To All the Elisabeth Moss Works I've Loved Before

Plus white pesto pasta, scary kids and JLD.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m incredibly partial to certain actors and actresses. Elisabeth Moss is one of those select few, so last Thursday, when I was picking my weekly in-theater movie (a habit that’s starting to become expensive, RIP my wallet), I immediately honed in on The Invisible Man. The poster has pretty much nothing on it but Moss getting top billing and half her face on a black background, which to me signaled spooky and creepy and, above all, yes. I bought my ticket, got my obligatory small popcorn and large soda and made my way to the theater last Friday.

I don’t say this lightly: it’s a movie that’s stayed with me since then and will probably stay with me for a long, long time.

Without spoiling the movie, it’s about trauma and resilience, and it’s powerful. Moss plays the protagonist, Cecilia, who escapes from her abusive boyfriend/optical tech genius Adrian’s powerful grasp. He dies by suicide, but Cecilia can’t shake the feeling that he’s still there. And he is! No one believes her, though, because he’s a piece of gaslighting trash who manipulates the situation to his advantage to make her look unstable.

There are plenty of highlights of The Invisible Man. There’s the ominous way it uses empty space and lingering camerawork to make you afraid of a chair or a floor or something else that’s terrifically mundane. There’s the jump scares—normally, I hate jump scares, but these were pretty well done. There’s the supporting cast of Aldis Hodge (of Leverage notoriety, for me), Storm Reid (I’ve never seen her in Euphoria, which is a crime, I know), Harriet Dyer (never heard of her but she was good in this!) and Michael Dorman (also never heard of, also good!). There’s Oliver Jackson-Cohen (from The Haunting of Hill House, which definitely holds up to a binge-rewatch in the dead of winter, if you’re wondering), who would be a nice draw if he wasn’t invisible for most of the movie.

And then, of course, there’s Elisabeth Moss herself.

She outdoes herself in The Invisible Man, and that’s truly something, given her prior work. I first came across her in my attempt to watch The West Wing about two years ago, and while I didn’t get past season one, I appreciated her role as the president’s daughter. Then, of course, came June in The Handmaid’s Tale in 2017. As a middle-school fan of the book by Margaret Atwood, I had to watch the Hulu series, and Moss was—and is—the highlight of the show. I binged Mad Men in 2018, and now I have a postcard on my wall of Peggy Olson, who I insist was one of very few sympathetic characters in the series. Then, she played Kitty/Dahlia in Us, a performance that gave me the creeps, to say the least. All this history between Elisabeth Moss and I made me watch The Kitchen (it’s a movie, I watched it, that’s all I can say about that) for her. Look, when I stan, I stan.

Moss is a face actor, probably one of the leading ones of our age. She’s terrifically expressive. Think ruined mascara, head tilted forward, sly smile. Her most prominent role in the past few years, The Handmaid’s Tale, relies heavily on her ability to carry a scene wordlessly, with just her face to tell us how she’s feeling. Someone smarter than me could probably compute how much screen time is taken up by close-ups of Moss’ face in various expressions—angry, frustrated, stubborn, determined. It’s a lot. Normally, I’d get bored seeing the same face for extended periods of time, but I never do when I watch Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s fascinating to watch her go through emotions as well and as clearly as she does. It really doesn’t get old for me, despite the often-contrived and sometimes-problematic plot (though that’s a story for another newsletter).

That’s a big part of why I loved The Invisible Man. The best parts of the movie are Moss’ character showing us all the hidden parts of an abuse survivor. There’s fear, anxiety, joy, hate, love and, most of all, strength. She’s a master of playing the resilient woman who perseveres despite the odds, and she does it with enough vulnerability that it’s believable. Cecilia’s not some all-powerful hero who’s never afraid, but she’s also not going to stop fighting. She’s determined to save herself and the ones she loves despite not being believed about the very real, very present danger she is in. She will be heard and validated. She knows she’s not crazy. I never once doubted that Cecilia was reliable, which is the sort of thing that wouldn’t be unheard of in the mini-genre of not-being-believed-is-horror-too movies (think Unsane with Claire Foy) that The Invisible Man belongs to. Elisabeth Moss entrances you into rooting wholeheartedly for Cecilia, into being on the edge of your seat during the most gripping scenes (watch out for that scene in the rain, my favorite).

If Elisabeth Moss’ performance isn’t enough to lure you to the theater to see The Invisible Man, I’m not sure what is. It’s a good movie, chilling, timely and engaging. I left the theater a little disoriented, still immersed in the utterly terrifying world that director Leigh Whannell (who gave us Upgrade, the definitive Logan Marshall-Green movie) creates for Cecilia and the viewer. Go see it, then watch any other Elisabeth Moss film or show. (And get excited for The French Dispatch!) You won’t be disappointed.

When you’re done with The Invisible Man, go home and make yourself Carla Lalli Music/Serena Saunders’ white pesto pasta. This recipe has been a staple of mine since it came out. Honestly, this is my entirely different version of the recipe, but I’ll give credit to the Bon Appetit Mom anyway for inspiring my much lazier riff.

I get a pot of water boiling. I put some butter and some walnuts in a big Dutch oven on the stovetop. When the water’s ready, I drop in some fusilli, and I turn the heat on the Dutch oven up to a little less than medium. 8ish minutes for the fusilli (or whatever the box requires—it won’t really keep cooking in the sauce, so don’t undercook it like some recipes tell you to do!), then I transfer it directly from the boiling water to the Dutch oven, letting the pasta water drip into the butter-walnut mix. I turn the heat on the Dutch oven down to low-medium, add some salt and pepper and mix everything vigorously for a minute or two. I get a block of parmigiano-reggiano and grate a lot of it over the Dutch oven. I mix again. When it’s all mixed to my satisfaction, I turn the heat off, plate it and finish it off with more parmigiano-reggiano and a pinch of Maldon sea salt flakes. And that’s white pesto pasta, done in less than 20 minutes, good for leftovers, great with a nice dry white wine.

Beyond Elisabeth Moss and white pesto pasta, I enjoyed pictures of historic D.C., creepy things kids say, molecular wine, Haymarket Books’ 50% off sale on Women’s History Month books, Julia Louis-Dreyfus on easy livin’, coronavirus’ impact on the wedding industry, NYT's list of 52 books for 52 places, Vanity Fair's article about Taika Waititi’s two newest projects, Cinderella and the Glass Ceiling, Rachel Syme’s list of books about glamorous women and “Gaslighter” by the Dixie Chicks.

Choosing my Tweet of the week was surprisingly simple: your faves could never.

Normally, here’s where I’d sign off, but since you’ve made it this far, here’s a bonus mini-review: I saw EMMA. in theaters yesterday and it was a visual feast. I like my period pieces sumptuous and extravagant, with gorgeous costumes, hair and makeup and sets to match (see below). EMMA. delivers on all that and more. And it’s got an all-star cast of young(ish) British actors. Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) plays the titular “handsome, clever, and rich” character with wit and charm; she’s actually fantastic in this light-hearted role. She and Mr. Knightley, played by Johnny Flynn (Lovesick) have amazing will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry that had one woman in my theater going “oh, come on!” every time they were on screen together. Mia Goth (High Life), Callum Turner (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald), Josh O’Connor (The Crown), Amber Anderson (Black Mirror), Tanya Reynolds (Sex Education) and Connor Swindells (also Sex Education) have supporting roles in this fresh and fun film. Even if you don’t see it, you can have little a Johnny Flynn singing a song from the movie to start your weekend off right, as a treat. Have a good one, folks!