Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Consideration of the Best Actress Race: Real-Life Impersonations

Let us examine, for a moment, from a deeply detailed acting perspective, who deserves to win the Oscar for Best Actress, and who doesn't, and why.

Two nominees played real-life people that we know and (maybe) love. Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.

Let's take Beauty first, then Beast.

Back in the acting days of my youth, there were several actresses that I studied thoroughly: Bette Davis, Kathryn Hepburn, Jane Fonda. And Marilyn Monroe. I knew their gait, their phrasing, their breathiness or lack thereof, I knew their histories, as much about them as I possibly could.

So I started out seeing "My Week with Marilyn" with several prejudices: 1. that really NO ONE can do Marilyn and 2. that Michelle Williams can't act.

Sure, I liked her fine in Dawson's Creek, but since then, she has pretty much left me cold. Didn't think she deserved the nominations for Brokeback Mountain or Blue Valentine.

However, I will say, she deserves this one. It's a very tall mountain to climb to recreate Marilyn Monroe. Williams even taught me something about Marilyn that I didn't know: that she was a series of poses, always posing, even in repose. And, in this movie, Williams does some pretty impossible stuff.

She recreates famous dance scenes, and movie moments, so much that you forget that you are watching another actress. That is no small thing. She has her breathiness down, and her movements. Even her insecurities. For all of those things, for which Williams herself says she "worked harder than she ever did in her life," she gets an A+ in my book.

Sadly, here is where she falters. While she was meticulous about recreating the voice, the mannerisms and the steps and phrasing, she missed the heart of it. She missed the things that really made Marilyn tick.

The script, in Williams' defense, only really gives you bits where this Marilyn shines, but in each of them, Williams falls flat.

Here are the key questions one will ask at the end of this movie:
1. What really drove Marilyn to succeed (and to chase men)?
ANSWER: her childhood in orphanages, and feeling like everyone abandoned her

2. What was her connection with Fame? Why didn't she just give it all up and "settle down" with one guy?
ANSWER: She couldn't, cause fame is a drug like any other. She needed that.

Two scenes ask these questions of her, and Williams' performance (to me) fell completely flat in these scenes. So put that Oscar away for this year.

In one, she is looking at the dolls in a dollhouse. There it is, the metaphor is just about hitting you over the head. This was the moment for the actress to break our hearts with her shattered psyche. BAM. Nothing.

In the second, she is lying on the bed, and her lover asks her to just give it all up and settle down with him. This is the moment where the actress needs to give us some insight as to why Marilyn couldn't give up this lifestyle or settle down with this, or any, man. BAM. Nothing.

At the end of that scene, a really poignant scene, the audience should have been sobbing, or at least, thinking, that poor woman. I felt nothing after watching her. She could've been doing her nails. Very unfulfilling.

Meryl Streep suffers from the other problem. She is phenomenal, the script is dreadful and the direction is hokey.

But for me, it was like this. There is an opening scene where you see an old British woman, buying milk. Like her performance in Angels in America, where you see an old Jewish man, and go, HOLY CRAP! That's Meryl Streep... it's the same here. She walks and talks like an elderly British woman. As she talks more, in closeup, in the next scene, you see that it's Margaret Thatcher.

To be fair, her hair and makeup people also deserve an Oscar, cause WOW! This makeup was unbelievable. I've seen nearly all Meryl Streep movies, and I swear, I had a hard time seeing Maryl in there.

She also loses points (like she did last year) when a good chunk of the movie is someone else playing the younger years.

But wow. You wanna see a virtuoso playing that acting instrument, you need go no further than Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady." I really didn't like the movie at all, but when Streep was in frame, she was riveting. My favorite scenes of hers were the ones with Jim Broadbent. They really could've made better use of Anthony Stewart Head, too.

Streep didn't look like Thatcher as much as Williams looked like Marilyn, but as far as capturing a heart and soul of a person, this Oscar is Streep's, hands down.

I have yet to see the other three performers in this category, but at this moment, I'm calling Streep for the win.


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