Whenever I think of Linda Cardellini, I think of a quote from Community. To be fair, I am often thinking of Linda Cardellini and Community quotes, so it was inevitable that they would cross paths. Anyway, it’s from the season three episode “Regional Holiday Music” when Britta makes an unexpected appearance as the Mouse King (not a mute tree) in Greendale’s Christmas pageant. Upon seeing Britta, Dean Pelton looks down at his playbill, and with a disgusted tone in his voice, asks, “Oh, Britta’s in this?” That’s me with Linda Cardellini, except with a joyful, more thrilled spin. “Oh! Linda Cardellini’s in this!”
I am never not excited to see Cardellini in a television show or movie, and it’s often a surprise. The actress is not, to use a recent example, the reason I watched Capone (Tom Hardy was), but she’s the one who gives the most humane performance in the otherwise-mediocre film. Cardellini exists somewhere between an A-list lead and a steady character actor (she’s not Cate Blanchett, but she’s not Stephen Root, either), and she’s almost always the best thing in every project she’s in, for over 20 years. Let’s take a look at some of Linda Cardellini’s more notable roles, dating back to my favorite movie named after a fictional burger chain based on a Nickelodeon sketch series.
For years, I assumed Freaks and Geeks was the first thing I saw Linda Cardellini in. Nope! Before one of the greatest shows ever premiered, she appeared on 3rd Rock from the Sun, ABC’s Goosebumps-lite Bone Chillers, Boy Meets World (as a “mountain girl that has an interest in Cory” — girl, you could do better), and had small roles in Dead Man on Campus, the direct-to-video comedy The Prince and the Surfer (watching this ASAP), and my Cardellini introduction, the All That spin-off movie Good Burger. She plays a psychiatric center patient who develops a crush on Ed after telling him, “I’m a psychopath.” It’s, uh, not the most tasteful role (her character is described as an “insane girl” on Wikipedia), but to her credit, Cardellini goes all-in on playing Nickelodeon’s idea of “crazy.” If only she got to show off her dance moves like she would in another movie I’ll get to. She would later appear in an episode of Kenan & Kel as a different character, which mucks up the otherwise-narratively solid Kenan & Kel universe.
Freaks and Geeks
Freaks and Geeks might be, objectively speaking, the most perfect show ever? It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s painfully and wonderfully relatable, and because NBC canceled it after 12 episodes (with six more that eventually aired on Fox Family Channel), there’s no it-was-on-for-too-long dip in quality. Freaks and Geeks also launched the careers of many actors who are still working today, including Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel, Busy Philipps, Lizzy Caplan, John Frances Daley, Samm Levine, and Cardellini, who played Lindsay Weir, one of the more complicated teenage characters ever depicted on TV. She’s not a freak, but she’s not a geek, either. Maybe she’s a Deadhead? We’ll never know. Lindsay is searching for her identity, like every high school student ever.
Cardellini rarely plays villains — she’s too darn likable — but that makes her an excellent unassuming foil in Legally Blonde. And speaking of foil: think of all the tin foil that no-good murderer Chutney Windham required for her perm. Look, I’m not crazy enough to claim that Linda Cardellini gives the best performance in Legally Blonde (Reese Witherspoon does, obviously), but I will say that Chutney Windham is a much better name than Elle Woods. It’s easily the best character name in her filmography, with Wendy Corduroy from Gravity Falls in second place. Cordelia Starling is good, too.
Scooby-Doo and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed
I was about 10 minutes into the direct-to-streaming Scoob! before I said to no one, “Man, at least the live-action movies had Linda Cardellini.” The She’s All That-ing of Velma in Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed isn’t great (who knew there was an attractive person beneath those hideous glasses!), but I stand by my assertion that Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby are the only essential members of Mystery, Inc. Shaggy and Scooby, because they’re always leaning on a bookcase that exposes the villain’s lair, or whatever; Velma, because she’s not blandly hunky dead-weight like Fred or a karate fanatic (???) like Daphne. No offense to Sarah Michelle Gellar, but seriously, what is Daphne’s defining characteristic? Velma is the effortlessly charming Smart One, and Cardellini is a natural at playing that character archetype.
