Sunday, 23 February 2014

2013 in Review: Forgotten Characters (the foster care worker)

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

Character focused dramas with the development of a single main character are easy bets for this series because supporting players tend to, oftentimes, function as presents to build the drama than as unique individuals in their own right. Even when the film is adeptly written, some fine candidates still appear.

Stephanie Beatriz in Short Term 12
as Jessica

Short Term 12, one in a long line of films I didn’t review last year, is sharply written and it’s not quite accurate to indict it for dealing with peripheral characters well. Still, above all else, this is a story of Grace and in the journey towards her development the many faces peppering the foster-care facility are not necessarily the focus. Beatriz is a classic example. The way her Jessica is presented as a constant fixture at the facility, but never the focus is made all the more notable because Grace, Mason and even newcomer Nate are all given various degrees of shading. Jessica, who we first meet in the film’s opening seems to always be around but just outside of her focus. But Beatriz is still doing good work.

The way the script describes her “20s with a clipboard, quiet, confident, and looks like she could kick some ass” is one of my favourite small bits about Cretton’s writing, and also highlights one of my favourite things about how well cast this film is. Beatriz has had a good 2013 playing quiet, but intense, Rosa Diaz in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Jessica is less menacing, but it’s such a good example of even a brief character being on-point with its casting. We don’t need to dig into Jessica, we just need to know from a few moments with her that she’s tough, firm but fair and can handle the children. A few moments with her and we already know she can. When you walk around children you have to work out alternate meanings of communications than words. When Jayden's dad fail to show up, watching Jessica and Grace use their eyes and eyebrows to communicate their worry is such an integral part of what their job entails.

When you’re playing a character always around but always on the peripheral like this you don’t even have the time to colour your line readings with emotion. The lines are too scant to do so, and when they come too functional to add extraneous emotional textures. It all has to come from the face. And the best chance Beatriz gets to do this is reacting to Mason’s story. It’s one of those hard to describe, but always perceivable, qualities. She’s a good listener. Cretton saves the best of Mason’s tales for the film’s end and by the end of the ninety minutes we still have no idea who Jessica is, not really. But watching her face light up when she learns the story is about Marcus, (her reading of a line as trite as “How’s he doing” manages to be evocative) and the story’s denouement – in the smallest of ways her love for these children, like Grace and like Mason, shines through. It’s not the supposed to be a large role, it’s not a sign of Cretton’s script under serving the audience. Jessica is meant to be on the peripheral. Good on Beatriz for making her seem so interesting, in the slightest ways, nonetheless.

Previously Forgotten: Portia Doubleday in Her; Matt O'Leary in The Lone Ranger

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