Recently, I came across a man in my community who is Jeff Goldblum’s vocal doppelganger. He looks absolutely nothing like him at all, but seriously, if you close your eyes and just listen to him talk, you would swear Jeff Goldblum was in the room. I was quite taken with this phenomenon and mentioned it (with barely contained enthusiasm) to some co-workers who also know this man. They smiled politely and nodded a little, laughing uncomfortably. I said, “You don’t think so?” and after a brief pause one brave soul asked, “Who’s Jeff Goldblum?” He was not the only one – others were equally perplexed. I was flabbergasted. FLABBERGASTED!! So much so that I could not effectively answer the question. Usually I’m pretty good at the “What was he in?” game, but total disbelief and shock rendered my ordinarily eerie recall of all things cinematic completely useless.
How do you usually handle such questions? You know, those moments where you think the pop culture reference is such common knowledge that you don’t know how to engage when it’s not understood? I know I can be somewhat of a movie snob – I see a lot of movies, I watch many older films, I have a pretty wide scope of entertainment knowledge. I admit that I can be a little “judgy” when others don’t share my obsession, but I do try not to let it show. I acknowledge that other people actually, you know, have lives and don’t watch nearly as much film and tv as I do. I will cut you some slack for not remembering a certain actress’ name, or mixing up Dylan McDermott and Dermot Mulroney. I sometimes find that fluency in pop-culture-ese can be a form of social exclusion (and more frequently than I’d like I’m a prime offender). But to be fair, entertainment culture (unlike some other interests or hobbies) is ubiquitous. Pretty much everyone has seen at least a few movies in their lifetime and images of entertainment stars are everywhere – in line at the grocery store, on mainstream news programming, posters, advertising, previews, etc. I can usually discern where the line between “mainstream” and obscure entertainment lies i.e. the point at which I know others won’t know what the hell I’m talking about. Was it unreasonable for me to think Jeff Goldblum is common knowledge? True he’s a bit odd and has made some unusual career choices, but he’s Jeff Goldblum! How can anyone not know of someone so famously talented? And quirky? And tall?
But I digress. Returning to the interaction, what happened was that my brain tried (unsuccessfully) to do three things simultaneously: a) rank Jeff Goldblum roles according to famousness/popularity; b) mentally catalogue all of the Jeff Goldblum movies I’ve ever seen; and c) assess what I know of the questioner to determine what they might be familiar with to find some common ground.
(A) I immediately think of The Fly, Independence Day and Jurassic Park. Result: Zip. Zilch. Nada.
(B) I thought of (and rejected) Nine Months, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and the 10 second appearance he has at the end of Annie Hall credited as “Lacey Party Guest”. Result: I determined all were equally unhelpful (but do mention the Annie Hall credit because it’s awesome). I also try Budapest Hotel as it’s currently in theatres. Nothing. These are all, granted, fairly obscure, especially the Annie Hall reference where he’s basically an extra with a speaking line. Don’t blink or you’ll miss him.
(C) Seeing as how the questioner was born around the same year as The Fly, I could sense that Jeff Goldblum’s “classic” body of work was probably not going to provide any meaningful frame of reference. This led my already overloaded brain to completely malfunction when I tried to come up with more recent significant Jeff Goldblum roles (you know, if you don’t watch a lot of movies). I came up empty, and worse, relied on the lamest answer ever, “You’d know him to see him.”
In an attempt to address this blatant gap in collective knowledge and my own failings at providing a satisfying answer in that moment, I’ll respond to the burning question, “Um… who’s Jeff Goldblum?” here in my little corner of cyberworld with a number of his key moments/roles.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Always up for the quirky and creative, you can currently see Jeff Goldblum on-screen in the ensemble cast of Wes Anderson’s latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, as the ill-fated Deputy Vilmos Kovacs.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2009-2010)
Those who aren’t necessarily cinema-goers might recognize Goldblum from Seasons 8 & 9 of Law & Order: Criminal Intent (thunk, thunk). I confess, I’d stopped watching the series at this point and missed out on fully appreciating Goldblum’s small-screen gravitas, but would occasionally catch him as the droll scowling cop Zach Nichols when flipping channels.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Goldblum is suave, worldly, and all kinds of comic-book evil as Allistair Hennessey, the title character’s professional and personal nemesis, in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Watching Goldblum’s and Bill Murray’s (Zissou) characters bicker and dig at one another on screen in this charming, surreal film is pure comedic poetry.
Igby Goes Down (2002)
In this unsettling, darkly comedic film about Igby (Kieran Culkin), a teenager rebelling against the twisty wealth and privilege into which he was born, Goldblum is himself dark and unsettling. As Igby’s godfather and summer employer, Goldblum’s character exploits others’ vulnerabilities and dependencies in ways that will make you see the actor in a whole new light.
Independence Day (1996)
In the blockbuster Independence Day, Goldblum plays the trickiest of all roles in an action movie: the “voice of reason”. As David Levinson, he makes us root for him as the scientific everyman who knows what’s really going on. Plus he’s pretty bad-ass. In flannel. And glasses.
Jurassic Park (1993) & The Lost World (1997)
I lumped these together because they’re the same role in what is essentially the same movie (sorry Steven Spielberg, but you know it’s true). Dr. Ian Malcolm is probably Goldblum’s best known role and it’s perfect for him – Malcolm is geeky, cerebral, and a little bit seductive… not unlike Goldblum’s public persona much of the time. Call this Sexy Super-Genius Goldblum.
The Fly (1986)
I confess, I haven’t actually seen The Fly. I would’ve been around 12 when it first came out and I wasn’t allowed (nor did I have any real inclination) to watch “horror” movies then. Goldblum’s brilliant scientist, Seth Brundle, is the subject of an experiment gone horribly, horribly wrong when he fuses his own genes with a common housefly. By all accounts, David Cronenberg’s The Fly is a film of narrative substance, focusing on the romance between the main characters amidst the Academy Award winning make-up effects as Brundle gradually transforms.
The Big Chill (1983)
I know that The Big Chill is a big deal as the “definitite” film of a certain generation, but I have to admit I don’t really “get it”. Regardless, Jeff Goldblum gives a memorable performance as a calculating, sarcastic, sex-obsessed reporter who’s a member of a group of college friends reuniting after one of them commits suicide.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Widely considered one of the better remakes to come out of Hollywood, the 1978 version of the 1956 classic features Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy along with Goldblum as a cynical writer who ultimately sacrifices himself for the greater good.
Annie Hall (1977)
He appears in the party scene a couple of times in the background, but “I forgot my mantra” is the extent of his entire dialogue. And it’s awesome.
In conclusion, this trip down the career of Jeff Goldblum leads me to believe wholeheartedly that if you piece together a series of Jeff Goldblum quotes, you may uncover the secrets of the universe:
“I like to breathe – I’m good at it” (Vibes)
“I am Mr. Right” (Earth Girls Are Easy)
“I forgot my mantra” (Annie Hall)
“Because I’m chaos – it is my destiny to destroy” (Mister Frost)
“Life finds a way” (Jurassic Park)
“Must go faster” (Jurassic Park & Independence Day)
“Don’t knock rationalization. Where would we be without it?” (The Big Chill)
“I believe in the old saying that everyone does everything in order to get laid” (The Big Chill)
“We’ve come to a point where our technology has surpassed our humanity…” (Powder)
“Most people would give anything to be turned into something else” (The Fly)
“No pay, no Goldblum” (appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, 2005)
And if after reading and viewing this post you still don’t know who Jeff Goldblum is and why he’s awesome, I’m sorry, I can’t help you.