Sunday, October 29, 2006

SUPPORTING ACTRESSES 1982 –SCATTERED THOUGHTS

StinkyLulu hosts a near traffic jam of eager opinion givers in the latest supporting actress smackdown. The ladies prompting all the hubbub:

  • GLENN CLOSE “The World According to Garp”
  • TERI GARR “Tootsie”
  • JESSICA LANGE “Tootsie
  • KIM STANLEY “Frances”
  • LESLEY ANN WARREN “Victor/Victoria”
I’ve happily contributed my two cents, but I find there’s still some loose change –vintage 1982 – rattling around my pocket. So … a few additional observations.

• • • • •

TERI GARR in “Tootsie”
Dustin Hoffman is the center of the universe in “Tootsie” – and it’s a pretty hollow center. As Michael Dorsey, he operates with his usual flat-voiced fussiness. As Dorothy Michaels, he successfully lightens the voice, but then falls back on a half-assed Southern accent (the Joyce Compton syndrome I call it, based on the faulty assumption that any old rot is funny if it’s delivered in a Dixie dialect). Unable to approximate charm, he achieves only a humorless perkiness. Luckily, Hoffman has two fine actresses to support and bail him out in scene after scene. Teri Garr’s glorious work is probably the best of her career. And though the movie sometimes seems to undervalue her as much as Michael does Sandy, she never lets that get in her way. Granted, the script gives her some extra-fine dialogue:

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have people over for dinner. They never show up.”

But it’s Garr’s prodigious blend of physical and vocal timing that brings out all the possibilities – comic and otherwise – in a character that’s smart enough to be cynical, nice enough to be generous and vulnerable enough to make you care. She’s also hysterically funny. As the years go by, most of “Tootsie” melts away from the memory. But not Teri Garr’s Sandy. She soldiers on, shouting apologetic defiance, juggling indignation and resignation, neither of which ever quite extinguish the glimmer of hope . And all from behind her own private – and permanent - eight-ball.
• • • • •

JESSICA LANGE in “Tootsie”

1982 was the year Jessica Lange made the leap from garden variety starlet to much admired actress. And her work in “Tootsie” is key. Audiences were genuinely startled at just how good she was. It went beyond the warmth and naturalness, unexpected and welcome as they were. Lange definitely had the confidence to take her time. And a talent so strong she could instinctively adjust the tempo of a scene, usually to the advantage of all concerned. Her gifts tumbled across the screen. Has there ever been an actress who looked more natural –or acted more persuasively – with a baby on her arm? A simple line of dialogue, exquisitely delivered, (“He thinks I’m still twelve”) speaks tender volumes about her relationship with dad Charles Durning. There’s a lovely dinner table scene at Durning’s farmhouse, where Lange’s newly-minted star-power is on radiant display. She’s absolutely believable as the source of light and beauty reflected in Hoffman’s face, the reflection itself enough to dazzle Durning. Kudos, by the way, to Durning and Sydney Pollack for canny, resourceful playing. But, in the end, it’s the two ladies - Garr and Lange – who carry “Tootsie” across the finish line with something approaching triumph.

• • • • •

KIM STANLEY in “Frances”
When Jessica Lange followed “Tootsie” with her top-billed tour-de-force in “Frances”, there was just no denying that a new and major talent had arrived. It’s a slow-building performance. But, ultimately, heartbreaking. Some scenes – including the final one – are almost too sad to watch. The script lays much of the blame for Frances’ tragedy on her ambitious, unstable mother. It’s a showy role and, to play it, the producers lured an acting heavyweight back to the screen. Kim Stanley proves up to the challenge. Her Lillian is prisoner and victim of her own destructive behavior. But she’s also a corrosive influence on those around her. Bursts of happiness and bouts of anger are both laced with desperation and fear – unhinged and profoundly dangerous. It’s a creative and unpredictable performance, bubbling and frequently threatening to boil over. Lillian sees Frances as her last chance at fulfillment. And when the young woman checkmates her, she allots only a moment to defeat, then fast-forwards to revenge mode, implacably signing off on her daughter’s damnation.

• • • • •

LESLEY ANN WARREN in “Victor/Victoria”
The success of the moribund “Victor/Victoria” remains a mystery to me. It’s interminable, stuffy and self-congratulatory , with about as much genuine atmosphere as a “Get Smart” episode. And, oh yes, it’s also not funny. Most of Henry Mancini’s score is inappropriate, regurgitating the sound of his 60’s heyday, achieving nothing remotely evocative of the 20’s. The only exception is the song “Le Jazz Hot”, a tune that’s both catchy and period-friendly. In the context, I wouldn’t call it a show-stopper. The picture moves at such a deadening snail’s pace it’s as good as stopped already. But it does jolt the film to life for a couple of minutes. And Julie Andrews’ costume for the number is a knockout. Imagine how great Lesley Ann Warren would have looked in it. As it is, she’s saddled with playing Norma, crude, conniving Brooklynesque dumb blonde showgirl/tart. This is a stereotype that has to be refracted through a very distinctive prism to yield anything new or worthwhile. It’s Barbara Nichols territory – and perhaps only she can negotiate the terrain with honest, high-heeled, squawk-voiced perfection. Warren’s performance is utterly and hopelessly generic. Something that might have just about passed muster on a half-rehearsed TV skit. The fact that it emerged as an audience pleaser is a puzzlement, the Oscar nomination a major mind-boggler. At very least, it’s a misuse of Warren’s rich and varied talents. Had it worked, the part might have provided some small relief from the goings-on. As it is, it’s just another standard issue rack in “Victor/Victoria”‘s already fully-stocked torture chamber.
For a really charming adaptation of the same source material, see the British film “First a Girl” (1935) with marvelous Jessie Matthews. Light, airy and endearing, it bounces where “Victor/Victoria” merely thuds.

• • • • •

GLENN CLOSE in “The World According to Garp”
When Glenn Close arrived on the scene, ferociously determined, frighteningly focused, it seemed pretty clear there’d be no getting rid of her without multiple Oscar nominations. The first of these inevitable nods came for “Garp”. She’s certainly formidable . Professional as Hell, too. But , for me, not that appealing or charismatic. Definitely not amusing Or even what I’d call interesting. She’s just there. And you know you’re expected to pay attention – strict attention.. Still, the adulation, Jenny inspires in “Garp” is easier to buy into than, say, the Dorothy Michaels mania in “Tootsie”. After all, Jenny’s is supposed to be based largely on a book she wrote. In “Tootsie” we’re asked to believe the whole country goes gaga over Dorothy’s appearance, attitude and acting. Considering what we see onscreen, that’s not easy to swallow.

Maybe I' ll just never get past seeing Glenn Close as scary. For me, it's the one note in her performances that tends to drown out all the others. So, outside of “Fatal Attraction”
( where she’s supposed to be that way), I can’t say I’ve ever surrendered to her spell. Annette Bening plays the same character in “Valmont” that Close plays in “Dangerous Liaisons” – and she’s better equipped for the job. A Bening bitch can still seem quite capable of fooling people into thinking she’s nice. She’s an Eve Harrington Margo Channing would hire in a heartbeat. Close is just too damn intimidating. One look at her and Margo would hoist the “Vacancy Filled” sign and head for the hills.

1 comment:

Nick Davis said...

Every word delicious.