Essentialism

I noticed a pattern in last night’s winners of the Academy Awards. In just about every case, the winner was essential to the film, perhaps even the decisive factor in making their respective film a success.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is, at heart, a soppy and sentimental romantic comedy. But Jennifer Lawrence’s fierce performance lifted it, in its finest moments, into something much more. Unlike her costar Bradley Cooper, whose nominally borderline character pretty played it “cute and adorable” (the staple traits of RomCom leads), Lawrence made us believe that she was actually dangerous, that there was a dark core running through her character which at any moment might tip over into violence. To me this made the film far more watchable — even interesting — until the movie went all soft and soppy and lost its edge.

And of course I’ve already written here about Anne Hathaway in “Les Miserables”. Without her transformative portrayal of Fantine, and that one extraordinary and pivotal scene, the film would have been remembered at best as a failed experiment, and at worst as an embarrassment.

Similarly, Daniel Day Lewis was the saving grace of “Lincoln”. An otherwise ponderous and over-inflated affair, the film would have sunk beneath its own self-important weight, were it not for its lead’s surprisingly nimble and impish portrayal of our 16th president. I strongly suspect that the Abe Lincoln portrayed by Daniel Day Lewis would have loved Seth MacFarlane’s irreverent turn as Oscar host. Including the joke about John Wilkes Booth.

Maybe especially the joke about John Wilkes Booth.

3 Responses to “Essentialism”

  1. sharon says:

    Seth MacFarlane was the real revelation of the evening for me. I hadn’t followed his work before, but I’ll pay more attention in the future. He has such an interesting combination of a modern comedic sensibility with a Fred Astaire/Gene Kelly type of old-world charm. Irreverent and classy at the same time.

    For some reason we (the people I was watching with and I) kept wondering how tall various of the presenters/stars were and I looked them up on Google from my phone while watching (height is conveniently one of the key attributes shown in the “knowledge panel” results on the right hand side of the search results page). It was funny how many of them are 5’10” (Seth MacFarlane, Queen Latifah, Charlize Theron are three that I remember). A little factoid for you.

  2. Peter says:

    Interesting misspelling of Silver Linings Playbook actress’ last name. It’s Lawrence. But your spelling invokes another performer, widely thought to be one of the greatest, Laurence Olivier. Perhaps you are unconsciously drawing a line from one to the other? A little speculation for you.

  3. admin says:

    Peter: Interesting! Alas, it was just a spelling error. In a way Olivier and Lawrence are quite opposite. His performances were very external and controlled, whereas hers are intuitive and raw. If anything, she is heir to Brando, the anti-Olivier. Olivier never turned in a performance approaching the intensity of hers in “Winter’s Bone” (although “The Entertainer”, alone among Olivier’s performances, had harrowing moments). It would be interesting to know whether she actually uses the Method, or some variant thereof.

    I’ve corrected the spelling error, since it doesn’t add anything to the post. Thanks for catching that!

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