Jonathan Richman has carved out a dedicated fan base thanks to his quirky but heartfelt ballads performed both solo and with his band, the Modern Lovers. But chances are you know him from There's Something About Mary, in which he plays the travelling troubadour who chronicles Ben Stiller's attempts to woo Cameron Diaz ("His friends would say be reasonable, his friends would say let go / But there's something about Mary that they don't know"). Richman, who performs at Skipper's Smokehouse Tuesday, isn't the only indie artist whose big break came via Tinseltown. Here's a sampling — Jay Cridlin email@example.com
Lisa Loeb, Reality Bites (1994) The cat's-eye bespectacled Loeb was an unknown when she was discovered by New York neighbor Ethan Hawke, who urged Stiller to plug her track Stay (I Missed You) into the film's soundtrack. The song, and its video, became a hit, and Loeb became the first artist in history to have the nation's No. 1 single before even signing a record deal.
The Shins, Garden State (2004) "You gotta hear this one song. It'll change your life, I swear," Natalie Portman says before plugging Zach Braff into the Shins' New Slang. The sweetly wistful song was already popular in hipster circles, but Garden State gave the band even more exposure to a mainstream audience.
Sufjan Stevens, Little Miss Sunshine (2006) Fellow indie rockers DeVotchKa composed the film's score, but Stevens' soaring song Chicago (which deals with taking a road trip in a van) became the movie's signature musical moment. It was played in the trailer and in the film itself and went on to garner radio airplay.
The Moldy Peaches, Juno (2007) Hearts melted when Michael Cera and Ellen Page sang the Peaches' Anyone Else But You to one another at the end of the Oscar-nominated Juno. But when the song became a hit — and people got their first good look at, um, interesting-looking anti-folkies Adam Green and Kimya Dawson — it became clear why they've never appeared on the cover of People magazine.
M.I.A., Pineapple Express (2008) The singer-rapper-provocateur's acclaimed 2007 album Kala didn't pick up much steam until this summer, when her Clash-sampling single Paper Planes was used in the film's ads and trailers. Now it's a legitimate hit, and M.I.A. is flyin' like paper, gettin' high like planes.
Devendra Banhart, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008) Will this new movie be a coming-out party for the freak-folk icon? Banhart has a brief cameo and his funk-flavored Lover is on the soundtrack. If not, well, he can always fall back into the arms of ex-gal pal Natalie Portman.