Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Lead Actress

One of my favorite things to do is to read bad reviews for great things. Sometimes it's one-star Yelp reviews for three-star Michelin restaurants. A lot of times it's bad amazon reviews thanks to twitter.

The takeaway is that, while I'm really critical about a lot of films, I am also very ignorant about a lot of their components. A lot of elements go right over my head, and I wonder who out there is reading my reviews like I read this take on Kung Fu Panda.

Lead Actress:
  • Cate Blanchet in Carol
  • Brie Larson in Room
  • Jennifer Lawrence in Joy
  • Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years
  • Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

Where Roony Mara was tentative but joyful in her love for Carol, Cate Blanchet as the older, experienced lover, has a guardedness to her character that is almost sorrowful to watch. There's a really splendid scene where Carol is very actively flirting with Therese who doesn't notice a moment of it. Carol shares her perfume, indicating to Therese where to apply it, including on Carol herself. She asks Therese to lean in to smell it and there is the tiniest moment where they pull away but Carol lingers trying to discern if Terese is flirting back or not. She hangs there for a split-second, ready for a kiss, before turning away as a wave of disappointment washes over her face. Carol is full of little moments like this, and if you don't watch closely, you're bound to miss them. At times Blanchet's affectation feels like an over-reach into her upper-class character, but the nuance she brings is stunning.

I keep thinking Brie Larson is Anna Paquin which is a little disconcerting. In Room, Larson gives us a deep portrayal of a mother trying to normalize her life as a captive for her child and, later, trying to acclimate back to what is actually "normal." Her strained but tempered emotions early on when she has no support whatsoever contrasts exquisitely with her explosiveness when, in theory, all of society has come out to wish her well. She plays wonderfully off her eight-year-old co-star and provides one of, if not the, most impactful performances of the year.

I didn't like Lawrence in Winter's Bone. Something tricked me last minute into liking her in American Hustle. So, it's perhaps faint praise when I suggest Joy might be Lawrence's best role thus far. She's quick and expressive with an affectation that never wavers as she effortlessly plays the bold title character. Too, often though, Lawrence's bold delivery fails to pack the decisive punch to drive her point home. This combined with her complete inability to play to Joy's developing age keeps Lawrence a step behind.

Let me state up front that I had an incredibly hard time taking 45 Years seriously which may well be because I just don't understand relationship jealousy. The film comes together to make sense about two-thirds of the way through, but for a long while Rampling's Kate comes across as a weirdly jealous wife. In the early parts of the film Kate finds out that Geoff, her husband of forty-five years, had a more involved relationship with his previous partner than Kate realized. The film opens letting us know that their relationship ended with her death, but Kate comes across as jilted and unloved when she finds out that, had his girlfriend not died, Geoff would have eventually married her. Ultimately it comes out that Geoff was including this ex into his marriage with Kate in strange ways and Kate's reactions start making sense, but for a long time they're just confusing. Her insecure snooping belies a cool maturity as Kate tries her best to hold her marriage together. Rampling is very good, but we're missing something very important in the early stages. Without it, her performance fails to resonate authentically. 

It's nice to see Ronan in a role that really lets her shine. Her performance in 2007's Atonement was phenomenal and rightly garnered her a supporting actress nomination. Here, though, she pushes her craft to another level weaving in an out complex emotions that are ultimately marketed as little more than romance. But in her deftness, Ronan elevates Brooklyn above the little film about a woman choosing between two men and two countries. Instead, Brooklyn becomes a woman's coming of age story, of which there are sadly few, and fewer still of this caliber. Despite a screenplay and director that really want to drive home the conflict of love - for land and for man - Saoirse Ronan's performance forces you to look her in the eye and acknowledge that those loves are really stand-ins for her internal conflict of identity, and Ronan artfully centers Broolyn around herself.

After winning the BAFTA, SAG, and Golden Globe, there's little doubt that Brie Larson will win an Academy Award as well. I love Saoirse Ronan as well, perhaps even a little bit more, but ultimately I will side with Larson. She simply had so little external help as she carried the film, and I have a lot of respect for that capability.

Should win: Brie Larson in Room
Will win: Brie Larson in Room

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