Bill Maher Takes Us to Hell!

Sally Hawkins just grins, while Greg Kinnear spills the Soup

Life imitates pop art all the time—I bet Robert Downey Jr.'s in blackface in a jungle somewhere as we speak—but in Sally Hawkins's case, I wish it didn't have to do it so painfully. In Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, Hawkins plays Poppy Cross, a relentlessly cheerful North London teacher whose reaction to everything is a blinding grin. (Of course, she's never met Sarah Palin.) At one point, Poppy goes to the doctor for back problems and, typically enough, giggles deliriously through the whole visit. Well, Hawkins herself recently snapped her collarbone as if it were a chicken wing, and last week, she was valiantly calling me for an interview en route to surgery! And being upbeat about it! Most stars don't even call when they're feeling great and standing two feet away!

My exchange with Hawkins—who's superb in the role—wasn't painful at all. Me: Hi, dear. Are you adopting Poppy's approach in all this? Hawkins: Absolutely. It's probably the best way, with a happy-go-lucky attitude and let it go. I'll be taking Poppy in with me. Me: Tell her I said hi. Your face must hurt, too—I mean from smiling so much in the movie. Hawkins: I can't help it anyway. I've got a natural smiling face. But I tend to be not quite to the level of Poppy. Me: She's astounding! But doesn't she grate on some people's nerves (the other characters, I mean)? Hawkins: She never goes out of the way to become annoying or to hurt people. She always acts with the other person in mind. Me: Well, did you ever get tired of her? Hawkins: This is cheesy to say, but no, I didn't. She's quite energizing to play. Being inside her head and her skin was quite lovely. Me: Still, wouldn't you love to play a nasty bitch next time? Hawkins: Keep me on my toes? That would be lovely in a completely different way!

The woman just can't see the negative in anything. (But she's never met Sarah Palin, either.) In fact, she ended our interview by thanking me profusely, hoping we can have lunch, and cooing "lots of love" practically while being wheeled into the slicing room. Give her the Oscar already!

A far more sardonic film presence, Bill Maher, celebrated his documentary, Religulous, with a Brasserie Ruhlmann lunch on Rosh Hashanah, and more smirks than smiles were on the menu, thank God (not that there is a God). Was Maher aware that this was a big-time holiday? "I heard it on the news today," he told me, seeming serious. (Well, Maher's only half Jewish, and in fact, the first time he was ever in a temple was to film this movie.) How about director Larry Charles, who previously did the hilarious heathen-fest Borat? Did he feel a little Jewish-guilty about having this event today? "Not at all," Charles told me. "I didn't even realize it was Rosh Hashanah. It's not the highest of the holy days. That's next week—and I don't celebrate that either! I fast most of the time anyway!"

I bet Sarah Palin knows when friggin' Rosh Hashanah is. The woman loves Israel, gosh darn it! But back to Religulous, which casts an arched eyebrow on all the fairy tales embraced by the hopelessly devout. It contends that Jesus must have actually been an awkward teen—sort of like Jonah Hill in Superbad. ("Big Jewfro, bad at sports . . .") Maher swears that when he was an awkward teen, he brought a lawyer with him into the confession booth, though he assured me he didn't lie to the priest. "I didn't have to," he said. "I was so young, I don't think my sins were that interesting." But I bet his thoughts were.

On the high holy day of the Palin/Biden debate, golly gosh, I squeezed in a Hamptons International Film Festival screening of Flash of Genius, with Greg Kinnear as the guy who invented the intermittent windshield wiper and actually wanted credit for it. Before the movie, an exec announced that "Oscar winner Greg Kinnear" would come up to the podium and speak—but he isn't, and he didn't. The guy had already left! ("He's shy" was the official explanation.) But I had talked to Kinnear before that, and he nicely indulged me in an explanation of intermittent windshield wipers and also told me that when he hosted Talk Soup, he got no management feedback whatsoever. No wonder it was so good!

Broadway producers have obviously been getting feedback to keep dredging up old chestnuts because that's just what they're doing this season (and next season and the one after that . . .). But at least the carefully paced revival of The Seagull reaches some very dark, fascinating places in Act Two, and so does A Man for All Seasons, with Frank Langella turning on the fireworks before his scheduled head rolling.

An actually new show, 13, is the latest attempt to grab the awkward-teen market that was so stimulated by Spring Awakening and Legally Blonde. (But not Glory Days. When young people write about young people, they just can't seem to get it right.) 13, alas, feels like it was written in 1955 and, decades later, sprinkled with MySpace references. It's set in the only American school without gays—even if the lead character was called a "fagmo" in early previews—and all the Scooby Do–like boy-girl hijinks verge on banal, though at least there's some lilting music and the cast is fresh and loud. Unfortunately, after the show finally reaches profundity with the climactic number, the performers come back out to bounce around on a gratuitous show-off song that makes you wonder why a line in the script disses Disney.

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