remember:
-Everything in moderation
-Seeking God's guidance (meaning prayer and Scripture, not 'let's consult church theology and man made rules and interpretations')

There was a third one but it's 2AM here and my mind is dying on me. :-P So that'll do.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Of course they could have told the SAME story without total nudity.  Just like in Evan Almighty (and numerous other films like the Adam and Eve mentioned here) one can suggest nudity without showing it!  But much of Hollywood today wants to maximize the filth rather than minimize it.
Joses Tirtabudi More than 1 year ago
Yep. Well put. 
Richard Jones More than 1 year ago
Paul...  well said...