Saturday, February 25, 2006

wasted roles and the great actresses that play them

I've noticed lately that Hollywood seems to go ga-ga for certain roles in movies that are severely lacking. With the Oscars coming up in a week, this year is certainly no exception, one actress even picking up a nomination for the aforementioned severly lacking role. It's not that these actors are bad in any way, it's just that they're getting kudos for the wrong reasons. Below are recent performances by three actresses that fell victim to wasted roles but skated through so the blind media could congratulate them for a job well done.... if there was even much of a job to begin with. Is this just another example of awards season campaigning gone horribly awry?

Catherine Keener in Capote (2005):
To see her practically carry Being John Malkovich (2001) with her acid dialogue is to watch a great performance. She's reliably good in most of what I've seen her in, even quite charming and disarmingly sexy in The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005). Hell, I even thought she flexed her comedic muscle quite well opposite the likes of Robin Williams in Death to Smoochy (2002), a brave movie in the vein of low-culture dark comedy, a subgenre we get too little of. She was just fine in Capote, too, but there was nothing for her to do. She gets the the award for most wasted role of the year. She was scenery. Reviews are calling her the "moral conscience" of the film. What does that mean exactly? I didn't see how her performance directly affected any of the other characters in the movie, I didn't see what her character did to motivate action in the screenplay. I'm baffled why she's accrued so much attention. I understand that sometimes when a movie is so high-profile in the awards circuit, sometimes it will sweep up surrounding awards that aren't exactly inspired (uh, Best Editing Oscar nom for Ray (2004)? wtf), so this may be the case with Keener. The most recent issue of Entertainment Weekly quotes an anonymous Oscar-voting actor who claims he will be voting for Catherine Keener because "She was the thing that gave Capote its energy," and "She was almost more important to the film than [Philip Seymour Hoffman]." Did this guy even see the movie? I don't know who he's talking about then. Catherine Keener was subtle to the point of disappearance (not a good thing), lacking any spark or punch that made her role stand out. Some would argue this is the point though.... but to what end? She had nothing to do in the movie except sort of tag along. Where is her scene? Even the likes of Beatrice Straight (in Network (1976)) and Judi Dench (in Shakespeare in Love (1998)) can win Best Supporting Actress Oscars for around six minutes of total screentime, because they own the scenes they're in. Meanwhile, Catherine Keener walks off with an undeserved Oscar nomination this year, and snub-ee Thandie Newton (in the Straight/Dench camp) will just have to be happy with her BAFTA honors instead of the Oscar nomination she deserves.

Scarlett Johansson in Match Point (2005):
If I have to hear people refer to this movie as "The return of Woody Allen!" or "The best of Woody Allen!" I'm going to spontaneously combust. Either idiotic reviewers missed Woody Allen's other film in the same year (Melinda and Melinda (2005)), or they are just blinded by the fact that Woody Allen can actually write dramatic screenplays. Too bad this one was so shoddy. A lot of the film's initial intrigue came out of Scarlett Johansson just being sexy like she is. No longer jail bait (she was 17 years old in Lost in Translation (2003)), this movie was supposed to be a steamy love affair with Scarlett at the center, a vehicle to show us the dark nature of human love and show us what a powerhouse we know Scarlett to be. After all, she seemed to be headed in the right direction as far as awards attention is concerned, picking herself up a Golden Globe nomination. The problem? She doesn't do anything in the movie. Her character is practically dropped by the midpoint, only to be ressurrected as someone for the protagonist (?) to use, and then she gets used and then unceremoniously written out of the script. Watching this, I thought I had missed something. We get so much potential from her at the beginning.... she exudes sexual tension and brings a nice energy to the first half of the movie. Unfortunately, her actions as a character do nothing to change the course of the movie, or the protagonist (?) for that matter. She becomes a dead weight, whose only option is to be unceremoniously written out. A waste.

Laura Linney in Mystic River (2003):
Her underwhelming ten minutes of screentime were topped off by an unearned grand-standing speech at the tail end of the movie. Reviews and awards steam screamed "Brilliant!" and "Lady MacBeth!" when I thought, "Wasted role!" and "Over the top!" I feel that Mystic River is perhaps one of the most overappreciated movies in recent history, full of sloppy direction, hammy acting, and (worst of all) an overcrowded screenplay. Laura Linney is really a great actress (I haven't yet seen The Squid and the Whale (2005), but she proved her worth to me in Kinsey (2004) and You Can Count on Me (2000)).... her performance in Mystic River wasn't bad, it just wasn't much of anything. The character was given practically no time to develop on screen, and then she's suddenly given this wicked and high-energy speech at the end of the film. Had her character been more of a presence, her speech would have lent to a phenomenal and twisted ending; what turned out was a top-heavy pontification from a character we don't know and therefore did not earn this weight in the film. The role was severely underwritten and just revealed another gaping hole in the script. (Thankfully, Marcia Gay Harden earned an Oscar nomination for the film instead, probably the only deserving acting honors the film earned.... even against Sean Penn and Tim Robbins.)

Now I pose some questions. Why do roles like these seem to pick up so much attention? Am I missing something? Who else has had their acting talents unjustly bled dry?


J.J. Gittes said...

Not sure I agree with your position on Johansson and Linney, but this Keener business is definite nonsense. And you know what? I think she's my pick to win next Sunday.

Dale said...

I absolutely agree with Mystic River being overappreciated. People were falling all over themselves with praise but all it made me do was wish I'd read the book.

Keener I liked in Capote but you're right again. I enjoyed the insight however slight into the relationship between Harper Lee and Capote.