When you think of Matthew Lillard, which character immediately pops into your head? Stu Macher? Shaggy? If you’re a fan, then maybe Stevo? Probably not Tim LaFlour, Longaville, or Fishman, though. Since 1990, Lillard has been seen on both movie theater and TV screens portraying a wide variety of characters. Whether he’s the son of a murderous mom, helping a family escape a house full of ghosts, or taking place in multiple baseball themed antics, Lillard undoubtedly steals the show.
First and foremost: why Matthew Lillard? There has always been something about him that has resonated whenever his films were being shown. Lillard’s performances were never only one thing. Consistently mixing laughs with sincerity and even a dash of heartbreak or anger, he is multi faceted. Yes, this is the job description of being an actor, but few do it as seamlessly and naturally. Having seen this type of performance only in popular films where Lillard is cast begs the question, “What else can he do on screen? What other roles has he tackled?” With certain actors, their best works are not always the most popular ones, and to be honest we had not heard of a lot of his other works. Discovering Lillard’s most notable performances—knowing what he brings to the table acting wise—became a mission.
On January 2, 2021, the marathon began. The first film on the docket was Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College, which was more or less Gremlins injected with toilet humor. Was it a masterpiece? Not even close. Did he have even one line? No such luck. Did they dress him up like a nerd with suspenders? You bet! Needing a name for the binge watching feat, Lillardathon was born. With the bonus thought that maybe some of the Awards Radar fans would find this feat amusing, tweets with hot takes from each film began as well, ending with the hashtag #Lillardathon.
Upon waking up the next day, the actor himself responded with, “For the love of GOD. STOP NOW! 2020 was torture enough!” It seemed like an acceptable response for Ghoulies to be honest. Even after a 32 year long acting career in which he has made people of all ages laugh, cry, and fall in love with him, he cracks jokes about his career any chance he gets.
His warning went ignored, luckily. Things rapidly turned around with Serial Mom being the next picture on the list. The John Waters cult classic prominently features Lillard as the son of Kathleen Turner as she juggles being a murderer with being a housewife. This is Lillard’s first opportunity to flaunt his talents and prove himself as an actor, and he doesn’t let it pass him by. Whether he’s delivering classic teenage boy lines that spur on laughter or being obsessed with the idea that his mom is a famous killer, Lillard only adds to the absurd enjoyment that this film provides.
Further into the deep dive, along came the 2011 Alexander Payne drama The Descendants, where the comedic actor throws his hat into the ring as a dramatic actor. Much of the film is alluding to Lillard’s character and building suspense for when he is finally seen, only for him to steal the screen when he finally arrives. Channeling Brian Speer—a man cheating on his wife who finds out his mistress has died—sparse laughs are had when watching the serious and stern atmosphere he brings to the movie. George Clooney and Lillard work together beautifully, bringing out each others powerhouse acting styles. The oblivious nature of Judy Greer’s performance as Lillard’s wife only adds to the haunting darkness that he fully leans into. Overall, Lillard takes up a small crevice of the film and its total storyline, but that doesn’t mean that audiences won’t be thinking about his character long after his role is complete.
When it came to Lillard’s directorial debut, Fat Kid Rules the World, an unknown talent of his was uncovered. While his IMDb states that he is the guidance counselor in this one, Lillard takes up no screen time. At his own admission, he cut himself out of the film as it didn’t feel like it fit. Instead, he directs Jacob Wysocki and Matt O’Leary beautifully. O’Leary even resembles a young Lillard at many moments with his eclectic character, which is a treat. The storyline will move anyone to tears, and the shooting style is unique and enticing. When watching Lillard light up screens as a lighthearted character like Shaggy, the idea of him having a darker side doesn’t spring to mind. However, it can be argued that the most memorable moments in this picture are the shockingly dark ones that embrace the dark comedy genre. From the very first scene, a new side of him emerges through his directing style. It is evident that Lillard has a very serious career as a director ahead of him based on this picture. The fun of it will be waiting to see what he directs next.
As is true with all things, sometimes roles simply don’t land or make any impact. This applies to Deep Dark Canyon, the 2012 thriller from Abe Levy and Silver Tree. Lillard has a small role in this one, but a role that should in theory mean something, playing the brother of a missing murdered man. Very few minutes are dedicated to Lillard and his character’s emotional journey, and that seems to be the first issue. Beyond that, it feels like Lillard doesn’t give his usual emotive performance, raising the question of if directorial decisions are to blame. Instead, the actor who typically oozes a wide range of emotions is monotone and hard to read. This film is the standout in terms of Lillard performances that fall flat, and it is a shame that the actor wasn’t given a well developed action thriller to take part in.