Samantha Taggart is one of the better post-original cast additions to ER, even if she occasionally felt like a lesser Abby Lockhart (I could also write 1,500 words on Maura Tierney, and might!). So, it’s a shame that she ended up with John Stamos’ Tony Gates, who the Atlantic accurately refers to as the “final, and weakest, attempt the show ever made to introduce a Really Handsome Dude.” That being said, watch ER. It’s good!
I’m not saying being in a poorly edited YouTube video of Brokeback Mountain scenes set to “Unusual You” by Britney Spears is Cardellini’s greatest career accomplishment, but it’s top five, right? The Brokeback cast was stacked. Outside of Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Michelle Williams, who were all nominated for Oscars, there’s also Cardellini, Anne Hathaway, Anna Faris, Kate Mara, David Harbour, and Randy Quaid.
Especially Randy Quaid.
For my recent Happy Madison ranking, I slotted Grandma’s Boy at #10, not because of the jokes that haven’t aged well, or Nick Swardson, or Oscar nominee Jonah Hill nuzzling between a stripper’s breasts, but for the scene where Linda Cardellini dances to “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa at a party. It’s my favorite kind of performance: the one that’s too good for the terrible movie it’s in (it’s called pulling a Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Regular Show / Gravity Falls / Sanjay and Craig
Or, the reasons your kids know what Linda Cardellini sounds like.
You know who Linda Cardellini reminds me of sometimes? Alison Brie. They’re both equally adept at comedy and drama and in more of your favorite things than you realize, including Mad Men, where Brie plays Pete’s wife Trudy and Cardellini portrays Sylvia Rosen, the neighbor of one Don Draper… who she’s sleeping with, even though she’s married to Dr. Rosen. On one hand, I get it: he’s Jon Hamm, she’s Linda Cardellini — makes sense! On the other, they both know what they’re doing is wrong, and they get their comeuppance when Sally, that well-adjusted child, catches them in the act. Trudy would never (but re-make Thelma and Louise but with Alison Brie and Linda Cardellini).
New Girl was about the wrong Day sister. I am 100 percent certain of this.
One of my quarantine projects is watching every Best Picture winner, and I am dreading the day that I get to Green Book. So, instead of talking about one of the Academy’s more regrettable choices for the Oscars’ biggest prize, let’s remember that Linda Cardellini, who plays Tony Lip’s wife, was also in the music video for Outkast’s contribution to the Scooby Doo soundtrack, “Land of a Million Drums.” It’s archival footage, but still counts! Also, she won a gas fireplace on The Price Is Right. Outkast music video star and The Price Is Right contestant? An icon.
A Simple Favor
Dear Linda Cardellini holding a knife and wearing a Slayer shirt in A Simple Favor (2018),
— Absolute Still Wife (@lilykmakowski) May 17, 2020
The Curse of La Llorona
With the exception of The Nun, The Curse of La Llorona might be the most forgettable movie in The Conjuring Universe, but that’s not Cardellini’s fault. She has the thankless role of playing a mom who has to protect her kids from an evil spirit… you know how it works, you’ve seen a horror movie before. But Cardellini has solid chemistry with her child co-stars, no easy task, and it’s tempting to picture her in a horror movie that relies less on cheap jump scares and more on actual horror. All I’m saying is, The Babadook 2 starring Linda Cardellini. Make it happen.
Avengers: Age of Ultron / Avengers: Endgame
Get that Marvel money, Linda Cardellini. Get that Marvel money.
Bloodline / Dead to Me
If I was hunting for a “unified theory” of Netflix superstar Linda Cardellini, I’d say this: I recently watched It Happened One Night, and there’s a scene where a bus driver drives the bus off the road, causing a mother to faint and her young son to begin weeping. Clark Gable’s character Peter rushes into action, first checking on the passed-out woman, then the crying kid, then the bus driver to find out what happened. He’s in complete control of the situation. That’s how I feel watching Linda Cardellini. Even if the movie itself stinks, a metaphorical bus crash, you’ll still be able to walk out of the theater saying, “Well… at least Lindsay from Freaks and Geeks was really good in it.” And if she’s in something great, she’s probably one of the main reasons why it was great.
Trust is an important component in the relationship between actors and viewers: we trust Tom Cruise will save the day in Mission: Impossible, but would you feel the same way about Jeremy Renner as the new Ethan Hunt? I think I speak for everyone when I say: lol. I trust Linda Cardellini, because for over 20 years, she hasn’t let me down.