Aimee Mann has always kept her hand on the pulse of the music and film scenes, maintaining relevance and influence through consistent solo releases, film soundtrack work, and wacky cameos. While her music has always been strongly written while touting hook-filled accessibility, her forays into avant-garde and quirky cinema and TV have helped make Mann a staple in the independent arts scene. Her most recognizable on-screen achievement is through Paul Thomas Anderson 1999 film Magnolia, where her music was featured prominently and embedded within the plot. The entire cast of Magnolia even sings one of Mann’s tracks, “Wise Up”, toward the film’s conclusion. She may have lost the Best Song Oscar to Phil Collins’ work with Tarzan, but there’s no doubt that she produced one of the most successfully embedded film soundtracks of the ‘90s. Although that is the pinnacle of her film crediting so far, cameos as herself on everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Portlandia and Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie help sustain her presence both on screen and in the studio.
Mann’s most recent on-screen endeavor is Pleased to Meet Me, an upcoming film from indie director Archie Borders. It follows the lead singer of a seminal punk band who finds himself at a crossroads in life, past his height of fame but still creative enough to create material. With a long-awaited album perpetually in the works, he eventually meets out of desperation with Mann’s character, indie producer Laura Klein. She encourages him to assemble a band via Craigslist, more specifically a band comprised of members who have never met before. The result is as enjoyably unpredictable as expected, with the band consisting of “eccentric, elderly Theremin player, a muse-worthy but abused punk rock bassist, a Christian guitarist who sings like an angel, a butch, hardened, but happy-to-be-here drummer, a former lounge singer turned real estate agent singer, and an almost-past-his-prime electric violinist with anger management issues.”
In most of Mann’s cameos, she plays herself or someone that resembles herself, so her fictional role in Pleased to Meet Me should be especially interesting. With a music-driven plot, though, there’s little reason to doubt the casting. Alongside other artists who have found success on-screen – like John Doe, Loudon Wainwright III, and Joe Henry – she spearheads an all-star cast of under appreciated musicians who tend to score and act in their spare time. Of course, few tread as many film genres as Mann, who has played a number of diverse roles ranging from a struggling musician-turned-housecleaner in Portlandia to a suave interpretation of herself in Buffy – where she wryly says her one line: “Man, I hate playing vampire towns.” Loudon Wainwright III – who has appeared in everything from Undeclared to Big Fish – is one of the only musicians with a broader pedigree in the acting game. As a graduate of Berklee College of Music, where musical variety is encouraged, it is not surprising to see her eclectic taste in both film and music. She started out playing punk music, and then moved on to new-wave before settling with her trademark singer-songwriter rock sound.
Mann’s early collaborations with Jon Brion are one reason for her continuously successful diversity; Mann-Brion comprise one of the more successful songwriting partnerships of the past decade, and both have used the experience working with one another to launch their careers into stardom. As the producer for a couple of her albums, Brion’s eclectic tendencies stretch from Kanye West to Of Montreal. But Brion got his start as a producer with Mann’s Whatever (1993) and I’m with Stupid (1995), merely the start of both careers. PT Anderson’s decision to involve both Brion and Mann in the score and soundtrack, respectively, for Magnolia was an overwhelmingly successful one — as most PT Anderson decisions are. Although only the self-titled track is included on both the score and soundtrack, there is little doubt that the two collaborated with Anderson on both the music’s themes and general feel. Presently, Mann’s career is just as active. In addition to the upcoming Pleased to Meet Me film, she released her eighth album Charmer last year, and is currently touring with Ted Leo on a collaborative project called #BOTH. As usual, things are busy and successful for Aimee Mann.