Friday, February 21, 2014

Supporting Actress

I had a beautiful little write-up going along, but the Blogger Android app doesn't save as you go, so bye bye. I have a really hard time writing things twice, but we'll try. It's better than trying to go out to eat in a city that doesn't know what a frickle is! Now that we have the boys out of the way, onto the ladies.

  • Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine
  • Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle
  • Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave
  • Julia Roberts in August: Osage County
  • June Squibb in Nebraska

Like so many of the other artists I've talked about, I have a long history of loving Sally Hawkins - ever since I saw Room on the Broom two weeks ago and she voiced the bird's single stanza. That's a lie, I also saw A Painted Veil in which she... oh, her scenes were deleted. Well, I definitely don't remember her mesmerizing take on the role of Slasher in Layer Cake. It's a shame, really, because she puts on a very nice performance here. She never matches Blanchet's gaudy performance, but in that shadow, Hawkin's characterization of Ginger's chaotic life seems downright stable. She has a broad range of circumstances, but never gets as emotionally varied as Blanchet; in effect she functions wonderfully as a supporting cast member. She delivers her role excellently without ever overpowering the lead. In some ways it's Hawkin's portrayal of Ginger's life's ups and downs without lingering effect that's both so crucial and so tragic about her role. Here's a woman that doesn't want all of life's finery, but just to be cared for and to get to tomorrow. In trying to create that life she never quite holds on to any emotion long enough for it to overtake the film. That lack of depth, though, ultimately holds her performance back as the character is never given room to really mature. A lot of that's on the screenplay though, which we'll get to.

I bet you're expecting me to say something awful about Jennifer Lawrence for her association with American Hustle aren't you? Guess what? Two posts in a row about liking things about that movie! Lawrence's turn as Rosalyn Rosenfeld is one that I really abhorred the first time around, but the more I thought on it, and the more I rewatched it, the more I liked it. Her character is vacuous and self-absorbed and I couldn't quite get why Christian Bale's character who is so together and on top of it with everyone else simply falls apart around her. None of it made sense to me. Viewing it again, I noticed just how impeccable Lawrence's timing is here. She rails against Irving Rosenfeld without missing a breath. When she pauses, she does so just long enough to let him think he can get a word in edgewise before she's back at it. The character has an uncanny ability to twist her way out of fault and Lawrence delivers uncannily The "science oven" scene is a perfect example of this wherein Rosalyn puts metal in the microwave - against Irving's advice - and starts a fire. Lawrence just rattles off on Irving eventually coming up with the reasoning that Irving's science oven is sucking all the nutrients out of the food, never mind the fire. "Thank God for me" she finishes with a smug tapping of her fingers. Now go back and watch that scene again with the sound off and just pay attention to her face. For all of her divine timing, her character comes through just as magnificently with nothing more than her facial expressions and her eyes. She never misses a beat in this film, and it's a grand thing to see.

Then there's Lupita Nyong'o with a starkly different performance. Again, though, much of her work is in her face. She's visibly unnerved every time Edwin Epps is around and even more so around his wife who holds no illusions about Edwin's feelings toward Lupita's Patsey. She's emotionally and physically raw and bared for the world to see. As strong as Ejiofor and Fassbender are, it's Nyong'o with whom many of their strongest scenes are with and about. She delivers a visceral performance virtually unmatched and perfectly exploited by her costars.

Julia Roberts, like Sally Hawkins, offers up an unlikely stabilizing character in midst of a wild main character storm delivered in August: Osage County by Meryl Streep. It's funny how calm a decidedly not calm character can seem in the shadow of another character's chaos. Roberts really exquisitely plays the role of a daughter trying to keep too many things in order. Watching one of the later scenes with her sister and their mother becomes a sort of dreaded joy as you finally get to see her really unravel, deny her circumstances and eventually come to a sort of peaceful terms with them. This might easily be her best role in a decade. I'd have to re-watch Closer and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind to decide how this rates again them, but this definitely rates with and possibly better than them.

Lastly we have June Squibb's surly Kate Grant in Nebraska who provides much of the vim in an otherwise dreary film. It's against her steady stream of self-absorption and dour spirit that much of Dern's quiet brooding plays on. Her character is a bit of a caricature, but Squibb delivers her lines with brutal nonchalance. Without her "comedic" relief or the pacing she delivers her character with, this film would have felt like a chore. Squibb has something really special here.

Do I have to pick? I like all of these women for so many reasons. Ultimately, like most people, I think the argument comes down to Lawrence and Nyong'o with Squibb having an outside chance bolstered by the "lifetime achievement" consideration. It's really surprising to me to sit down and work on this to see how much my opinion has changed, but I simply love Jennifer Lawrence here. As far as the Academy? Good gravy, it's a toss up, and I would guess the coin lands for Nyong'o. 12 Years a Slave was simply a different film when Patsey was in the picture. 

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