Sunday, May 09, 2010

Janet Gaynor, in A Star Is Born
approximately 60 minutes and 21 seconds
55% of the film

The film

A young woman comes to Hollywood with dreams of stardom, but achieves them only with the help of an alcoholic leading man whose best days are behind him.

You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

If you are looking for a movie representing 1930s Hollywood, this must come as a recommendation. I enjoy it and respect it a lot, as it was the film that opened the road for a lot of movies of its kind. It’s hardly perfect, but I prefer it to the 1954 and 1976 versions.

Janet Gaynor as Esther Blodgett / Vicki Lester

Janet Gaynor holds that one distinction of being the first person to win the Best Actress category, and not for one, but for 3 (!) performances. A Star Is Born was her Oscar comeback and it’s an important role, but not as meaty as some might think. And it’s hard for her performance to stand the test of time: in 1954, Judy Garland took the same role, gave it a musical twist and created a veeery admired performance, with some Oscar drama of its own. But in the end, this is not a comparison game…

Janet Gaynor plays Esther Blodgett, a simple girl from a small town dreaming of becoming a Hollywood star. She moves to L.A., faces some difficulties, then marries drunken fading star Norman Maine and she becomes an overnight acting sensation. However, the success of her career brings personal unhappiness. It is indeed a leading role, but the real stars of the film are the subject and the storyline… and was her casting that great?

To me, the problem with the performance is both character and casting related. First, as I said, despite the premise of the film, Esther/Vicki is not a very complex role and it lacks some of those big scenes that would demand a real dramatic effort from the actress. She does get some drama, but the writing doesn’t underline the acting or Janet just fails to put it all out there, which brings me to problem no. 2.

For the most of it, Janet is underplaying, even though it’s not necessarily a role that would’ve asked that. I can understand her shyness and a bit of restraint in the beginning, which is justified by the character’s innocence. Esther is an honest girl and doesn’t sleep her way to the top, she is simple and kind and sweet. But at one point, Janet’s acting should have shifted a bit; I didn’t buy that she was all of the sudden a big movie star, because I didn’t sense it in Janet’s performance. She didn’t bother to act the role from that perspective, and I would’ve wanted her to.

Is it in the end all about the casting? Janet looks like a nice, innocent girl (ps: I would’ve chosen a younger actress) but she doesn’t make me believe that she’s hungry enough to want to live the Hollywood life. And also, she doesn’t really sell the charisma of the character as I didn’t find myself rooting for her. As my last comparison, even though I’m not the biggest fan of Judy’s performance, her casting was great: she inspired both the kindness, but also that fierce desire to reach her goal.

I’ve made it sound like I really dislike this performance, but that’s not the case. She is constantly ok throughout the film and there aren’t mistakes or something bad about the acting. It’s just not a performance to remember. You remember the story, Fredric March’s terrific performance, but not that much about Janet; she is ok, good at times, but maybe a bit lazy in her acting. So I guess I’m going with .


joe burns said...

Wow, that low? Would you rank Judy the same?

Alex in Movieland said...

no. I've seen judy just once, I guess a 3. or 4.