Examining A Classic: Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Old School Let It Rain Dance

sandy, raindance

Mathletes don’t wear body art like that. Nuff said. Ball in. – Sandy Lyle

 

The greatest performance of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s career was not his Oscar winning turn as Truman Capote. It wasn’t his channelling of a hybrid combo of Lafayette Ronald Hubbard and That Dude That Sings The National Anthem At All Important Chicago Sporting Events in The Master either. I suppose you could point to him in Boogie Nights if you wanted to, but I’d just tell you that Julianne Moore’s eye makeup scarred me for life. It was way too out there for me to enjoy even a little bit of that movie.

For me, when it comes to the G.O.A.T. PSH moment, the discussion should start and end with the maximum dopeness that were those two minutes and thirty-six seconds in Along Came Polly on that nameless outdoor court in the middle New York City, when Stiller’s Rueben told Hoffman’s Sandy that he was thinking of asking out Polly Prince. That scene houses the hook for the movie’s trailer and, perhaps, the most recognizable shot of the film: Ben Stiller getting raked across the face by the naked chest of a very hairy be-goggled man. But I’m not concerned with the hook. I’m concerned with the joy. The quotability of that scene, the true fun, that all rests squarely in the very able, very dirty, very greasy hands of PSH’s Sandy Lyle.

If you don’t remember Sandy Lyle’s backstory, it is a good one. He’s a former child star of a hit movie, Crocodile Tears, whose movie poster looks a helluva lot like that of The Breakfast Club. Throughout the movie he has a film crew following him around claiming that they’re filming an E! True Hollywood Story on his life and his comeback to the theatre as he’s fixing to star as Judas in a community theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar. We find out later in the movie that was all a lie. He hired the camera crew himself. Sandy Lyle is a gross mass of self indulgence and unnecessary arrogance. He is the dumbest man in the room because he knows that he is the smartest. In a movie where Alec Baldwin gives Ben Stiller a massage while Stiller pees at a urinal, PSH is still responsible for the most ridiculous — and I mean that in the best way — aspects of the film. The word “sharted” might have existed before he spoke it, but its reach was not as worldwide as it is now.

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Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a pair of jeans. The guy goes with anything. Drop him into whatever movie universe you want, he’s going to destroy. Put him in Mission Impossible III as the villain, he works. Cast him as Art Howe in Moneyball, he works. Cast him as a tornado chaser, a boom guy, a mattress salesman, whatever, he’s going to work. But that clip above of him firing off jumpers with all the delicate touch of Tyrus Thomas, that’s his magnum opus. Watch him shoot, though. PSH knows how to shoot a basketball. His form’s not at all bad. He just sells his incompetence so well you don’t notice at first.

The red jersey, the yellow undershirt, the grey sweats, the very dirty Adidas, the load up before every shot attempt, the inability to take a shot without saying something, the completely unwarranted confidence, they’re all the best. As are these quotes below. The basketball psalms of Sandy Lyle.

“Nice.”

“You douche bags bring your A-game?”

“I’m just messing with ya, Sasquatch. Let’s get it on.”

“Pick n’ roll. Pick n’ roll. Outlet! Outlet! Rain dance!”

“(Primal screaming) White Chocolate!”

“Rain drops!”

“Old School!”

“T….T.”

“I’d rather not, dude. I just found out how to cover this man right here.”

Those might as well have been written by David.

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It’s the confidence that got me. If only because it’s rampant. There’s a Sandy on every court in America. Some dude who really put together an outfit to come play pickup ball who fancies himself a shooter of the highest order. He doesn’t play any kind of defense but thinks he can. He’s concerned with dribbling, getting up shots, and talking. He’s the guy that keeps score and tries to call fouls on plays he wasn’t involved in. He’s the dude who tries to draw charges on people.

Self awareness, what little he used to have, left him long ago. He thinks the ball belongs in his hands at the ends of games and you can probably bet he’ll take at least two really bad shots on two very important possessions, but he made his free throw, somehow, and you’re stuck with him until your team loses. When the next game rolls around you’ll have to hope he misses his free throw before you shoot because there’s no way you’re going to get ahead of him in line. He’s been angling to be first since the moment he stepped into the gym.

He’s the Don. He’s the baddest dude walking. He’s the whirling dervish alien that can’t be guarded and he arrived on this planet today to get buckets on anybody foolish enough to guard him.

Rain dance.

 

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