Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany

Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany
Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Plastic Augury, or the Unexpected Drama of Disfiguration



These days when actresses sashay down the red carpet, we look to see not whose dress, but whose face they have donned for the occasion. Recently Renee Zellweger tried out Robin Wright’s face, to a mixed reception, while Uma Thurman experimented with a vintage Joni Mitchell visage. While undoubtedly amusing and profitable for everyone involved, especially internet commentators, occasionally things veer into the downright terrifying. Yes, I’m talking about last year’s abyss-peering Oscar ceremony.
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I know, I know -- it seems women are damned if they don’t, and double damned if they do. And I have been reminded by author and enlightened being, Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) that the kindest thing to do is to look away
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What, exactly, has ever been solved by the genteel lookaway? This shit is oppressive. I don't respect clitorectomy as a choice either.
And though the truly ghoulish products of this process (Goldie Hawn, anyone?) were ostentatiously swept under the red carpet this year, where we were only allowed the eminently presentable Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews, the extreme pressure to look a certain way and never age is, inevitably, showing up in the work.
Many people thought Jennifer Aniston’s performance in Cake was unfairly overlooked. (Neil Patrick Harris pointedly said she deserved to be there.) All the things that were said about Still Alice -- that it was a great performance in a so-so film (I’ll get to that later)--are actually true of Cake-- Aniston’s is a transformative performance in the middle of an inert mess. It’s true that the details of the film don’t make sense -- how does a disabled lawyer, traumatized by a catastrophic car wreck, afford a classic mid-century home in the Hollywood Hills, especially now that she is no longer living with her husband --a federal employee,  so no answers there money-wise.


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These loose threads, while troublesome, don’t finally undermine the power of her performance, mostly because in some crucial way Aniston is playing herself as much as the character I see credited as both Claire Bennet and Claire Simmons on IMDB. See, it really doesn’t matter. This is Aniston is all her lithe glory, but massively scarred and racked with pain. The part inevitably ricochets off our tabloids image of her as a poor little rich girl, unable to hold a man or have a child. She hobbles through her glamorous gem of a house, sneaking pain killers squirreled away behind the original art adorning the walls, while she fitfully attends various therapies and tries to get her shit together.
Response to the role inevitably clustered around ideas of the suffering movie star fighting her way back, though the theme was clearly not deemed as worthy as in the catastrophically male BirdMAN. Manohla Dargis commends “a slight hardness” invoking “midcareer Ginger Rogers” -- invoking a classic movie star. I was reminded strongly of Sunset Boulevard, with the aging, doomed not-movie-star circling the pool with her inexplicably loyal  foreign servant forever at her side (the treatment of Mexican actress Adriana Barraza deserves a column of its own.)
Though the movie inserts a buoyant ending, the Academy provided the what seems the rightful verdict: Damaged Goods. Do Not Pass Go. She was still welcome on the red carpet, however, asserting  her  buoyancy in time-tested fashion.
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Julianna Moore, in contrast, was the queen of the evening, with a dress to match. The Los Angeles Times reports that Moore’s Chanel dress contained 80,000 hand painted sequins and flowers, and took 27 people 987 hours to make.


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When Moore collected the Best Actress statuette late in Sunday’s ceremony, she was clearly claiming what was rightfully hers.  In a career filled with spectacular performances, some features of the “Moore” role stand out. From the beginning, she was a very sexual presence, unafraid to put herself forward in that way. It’s hard to believe it was over 20 years ago she made a splash wearing in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. Hard to forget her memorable scene fighting with movie husband Mathew Modine while wearing no bottoms, her red pubic hair on full display. Here was somebody demanding to be noticed on multiple levels.
In recent years, Moore’s performance’s have continued to be very sexy, but with an overlay of poignance perhaps inevitable for a Hollywood actress approaching 60 (She is currently 54.). The part the Academy chose to award her for, after being nominated four other times, is an interesting departure, emphasizing extreme professional competence.
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Moore plays a Columbia linguistics professor confronted with her own waning powers in the grip of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The emphasis is on Alice’s amazing accomplishments and the matching scope of her loss: inevitably the parallel with Moore’s own incredibly distinguished career suggests itself and lends an extra intensity. What exactly are the prospects for a leading lady heading toward 60?
The  husband writing/directing team of Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland has not been shy about extending the Alzheimer’s as metaphor in the film itself and in their public discussions of the film. Alice’s daughter in the film, played by Kristen Stewart, is an actress appearing in Angels in America, a work that is also quoted extensively in the film, inevitably suggesting the plight of AIDS sufferers disappearing before their time. And, as Moore mentioned in her acceptance speech, Richard Glatzer is succumbing to ALS; this film is, in a sense, his swan song. When his Westmoreland asked him about his remaining time, Moore recounted onstage, he said he wanted to spend it doing what he loved: making movies.Though her own plight was left unspoken, Moore, Oscar in hand, must have been contemplating her own imminent oblivion.
As usual, Patricia Arquette’s body language was at least as articulate as her passionate acceptance speech. Here’s a 46-year-old woman, unstarved, wearing reading glasses: Equal rights to age onstage now.

--Grace Lovelace