Kate Hudson plays something of a dull blade in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, but Rian Johnson’s new crime comedy might just be her sharpest performance yet. As the irrepressibly sunny-but-clueless former model Birdie Jay, Hudson is both knowing and playful—especially once we discover that, like the real-life woman behind her, Birdie has expanded her brand in recent years to include a massively popular athleisure line. Birdie’s company, however, just happens to be in a tailspin.
The first of two Knives Out follow-ups coming from Netflix, Glass Onion once again finds Daniel Craig’s ace detective, the heavily accented Benoit Blanc, navigating a gaggle of rich weirdos. (The film has debuted in theaters nationwide and arrives on Netflix Dec. 23.) The early days of the pandemic have left Benoit in something of a rut, when he receives an invitation from eccentric billionaire and reputed “genius” Miles Bron (Edward Norton) to a murder mystery where guests will solve Miles’ (fictional) untimely demise. Once he arrives at the compound—which features a glass dome that kind of looks like a… well, you know—it soon becomes clear to Benoit that pretty much all of the guests in attendance have very real, very compelling reasons to want their host dead.
For all the shifty players on this chess board, however, Birdie’s pretty easy to read right from the start. We first meet her in full glam at a massive party with her COVID “pod,” where she spends most of her time begging her assistant to un-confiscate her phone so she can return to spouting nonsense on Twitter. Bubbly and warm in only the most superficial ways, Birdie seems to swan through life, while sustaining herself mostly on attention and memories of her days as an “it” girl on the cover of magazines.
In another actor’s hands, Birdie might’ve felt like a tiresome, one-note “dumb blonde” joke. But Hudson is undeniable. With each calculated pout and every alluring flash of her eyes, Hudson telegraphs naivete and mischief all at once. Birdie might not be the queen of bons mots, but she can be pointed—like when she decides to go for a swim but suddenly sees Whiskey (arm candy to Dave Bautista’s gun-toting MRA character) rising like Botticelli’s Venus from the pool. Suddenly it’s, “Maybe I’ll lie out for a bit.”
Hudson, best known for Almost Famous and romantic comedies like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, has always had a certain glimmer about her. (Part of it might be genetic; her mother, after all, is Goldie Hawn.) Here, she wields that natural shininess like a diamond-encrusted scepter. Her breeziness is a perfect counterpoint to another member of this dysfunctional group: Kathryn Hahn’s Claire Debella, an anxious politician whose sartorial inclinations are more practical than they are trendy. (On top of everything else, we can all thank Glass Onion for the How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days reunion.)
Sometimes, Hudson’s natural charisma lends Birdie some power—like when she struts to the pool in a giant floppy hat and absurdly ruffled orange bikini and somehow manages to make it work. In more vulnerable moments, however, Hudson reveals the chilly anxiety her character feels as her younger counterpart, Whiskey, steals the male attention. Birdie longs for the days when her name commanded more power than Miles’, even as she relies on him as a primary shareholder in her athleisure endeavors.
Speaking of which, there’s more than a little comedy to Kate “Fabletics” Hudson playing a sweatpants designer whose brand is suffering. While Miles’s star has risen, Birdie’s has come crashing down to earth—a neat encapsulation of Silicon Valley’s rise as a billionaire celebrity-maker that can, at times, feast on Hollywood’s lunch. Hudson seems to be having the time of her life playing a nightmare version of her real-life self, right down to the moment when Birdie admits she thought “sweatshop” is simply the name for the place where sweatpants are made.
Well before Glass Onion wafted its way into theaters, we knew its cast would be stacked with A-listers. From Hudson, to Hahn, to Janelle Monáe, everyone here is performing—some of them, especially Monáe, with considerable depth. (One might say her work has… layers?) But I’m simply convinced no one’s having more fun in this movie than Hudson, who revels in every self-effacing joke and wears the hell out of each and every ridiculous costume. Let’s just hope she’s no longer dizzy from all that twirling.