I can’t get into Taxi. It just doesn’t work for me. I get where it’s going, but I mostly just find it irritating. That’s fine; not everyone has to like everything. I don’t think my mom likes it, either, which would certainly explain why I never watched it as a child. It’s true that the show is well known for producing its share of stars—Andy Kaufman, obviously, but also recent Oscar nominee Judd Hirsch (on the schedule for November), Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito (next March), and Tony Danza (eh, maybe at some point). But people are sleeping on Marilu Henner. She’s not as flashy as Kaufman, and she’s a lot more selective than Lloyd, but she’s done a lot of good work that’s definitely worth checking out.
For me, the first thing I saw her in was LA Story. She’s the long-time girlfriend Steve Martin is destined by the plot to break up with. She is petty and selfish and grasping. Trudi wants status more than she wants to be with Harrison, and you wonder what they ever had in common enough to start dating in the first place, since they don’t seem to like each other very much. And she’s enormously funny, because she is so earnestly in the role and able to deliver the most ridiculous lines with a straight face. Not to mention giving Steve Martin any number of looks as the plot requires.
She’s also delightful in Noises Off! Apparently the film was unpopular in its initial release, but I love it. Its delightful lunacy just speeds up as the movie progresses, and Henner as Belinda Blair is one of the characters who’s trying to hold the whole thing together. In many ways she’s the opposite of Trudi, which is another example of Henner’s versatility. It is a spectacularly well-cast movie, one of the Christopher Reeve roles that deserves to be better known.
Henner has really worked with an amazing assortment of people through her career. She was in a movie directed by Wim Wenders and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. Jeff Goldblum was in her first movie. She did a lot with Burt Reynolds. She was Michael Keaton’s love interest in Johnny Dangerously. She’s one of the Taxi cast members playing themselves in Man on the Moon. She even played a minor Batman: The Animated Series character.
Henner doesn’t have the attention of her former castmates. It’s a shame. I like her better than Kaufman, who was more a gadfly than an actor if you want my opinion. She’s capable of range, and she’s a talented comedienne. She’s currently doing a long series of Hallmark mysteries, which I suppose will definitely pay the bills, but the next time someone’s looking to mine the lode of ‘70s sitcom actors to put in Serious Oscar Contender movies, they could do worse than consider Marilu Henner.