Monday, 21 September 2009

There's A Very Thin Line...

...between the Actress and the role she plays... 

This is a rewrite of a previous article...but what the hell.

Since I’ve been investing in movies and awards something has always worried me. To what extent do we identify an actor with their character? It’s an old question – a throwaway one even. You might even say that it’s silly. Of course I know I’m looking at a movieI can separate the two… but can we really. I like movie awards – the Oscar, Golden Globes, BFCA, BAFTA, SAG and on and on and on. Something that strikes me about these awards though,particularly the Oscars, is how much they love sympathetic women. This occurred to me after I was reading some early reviews for the film Precious. I have nothing against this film. In fact, although it didn’t make my list of 9 it’s in my top 15 and I hope nothing but good come to Mo’Nique. Recent reviewers have cemented the fact that Sidibe ’s performance should not go unnoticed because of how she tugs at out heartstrings etc… It’s almost as if they’re saying – if you don’t like this performance you’re a bad person. Not because Sidibe is that good [which she probably is] but because the character is sympathetic.

In the last decade one of the biggest snubs on most awards including the Oscars in the Best Actress category was Joan Allen for her delicious turn in The Upside of Anger. Playing Terry Ann Wolfemeyer, a bitch of a woman with a serious bug up her ass she has some serious issues. She earned a nod only from the Film Critics – Globes, SAG and Oscar all ignored. The winner that year – Reese Witherspoon for an infectious performance as June Carter. Reese was in my top three that year, so don’t think I hate her. The nominees that year were all good women from the delightful Elizabeth Bennet, the sharp but good Mrs. Henderson, the sympathetic Bree and  the similarly sympathetic Josey. Terry Ann would not have fit in here.

The other day Danny wrote a review of a favourite performance of his – Hilary Swank as Maggie in Million Dollar Baby. I have my issues with this performance. One of those is the handling of the story on Swank and Eastwood’s part. We get it, Maggie is the paragon of goodness and her hillbilly family don’t deserve her. Her main competition? Annette Bening in Being Julia and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Both were abrasive women that were no match for the sympathy one could unearth from Maggie. Not to knock at Hilary’s performance – but you have to wonder how many persons couldn’t help voting for her humane character.
Just as they couldn’t vote against hers six years earlier. Swank’s work in Boys Don’t Cry was eons better than her second win but once again she beat out two women with serious character issues. Carolyn [Annette Bening in American Beauty] was a bitch. The end. And Julianne Moore in The End of the Affair was a complex character in every sense of the word. Teena Brandon was not a perfect person – but she was very sympathetic. When it came down to Annette versus Hilary – not only was Hilary playing a most compassionate character, her rags to riches story was certainly more poignant than the recently pregnant, upper middle class Mrs. Warren Beatty. No?
Kate Winslet won her first Oscar this year with The Reader. I was happy to see her win. Although I still think Hana was a supporting role, and I still think her work as April in Revolutionary Road was superior the win made me happy. But why Hana over April? Sure, Hana takes part in Auschwitz and sure she’s a statutory rapist. But look at the alternative…a bored and malcontent housewife. She ignores her children and doesn’t appreciate her husband. She literally kills her unborn child! I know who gets my sympathy vote...and it's not April.
Helena Bonham Carter gave one of the most moving performances of the 90s as Kate Croy in The Wings of the Dove…she won a solitary NBR award for her performance. In case you haven't seen this, and shame on you if you have not [the movie's on youtube] Kate is something of a gold digger.The eventual winner? Helen Hunt for her gregarious turn as a single mom in As Good As It Gets. That was almost too easy.

The blue print for this article came to me while watching Cheri. Don’t worry…I’m not kidding myself that Michelle can win an Oscar for it. I know a nomination even is probably out of the question…what with the 55% on RT. But trust me, if this was a story [true or fabricated] about a single mother who must work as hooker on the side and then falls in love with a man half her age only to become jilted all those award shows would be lapping it up like honey.

All jokes aside though, I think it's unfair. I understand, we love the torn character with the sympathetic arc more...but can't we make that great divide. Can't we look at two actresses who give equal performances where one is lynched and endures the gamut of injustices and where one is the bearer of these injustices and realise that not because someone is a sympathetic character make them a better performer. Must it be that we must have some heightened emotional connection to a role before we think it's a good or even great performance?
But you decide? Am I over thinking this?

OR ELSE I will find you and wreak havoc... be very sad


Danny King said...

This is certainly a valid point. I would say that there are a lot of cases where Awards voters will side with performances that are more sympathetic or more "humane" like you said.

I would just add that, in my opinion, the Academy never really does a good job of picking nominees and winners, so the "sympathy" vote is just one of the things I dislike about the Academy.

All of your points here are valid -- how Swank's Teena is easier to like up against Bening's rich, snobby character. I still think Swank's performance in Boys Don't Cry is pretty remarkable...did you like her better in that versus Million Dollar Baby?

P.S. Winslet definitely should've won for Revolutionary Road.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Yes Danny, I did like Hilary in BDC. It was her best performance. I even liked her in that horrid TV movie Dying to Be Belong but somewhere around the turn of the century her ingratiating persona started to annoy me...and her one note acting skills IMO.

Danny King said...

Fair enough. I'm not like a die-hard Swank fan or anyhting, I just think she's done some great work.