From Best In Show to The White Lotus, there’s so much more to award-winning actor Jennifer Coolidge than American Pie.
For a very long time now, the name Jennifer Coolidge has been swiftly followed by the words “aka Stifler’s mom”. Because, thanks to her breakout role in 1999’s teen sex comedy American Pie, the pop culture icon has – unfairly, in this writer’s opinion – found herself pigeonholed for years.
Now, though, things have changed, because Coolidge has gone stratospheric – and not just because she’s the face that launched a thousand TikTok videos (honestly, the app is filled with countless impressions, memes and references to her characters). So, what gives?
Well, thanks to her standout performance as chaotic half-billionaire Tanya McQuoid in The White Lotus, people are finally realising that Coolidge is a force to be reckoned with. An Emmy and Golden Globe winner, with a wicked sense of humour and excellent comic timing – not to mention a seriously good dramatic actor, too.
To celebrate her rising star, then, here’s our pick of Coolidge’s best 12 performances so far – some bit parts, some major roles – all brilliant.
The White Lotus
For those who have yet to dip their toe into the TV sensation that is The White Lotus, the series takes place at a luxury resort. Over the course of a week, the dark secrets and twisted truths of the guests, the staff and the locale – transforming what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation into… well, into an incredibly well-executed murder mystery (with a twist).
Coolidge is the only character who stars in both seasons of the series, and it’s easy to see why; as Tanya McQuoid, she perfectly blends comedy and tragedy to create a character that goes so far beyond the ‘poor little rich girl’ trope we are presented with at the beginning. She is grave, she is naive, and she is a lonely romantic – the kind who steals our hearts and somehow has us rooting for her until the bitter end.
You can stream the complete boxset of The White Lotus on NOW.
When Darcy (Jennifer Lopez) and Tom (Josh Duhamel) gather their families for a destination wedding, the ceremony is unexpectedly put on hold when the entire wedding party gets taken hostage. And, sure, that might sound like a silly premise for a movie, but it gives Coolidge ample opportunity to flex her comedic muscles as Tom’s eccentric mother.
“I’ve been looking forward to this moment ever since baby Tommy was cut out of my abdomen,” she says at one point. Yikes.
You can stream Shotgun Wedding on Amazon Prime Video.
Single All The Way
This Christmas romcom follows perpetually single Peter (Michael Urie) as he convinces his friend Nick (Philemon Chambers) to be his fake boyfriend for the holidays in order to fool his family. When his mum sets him up on a blind date with her handsome trainer James (Luke Macfarlane), however, the plan goes incredibly awry.
Sure, the film is about the will-they-won’t-they couple at its centre, but, as Aunt Sandy, Coolidge proves once again that she’s an absolute scene-stealer. If she’s not hitting on her nephew’s date, she’s teaching children how to scream in terror, branding the Christmas pageant a “giant ball of crap on a stick” or stealing ornaments from her sister’s tree and turning them into earrings.
You can stream Single All The Way on Netflix now.
Inspired by the infamous “Watcher” house in New Jersey, this true crime drama from Ryan Murphy sees a family move into their dream home, only to find themselves targeted by an ominousstranger who says they’ve been “put in charge” of watching the family.
“This message will not be the last,” the anonymous stalker writes in a letter.
“I am The Watcher.”
Coolidge stars as Karen Calhoun, the ambitious pastel-coloured power suit-wearing real estate maven who urges the Brannock family to sell up and get themselves to safety. All they need to do is list their home, and she’ll take care of the rest – but does she really and truly have their best interests at heart?
You can stream The Watcher on Netflix.
Promising Young Woman
Emerald Fennell and Carey Mulligan’s feminist tour de force, Promising Young Woman, sees the latter star as Cassie, a young woman who takes it upon herself to seek revenge for her best friend, Nina.
Nina, of course, died by suicide after she was raped by their classmate, Al Monroe (Chris Lowell), and Cassie has never been the same since. Each night, she feigns drunkenness in bars and allows so-called nice guys to take her home, revealing her sobriety to them only if they try to take advantage of her. In the warm light of day, though, she slowly finds herself falling in love, in spite of herself, with Bo Burnham’s Ryan.
Is he the only genuinely good guy left in the world? Can Cassie ever let go of her own trauma? And will she ever be able to give up on her quest for vengeance?
As Cassie’s beleaguered mother, Susan, Coolidge brings a profound sense of sadness to the role, subverting every expectation we have of her in the process.
“In playing Susan, I think I did steal from my own relationship with my mother,” she tells The AV Club of her performance.
“I felt like my mother was sort of naive to a lot of what was going on with me as a troubled teenager… and then [there’s the fact that] the whole home is taking on the depression, that dark cloud. I’ve seen people do that – it’s like, if one person in the family is not well, you can all go down. Some things can happen that are almost beyond your own fear, beyond what your brain can handle, and that was one of the choices I made in playing Susan.”
You can stream Promising Young Woman on NOW.
