a theatre, film & pop culture review
Mothers, wives, witches… Ah, roles for women in film are vast and varied.
Keira Knightley, of course, plays the one (non-supernatural) woman who does more than support a man (though, ultimately, that’s what her character is there to do): As Joan Clarke, the only woman in a team of men, Knightley holds her own, as well as the heart of The Imitation Game. It’s a nice, solid performance but a familiar one – she’s not enough of a standout to actually be in this race.
Predictably, Meryl Streep does her Streep thing and makes a mountain out of a molehill: As the vengeful witch who casts a spell on a baker and his wife in Into the Woods, Streep culls humor and empathy in a role that was partially stripped of it in adaptation. Her “Stay with Me” is a beautiful-sad rendition crackling with defensiveness and lilting vulnerability. Speaking of which: Her singing isn’t half-bad! (I can’t be the only one traumatized by her Mamma Mia! vocals.) But it’s that rare year that Streep not only isn’t the front-runner, she’s not even the runner-up. Sorry, Meryl, but it’s time to share the love.
One of the few big surprises on nomination day, Laura Dern plays devoted mother to Cheryl Strayed’s unsettled wanderer in Wild. All of her scenes occur in flashback as Cheryl fondly, forcibly remembers her, and Dern is radiant. The hippie-ish Bobbi dances around the kitchen in overalls, making the most of very little. She is the selfless, loving caretaker – literally, the mother of dreams. But Dern subtly, carefully expands the slight role, plumbing it for depths: Bobbi’s occasional hurt from her daughter’s casual derision flickers ever-so-briefly across her face before softening into an understanding smile (“One day, she’ll know better,” you see her thinking). Still, Dern is the least likely winner… but wouldn’t it be wild if she won? (Ah, I couldn’t resist.)
As troubled ex-addict Sam in Birdman, Emma Stone skillfully wields cynicism as an offensive maneuver. A willowy gamin, she widens her round, child-like eyes, feigning innocence – or betraying hurt – with each vocal jab she takes. Largely abandoned by her father, Sam is prickly and lonely, and Stone laces her sarcasm with a soft vulnerability. It’s a sharp, funny performance, and if it weren’t the year of the boy, this would be her award to lose.
But the movie gods have spoken and it’s all about Boyhood. Patricia Arquette has won just about every award in this category as of yet, including the Golden Globe, so her Oscar win is all but inevitable. Her quiet performance suits a film in which time glides by, failing to mark itself. Her Mom is first a daughter and then a mother and a wife, and we see her (mostly) quietly struggle against and surrender to those strictures. When, as she sends her son off to college, she confesses, “I just thought there would be more,” our hearts ache with empathy. It’s an emotionally open and highly relatable performance that will earn Arquette an Oscar for 12 years’ worth of work.