Thursday, 27 February 2014

2013 in Review: Forgotten Characters (the sort-of-a blind date)

…prefacing my 2013 year-end awards with looks at some excellent peripheral performances...

Cast a hardworking character actor who has never been front and centre as a side character in a film focused on a single performer and chances are that side character will be easily forgotten. Lucky for them I make it my duty to remember those performers on the side-lines, like this overshadowed, but not unmemorable turn.

Max Casella in Blue Jasmine
as Eddie

I’m the best he could do on such short notice.

It’s one of the first lines of dialogue Casella has in the first third of Blue Jasmine signally to Jasmine, and to us, that we won’t be seeing him for long. We haven’t dug deep into Jasmine yet. We know she’s moody and tense, we’ve made the parallels to Blanche DuBois arriving in Elysian Fields and so we begin looking for the other essential characters to make their appearances. Max Casella plays Eddie a friend of Chilli (Ginger’s new beau) who he brings along on his first meeting with Jasmine, a sort of a blind date to take the tension off of things. Of course, Chilli has not met Jasmine. Had he done so he’d know that the well-meaning, but much too plain and garrulous Eddie, is not the kind of man that Jasmine wants.

We’re saved from actual first date shenanigans because this meeting with Eddie in two successive scenes functions as our first meeting with Chilli, his first interactions with Ginger on-screen, and some significant information about what Jasmine is doing there. Eddie is there for purely incidental purposes and yet I find him pulling my focus in the most bizarre of ways. It’s why I chose that particular photo above as his first. Casella is such an incidental character he never even gets to be the sole actor in any frame. He’s always sharing it, but consider that shot above. Ginger is talking about how terrible a man Hal was and Casella just keeps pulling focus with his face.

It’s the mark of a good actor, though. Eddie is there as an example of an everyman to hold up for scrutiny and then leave the film when he’s done his job. But, Casella is so specific and implausibly charming that he becomes not an annoyance pulling focus from marvellous Cate, but a legitimately intriguing character bringing humour in some unusual places. It’s not his fault he’s completely terrible at reading Jasmine, “Let me guess, you could be a nurse!” He also has one of my favourite observations of Jasmine’s oddities.

You always stare into space like that? I had a friend who used to do that all the time, but there was something wrong with him. He was epileptic.” It’s such a bizarre punchline on an already weird not-quite-a-joke moment but Casella is selling this as much with his on-point line readings as well as with his face.
Whether talking about clams, his sister's nursing abilities, or congenially trying to endear himself to Jasmine Casella nails how much of a tryer Eddie is. You can feel just how much his natural inclination is just one of trying to make himself likeable, even if it doesn't work on Jasmine.He’s gone after the first third, and Jasmine has other potential new beaus to consider but I find myself remembering him. As we meet Chilli again and again later in the film I find myself wondering what became of his friend, Eddie. I wonder if he ever found himself thinking of Jasmine.

Previously Forgotten: Portia Doubleday in Her; Matt O'Leary in The Lone Ranger; Stephanie Beatriz in Short Term 12

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