So, I wanted to take a few minutes to discuss three performances that really struck me this year. None of them were nominated for Oscars and really, only one of them got any attention whatsoever (two actress mentions, winning San Diego and Vancouver critic’s awards), but at the moment they make up 3/5 of my Best Actress ballot and I’d be shocked if all of them fall off by the time I finalize my personal awards. What is interesting is that these three performances/characters/films have a lot in common and really feel unified in a way.
How can you praise one and not all?
I’m talking about Melanie Lynskey, Michelle Williams and Rashinda Jones. They starred in ‘Hello I Must Be Going’, ‘Take this Waltz’ and ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’ respectively and these three films and performances were such delightful surprises for me. I mean, I’m OBSESSED with them right now. Sure, I’ve seen better films and performances (it’ll take an act of nature to dethrone ‘Declaration of War’ from the top of my Best Picture ballot and Rachel Weisz from certain Fisti victory), but these three gems are so spectacularly underrated that I feel compelled to champion them.
All three of these women portray a midlife crisis of sorts, depicting that certain moment in a woman’s life when everything that makes sense all of a sudden makes no sense anymore. In doing this, they give so much of themselves; so much raw and intense emotion that just drips from their every pore. Watching the way they cycle emotions in a singular scene is just magic and proved to blow my mind this year. Watching Michelle Williams’ face fight those hot flushes of uncomfortable excitement as Luke Kirby tells her just what he wants to do to her in the bedroom or the heartbreaking realism Rashinda Jones brought to her Maid of Honor speech or watching Melanie Lynskey completely unravel after being pushed to far by Blythe Danner were all just so special to witness.
In ‘Take this Waltz’, Michelle Williams plays a married woman who strikes up an unexpected affair with a neighbor who offers her an escape from a marriage that felt somewhat constrictive. As Margot, Williams finds a beautiful way of exposing the guilt her character feels as she flirts with an affair she continues to tell herself she will not venture into. What I love so much about what Michelle does here is that she never once plays up the victim card despite allowing us to see her tortured emotional stance. You feel for her, but not in the way you might expect. She doesn’t vie for our sympathies, she merely exposes both sides of the affair through the eyes of a woman torn. Her love for her husband is never doubted and yet she continually doubts herself (a common thread for these three performances) and that leads her to doubt her marriage and her husband’s affections and her eventual catastrophic decisions. The film is beautifully composed and reflects on the affair from a purely unbiased eye, which is refreshing. To all the naysayers saying that this affair is portrayed as a woman’s self-discovery as opposed to the devastating act that it really is surely missed the point of the film. There was no discovery other than the obvious; that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
I love the bookends!
In ‘Hello I Must Be Going’, Lynskey plays Amy, a divorcee who recently moved back in with mom and dad and who is groveling in self-pity as she attempts to put the pieces of her life back together. Her family is clearly oppressive in ways they don’t see as oppressive and so Amy recoils, protecting herself from further harm and embarrassment as she tries to heal from her divorce. Everyone is intent on telling her that she causes the dissolving of her marriage, thinking that she has to grow up, but as the film explores her backstory through simple conversations we can see the bigger picture. What is so beautiful about Lynskey’s performance is that she is able to find such depth in a character that could have been a cliché. She adds so many beautiful touches (the happy moments in particular are so special to the development of her character). She understands how to shade her portrayal with enough childish touches to create a fully realized woman. She is jaded, she is pained, she is justified and yet she can’t communicate these feelings correctly in a house filled to the brim with people so detached from the reality of life. As she strikes up an affair with a much younger man, she finds a joy in her soul that she hadn’t felt in maybe forever.
Such a richly textured performance that could have easily been one-note.
Rashinda Jones serves double duty on ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’, since she not only stars in the film but she co-wrote the screenplay. In the film, Jones plays Celeste, one half of a failed marriage that is still being strung along by mutual affections. Celeste and Jesse were married for six years before separating, but despite being separated for six months and going through divorce proceedings, Celeste and Jesse remain best friends. They do everything together and Jesse even lives in the studio behind Celeste’s house. Their friends oppose and consider them ridiculous. They are making it harder on themselves to move on, and when they each start to try and do just that their special friendship starts to fray. Rashinda wrote such a beautifully intricate and intelligent story, reflecting on so many emotional reactions to love that I was moved so sincerely by this story. It reminded me of last years ‘Like Crazy’ in a way, a film that understands the deepness to love, which usually comes with heartache and even bouts of hatred. Jones’ performance is astonishing. She is able to build such likable lines in a truly unlikable character. It isn’t that Celeste is a terrible person, she is just a person very much inside her own ways. Jones takes on building this foundation and then magically strips it all down as she watches everything she doesn’t realize she needs falling away from her. Her reaction to Jesse’s news is tremendously real and grounded. Her speech at the wedding is heartbreaking, and yet it NEVER feels schmaltzy or gooey. You break for her.
And bonus points for being genuinely funny.
So, I know that these beautiful and talented actresses got the shaft this Oscar season, and quite frankly I’ve only seen one of Oscar’s nominated five ATM (Wallis), but I just feel compelled to gush all over what these women did this year. I was truly surprised by the depth of spirit and honesty that they brought to these performances. It’s been a great year for actresses, I’m just sad that they didn’t get more attention (not even at the Globes!).