I enjoyed the witty dialogue and the chemistry that the two actors have. It’s an easy film to watch, with some scenes much better (and believable) than others and I was not bothered by its obvious theatricality. Interesting trivia I’ve recently discovered: the film also had a much more dramatic alternative ending. I’m curious how it would’ve played.
A record has been set: Ellen Burstyn is now the only actress to get 3 Best Actress profiles on my blog (out of her 5 leading nominations). It was nothing planned, it just happened for me to choose/draw years in which she received Oscar’s attention. She was my winner for Requiem for a Dream (2000) and I was way too generous with her performance in Resurrection (1980). This time, she got nominated for a comedy role, infamously occupying the 5th slot, reserved by many for Liv Ullmann (Autumn Sonata).
Ellen plays Doris, a young 1950s housewife who starts an unusual affair with a married man, with the promise of them meeting every year, on the same weekend. They fall in love, but none of them is ready to leave their families and children. We get to see the changes in Doris for 26 years (every 5) and notice how she goes from being a naive wife, to a Marilyn Monroe type, to a hippie, to a mature business woman.
Ellen Burstyn won the Tony Award for her performance of Doris on Broadway, so she had already known the character very well. As the film started, I was kind of bothered by the obvious age difference between Ellen and the 20-something young woman she’s meant to play. Despite this factor which affects the believability of the character, Ellen gives a good performance and she tries to stay focused on the characteristics of each different Doris. However, it sometimes creates the impression of different characters and not so much different life stages of the same woman.
Some of the Dorises work better than others. The least effective one is the 40-year-old hippie, because she’s such a big shift from the other faces of the character that it throws the movie off-balance a bit. It’s also the Doris in which Burstyn looks the least comfortable in. The ups & downs of the performance (due to too many Dorises) are what’s keeping it from being great, but you generally need this kind of character contrast to create a fun comedic story. So the play/script isn’t always helping Ellen because it forces her into going too far from the essence of Doris.
Because: do I know who Doris really is at the end of this film? I would have to put all the puzzle pieces together, but I’m not sure I would be satisfied with the result… Ellen tries her best and does manage to also glue it all together with a heartbreaking final, mature Doris image.
Some might consider the blonde hair Doris to be the most effective segment, acting-wise. And Ellen is truly great there, as a mature woman expressing her frustration of not being able to fully have the man she’s fallen in love with. There’s good stuff there, but to me, the best portrayal of the character is the final one. Burstyn is superb in the last couple of minutes when she feels like she might be losing him forever and it kills her. That I am already married line is perfectly said and terribly heartbreaking.
Ellen is the heart of the film and the element that’s keeping together both the film as a whole and the character itself. Doris is a puzzle and Ellen tries her best in connecting the pieces: sometimes one Doris is too out of line (hippie), but sometimes everything is so emotionally effective. Just like in Resurrection, it’s a performance hard to judge. But because of the last 15 minutes, there’s no way I’d go for less than .