While Lillard is typecast as the villain more often than not, such as in The Curve or Scream, he’s also been offered wholesome roles. A prime example of this is Tim LaFlour in Senseless, the Canadian roommate to Marlon Wayans who is a friend anyone would be lucky to have. Lillard happily plays the doofus too, such as fame hungry reality star Brock Hudson in She’s All That. Sometimes, Lillard is even a resentful adult attempting to hunt down his unknown father alongside Patrick Stewart in Match. And of course one can’t discredit when Lillard dances or sings, like in Love’s Labour’s Lost or even at the very end of Dish Dogs. Regardless of his role or station in the movie as the hero or the villain, he toes the line between genres and characters time and time again with very few missteps. Where low points are found, it feels like writing is at fault, with Lillard making the most out of a weak script or weak plot point and helping even the flimsiest film be entertaining.
The final film in the Lillardathon endeavor was He’s All That. Any fans of She’s All That will enjoy this one enough, but will also be aware that it does not hold a candle to the 1999 classic. Rachael Leigh Cook has a prominent role, but Lillard is mainly heard and not seen. Furthermore, neither talent reprises their roles from the original film, but instead tackle new characters, which feels like a low hanging fruit that would have made this one wholly more entertaining. However, when Lillard is finally seen on screen, he does have a moment where he dances in a way that will give fans of the original flick deja vu. Mirroring his iconic Brock Hudson with dance moves, it feels as if Lillard carries the majority of the joyful moments in the film. It also feels like Lillard takes a back seat in this one, which makes sense considering the movie and its plot, but is still disappointing.
Ultimately, Lillardathon was full of highs and lows, as any career is. The biggest surprise was how many titles were unknown before this experiment, and how many of them were loved more than our usual favorites. An added feat came with how difficult it was to hunt down some of the movies he’s credited for. It became apparent that the more difficult a movie was to find, the more unique and interesting it was, for better or for worse. Some of these finds included Spanish Judges, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and Spooner. Turning away from streaming and instead buying used DVD’s off of eBay or purchasing digital copies became the way the journey of watching his films was continued. Quickly, the order in which the films were viewed depended heavily on availability or shipping, so bouncing around decades was a norm. Yet some were still impossible to find, whether it was a TV movie that cannot be purchased, or a feature that never received its hype, which was a hard pill to swallow.
So what happens when you watch an actor’s filmography from start to finish? You obviously watch them grow and transform, but with Lillard one also watches him tackle more complex roles throughout the years. With that comes many experiments with accents, hair styles (so many hair styles), acting styles, and different film genres. Whether on screen for 10 or 90 minutes, he delivers a dynamic performance time and time again. This holds true even from Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go To College, where he doesn’t have a single line but speaks volumes through body language and facial expressions. This is a testament to a person who is doing exactly what they should be doing with their career. Are some movies better than others? Of course. Have some experiments gone awry? He’s only human (nudge nudge, A Dungeon Siege Tale). Nonetheless, as an actor he has remained solid, unwavering, and enjoyable. After a total of 46 movies, He was still not only enjoyable to watch, but proved to be a chameleon of an actor. Whether it’s a comedy full of sexual innuendos, or a drama where he is cheating on his wife, every role is satisfying when it comes to his performances.
What started out as a quirky way to see friends mid-week and party while watching beloved films became a total appreciation of Matthew Lillard as an actor. It wasn’t only about honoring one of our favorite actors, but it was about coming back to your best friends and comforting movies while simultaneously discovering new ones. Charcuterie boards, wine, different dips, and baked goods (even Scooby Doo cookies) all made appearances and became a ritual. Catching up while doing something that spurs joy became very important to each of us. Life is stressful, and if you can find one thing that helps you relax after a hard day, make the most of it. The best part? As long as he continues acting, there will always be Lillardathon.
It cannot be recommended enough to do the same thing with your favorite actors. That being said, this was a very fun one with a diverse filmography. Stay tuned for the Lillardathon superlatives, coming in a few weeks, in which I give out awards to a small sample of Lillard’s many characters and relive the amazing time. Please chime in and comment either your favorite Matthew Lillard movie, or which actor you’re going to binge watch with your friends.