Best In Show
This seriously underrated mockumentary offers a behind-the-scenes look into the highly competitive and cut-throat world of dog shows, all told through the eyes of a group of five ruthless pet owners at the Mayflower Dog Show.
Directed by This Is Spinal Tap’s Christopher Guest, Best In Show boasts a seriously talented roster of comedic actors: think Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara (as in, yes, Johnny and Moira Rose of Schitt’s Creek fame), Fred Willard, Parker Posey and, of course, our beloved Coolidge.
Coolidge’s Sherri Ann Cabot is married to a very old and very rich man – but she’s also head-over-heels in love with the family dog trainer, Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch). Expect dynamite chemistry between the duo, not to mention plenty of major LOL moments.
You can rent Best In Show on Amazon Prime Video.
When Janes Leeves (aka Daphne) was temporarily written out of the show due to her IRL pregnancy, Coolidge stepped up to play Frederika, a hardy German physical therapist with a bewildering accent.
“People neglect their exercising for many reasons: holidays, travels, illness, lack of time and death. And there’s only one of those excuses that I accept – it’s holidays!” she says, before descending into a stream of giggles.
Then, seeing their faces, she quips: “It’s just your leg I’m pulling.”
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Hired by Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), Frederika soon puts a terrified Martin Crane (John Mahoney) through his paces – and the resulting screams soon throw our eponymous psychologist off his stride as he attempts to work on the book he knows he has in him.
Still, though, Frederika sure can cook up a storm, and her homemade beer doesn’t go down too badly, either. Maybe she’s not so bad after all, eh?
You can stream Frasier (Season 8, Episode 18) on All4 now.
A Cinderella Story
Every millennial worth their salt will remember A Cinderella Story, which sees Hilary Duff’s Sam dream of going to Princeton after her father is killed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
Too bad, then, that dear old dad never wrote a will, and has thus apparently left their beloved diner in the greedy hands of his vapid second wife, Fiona Montgomery (hey there, Coolidge).
Sam finds respite in an online pen pal, Nomad (Chad Michael Murray), and decides to meet him at a school dance. Their love story is, as you’ve likely guessed, the lynchpin of this film. Still, though, Coolidge nearly runs away with the entire film thanks to her fresh take on the evil stepmother trope – famously a tricky one to pull off.
You can rent A Cinderella Story on Amazon Prime Video.
Two words: Amanda Buffamonteezi.
Friends fans will undoubtedly remember Coolidge’s iconic cameo in the hit sitcom word for word, because she is absolutely chaotic. It’s the terrible British accent! It’s her demanding that everyone “smell my neck” and revel in her natural scent! It’s her questionable dance moves! It’s her casually talking about having sex with Evil Knievel! It’s EVERYTHING!
Oh sure, Amanda is one of Coolidge’s more buffoonish characters, but there’s a reason we keep quoting her even now.
You can stream Friends (Season 10, Episode 3) on Netflix now.
Keri Russell might be the star of 2013 romcom Austenland – which (you guessed it) takes place in a Jane Austen-themed resort in England – but Coolidge is the character who will live in your head rent-free after the credits roll. As Elizabeth Charming, she is endearingly out of her depth amid the stiff upper class that rule Jane Austen’s work – not to mention far more excited about the tight-trousered men of the Regency era than, y’know, the romance per se.
“Not a chance,” she breathes, when she’s informed she won’t be allowed to touch any of the actors.
You can stream Austenland on Amazon Prime Video now.
Legally Blonde (and Legally Blonde 2)
Legally Blonde follows Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods as she enrols at Harvard Law School to win back her ex-boyfriend (Matthew Davis) from his new love, Vivian (Selma Blair).
It’s not long, though, before Elle realises that her dreams, however unanticipated they might be, are more important than pursuing a man who doesn’t see her merits – all while donning her signature colour, pink.
Coolidge shines in her role as Paulette Bonafonté, a salon owner whose confidence has been left absolutely shattered by a nasty breakup of her own – especially as her foul ex hasn’t just walked out; he’s taken her beloved dog with him. With a little help from Elle, though, Paulette’s luck soon changes – even if it involves more than a little bending and snapping.
You can stream the Legally Blonde films on Amazon Prime Video.
Whether you love it or loathe it, there’s no denying that American Pie is one of the most famous teen sex comedies out there, if only for that controversial apple pie scene.
Centered on a group of high school friends –Jim (Jason Biggs), Kevin Myers (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Chris “Oz” Ostreicher (Chris Klein) and Paul Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) – the film sees them embark on a quest to make like heir BFF Stifler (Seann William Scott) and lose their virginities.
We all know that Coolidge played Stifler’s mom, and the actor has said time and time again that she credits the role with her being able to break into Hollywood.
“Ten years of my life of auditioning,” she told Variety of her life before that role, “and none of it added up to a job. The fear is gone when you’re so used to losing. There’s some freedom in that.”
You can stream American Pie on Amazon Prime Video.
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