Sunday, 10 February 2013

2012 in Review: Forgotten Characters

…examining some 2012 forgotten turns in the run-up to my year in review citations…

Ensemble outings are an easy way to become a forgotten character especially when your character is so clearly a plot-point. And, like the last entry this one reeks somewhat of an actor slumming it. Still, the forgotten nature of a performance becomes more pronounced when you realise the difference between a respected actor slumming it and an ignored performer taking whatever roles are available. This performance, unfortunately, seems to be more like the latter.

Julia Stiles in Silver Linings Playbook
as Veronica Maxwell

Back-story: from 1999 to 2003 with 10 Things I Hate About You through Hamlet through Save the Last Dance through The Bourne Identity Stiles was one of those up-and-coming young actors that seemed certain to become a big name. Her last significant main role during that stretch in Mona Lisa Smile saw co-stars Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gylenhaall and Ginnifer Goodwin all going on to varying degrees of success but other than a fine supporting turn on season5 of Dexter Stiles’ star seems to have been stuck in transit. So, going in blind to Silver Linings Playbook last month imagine my surprise (and excitement) when early on Stiles appears in her affable way. A role to resurrect things, maybe? Alas, ‘twas not to be – for the prickly but well-meaning Veronica was destined to turn into a forgotten character.

We meet Veronica first as the vaguely shrewish (as far as the film is concerned) wife of Pat’s on-and-off friend Ronnie, and friend of his estranged wife Nikki. “Veronica hates me,” Pat maintains even as Ronnie tries to convince him that she invited him to dinner. One of the first things she has to say (shout) is the rasping: “Ronnie, get in here, please. I need you!” It’s that initial indication of abrasiveness which makes our next meeting with Veronica so interesting.
It’s Veronica’s sister, Tiffany, who becomes one of the keys to Pat’s journey through his issues but at that dinner I’m less invested in the potential meet-cute of “crazies” Pat and Tiffany than I am in the filial issues of Veronica and Tiffany. Stiles manages so well here, telegraphing Veronica’s insistence on being a good hostess and vaguely nervous about everything turning out well. She is, almost annoyingly, proud of her house (see the fireplace!) and her baby and when things take a turn for the worse and Tiffany abruptly declares, “I want to leave”, faced with the failure of a botched dinner party Veronica’s disappointment is palpable.

          “No, no. We haven’t even finished the salad, yet. Or the duck. I made the fire and ice cake.”

Not that Tiffany cares. The way in which the narrative develops makes me suspect as an audience member I should find empathy for Tiffany, the family disappointment, against the more conventionally put-together Veronica. “You love it when I fail,” Tiffany claims and Veronica’s responds with:

          “No, I don’t. I don’t. I just – I just wanted to have a nice dinner.”

But that line always gets me, more for Stiles plaintive reading than the line itself. And how I know the narrative doesn’t mean for us to invest in Veronica? That the camera does not even return to watch Veronica’s countenance, certainly dejected, as Tiffany makes her departure. Not that Russell’s to blame, specifically – Veronica and her sadness at being unable to reach common ground with her sister is obviously not where the heart of the story is meant to be.

And yet, as much as Cooper easily appears as my favourite part of the film, I sure would love a glimpse into the lives of Tiffany and Veronica. Or, I wondered, couldn't 31 year old Stiles have been a perfect candidate for Tiffany? Her ability to play prickly characters giving way to warmth beneath would have been so excellent here. Are the shades under the surface in the seemingly perfect Veronica degrees of Russell’s script or just shrewdness in Stiles performance? I’m not sure. The true rub of the way Veronica is so forgotten, though, came when Stiles bit role didn’t even get a citation when the film earned its Screen Actors Ensemble nomination. Unsurprisingly of course. Who else would remember the slight frazzled hostess emanating from this forgotten performer?

Nobody else but me.

Poor Julia.

Previously Forgotten in 2012: Ann Mitchell in The Deep Blue Sea / Laura Dern in The Master

Full 2012 Forgotten Characters Ballot: HERE
Anyone else hoping for Stiles to earn a role worthy of her talent? Did you remember her slighted sister here?


Daren said...

Excellent write-up! I agree with every single word. During that dinner scene you weren't supposed to sympathize with Veronica, but I couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for her. I mean, she only wanted the dinner to work out for the best. I have no idea what a "fire and ice" cake is, but it must have took her a bit of effort to put it together. Right? Least they could have done was stay for it, haha.

Dave said...

I LOVE Julia Stiles. And she's good here. But the film clearly isn't even slightly interested in her. All of Ronnie's complaints about his miserable marriage - never resolved - are never countered by Veronica getting to show even a glimpse of her point-of-view. A real weakness in the script.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

thanks, darren. like most types of cake (think red velvet) a fire and ice cake sounds nicer than it really is, but still, veronica went to all the trouble - such a waste.

david that's another great point about how the narrative seems eager to sideline the character :( is julia playing the role poorly then when i feel badly for her and want to know more about her against her husband and sister or is she just doing well in countering the script's disinterest in her?

Paolo said...

She's playing Mary Pickford in a movie that hopefully stays greenlit but only the two of us will watch.

ruth said...

"Anyone else hoping for Stiles to earn a role worthy of her talent?" [Raises hand high] She is grossly underrated!! I do wish she'd get a prominent role one day. Yes I remember her here, but she's so underutilized generally.