Saturday, March 31, 2012

Viola Davis, in The Help

approximately 42 minutes and 44 seconds
30.4% of the film

The film

An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maids' point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.

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

Had it been more dramatic, it would’ve worked better, though it definitely has its powerful moments. The best part of it is the acting ensemble, from which I’d name Viola Davis, Allison Janney and especially Jessica Chastain, who gives a magical performance.

Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark

Oscar season is a funny game, when people forget to be happy about their nominations and go for the kill. This year in the Best Actress category we had apples and oranges (such different performances), and both the apples & the oranges campaigned really hard. And Viola lost; while I stepped back from praising it too much (as I was cheering for the competition), it’s one of a kind in this line-up: no other actress put so much heart into her performance.

Viola plays Aibileen, a maid in the 1960s Mississippi, who, encouraged by a young white aspiring journalist, starts telling her story of working for white families, raising their children and the injustices she has to deal with. It’s a journey for Aibileen herself, as she learns about courage and stops being afraid of taking her destiny into her own hands. It’s a very dramatic role and written with plenty of tears and breakdowns, therefore offering a lot of Oscar scenes.

To get this out of the way: I really like this performance, because it’s the stuff I usually go for: an emotionally rich character, with plenty of tears & played with great dignity & skill. And Viola does all that, but with the film on her side: unlike Meryl, she can easily depend on what the screenplay has to offer and most of the scenes she’s in are written in her favour, giving her the chance to steal it from her co-stars. Her presence is great for the film, because you know something interesting is about to happen and she brings the real into The Help by playing it with no false moves.

Never do we doubt that she clearly understands Aibileen and her experience as an actress (and maybe also her life experience) is used at its best here: it seems like she knows exactly where to look, where the camera is, when to hold back on her emotions and when to allow the tears. And boy, do we get plenty of tears: her emotional scenes are truly heartbreaking – from the story about her son to the final confrontation with Miss Hilly. From the loving way she talks to the little girl she takes care of to the quiet humility when having to be in the presence of any racist conversation.

Viola does an amazing job in making it look so easy and natural and relatable. Her performance feels so honest because she immediately creates an emotional connection with the audience – it’s a likeable character that turns into a memorable performance because of Viola’s ability of delivering the exact emotions that a viewer would expect. While it’s not connected to the actual performance, the one issue I’d have with the nomination is that I’m not 100% convinced this is a leading performance. But Viola is so good at what she does and, with the writing on her side, she starts and ends the film, therefore leaving the overall impression that The Help is all about her; when it’s not. It’s an almost from me.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Glenn Close, in Albert Nobbs

approximately 63 minutes and 18 seconds

58.7% of the film

The film

Albert Nobbs is a woman living as a man in order to find work in the harsh environment of 19th-century Ireland.

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

It’s a film with problems, the biggest one being not focusing on the key characters and sometimes wasting the story on supporting clich├ęd characters. Even so, I tried to like it because it’s a dear project for Glenn; the film was always easy to watch, just not always interesting.

Glenn Close as Albert Nobbs

An Oscar comeback always makes me happy, and especially one for Glenn Close, who used to rule the 1980s and is such a talented actress. The nomination itself is a little miracle, given it’s an independent film, she’s struggled for years to get it done and the film itself has been tore to pieces by critics. And still, here she is, in what is easily the most unusual performance of this Best Actress line-up; in my opinion more so than Rooney Mara’s.

Glenn plays Albert Nobbs, a woman that has been pretending to be a man for over 30 years, doing so to overcome a childhood trauma, to find a job and to try to fit in as a butler in a Dublin hotel. She saves every penny dreaming of a tobacco shop and, why not, of a young wife. It’s an unusual character, not only because it’s a woman pretending to be a man, but because it’s a character that lives in a world of its own, feeding her life with dreams that would never fulfil.

I think a lot of people dislike the performance because it’s such a hard to like character. I try to separate these two elements: yes, there’s nothing to like about Albert Nobbs and I felt sorry about her, because she really is kind of a small, invisible, uncharismatic person that you’d never notice. This is obvious when presented in contrast to Janet McTeer’s Hubert Page.

Not only is Albert dislikeable, she’s also a bit of a selfish person, something that is clearly obvious in the scene after Cathleen death; she can only think of her own good and of her tobacco shop obsession. Glenn is wonderful when it comes to the details, and I love it how she nuances the performance, and you can tell it stood with her for years. She loses herself in this portrayal and makes it very authentic. The shyness of Albert, the constant fear of rejection by the society, these are all played very well.

By its own existence, this is a flashy character to play, but Glenn plays it as subtly as possible, understanding the needs, feelings and reactions that Albert could be capable of. The transformation is quite impressive, and Glenn nails the physicality of the performance; this really IS a character that very few actresses could’ve played convincingly.

While I didn’t feel a strong emotional connection to the character, nor did I completely understand it, I like what Glenn did with it, the amount of work that she’s put into the performance trying to keep it as easy looking and natural as possible. The entire performance is on Albert’s face. To me, this is an almost . I don’t understand the haters, because to me it’s obvious that Glenn does the best she can given the character’s restraints.