a theatre, film & pop culture review
The adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, is superbly done, but there’s not a whole lot of heavy acting to be done by two-time nominee Reese Witherspoon. There’s a lot of panting, grunting, and sweating as Witherspoon walks the PCT, but when it comes to the emotionally sweeping performances that the voters love, this gritty, honest portrayal doesn’t fit the bill. It’s just too small of a performance.
In Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike’s Amy, all chilly stare, is preternaturally calm and scary as hell, and when she slices a man’s throat, we expect nothing less. But director David Fincher doesn’t allow for Pike’s Amy to be a frightening, fascinating quandary to solve; she’s exactly the woman her suspicious husband has drawn for us — all one-dimensional crazy. It’s a gripping performance nonetheless – and how fun to have a smart, scary woman in control of a film for once! – but the Academy strangely gave Gone Girl no love whatsoever (this being its only nomination); Pike has never really been in the running.
It should come as no surprise that Marion Cotillard is excellent in Two Days, One Night. What might be a little more surprising is that she beat out the more-buzzed about Jennifer Aniston for the nomination. But it really shouldn’t be: The Academy has shown her love before in the form of an Oscar for La Vie en Rose. In her latest film, Cotillard disappears into the role of Sandra Bya, a working-class mother struggling with depression and fighting to save her job at a small solar-panel company. Forced into the unenviable position of confronting her co-workers – who must decide via secret ballot whether to save her job or their own bonuses – Cotillard physically transforms under the strain of the task. Her shoulders slump, her eyes go heavy, and the words fail as a lump forms in her throat and the sheer panic sets in. Her moments of empowerment, when a colleague surprises her – and us – with his reaction to her request, are small but radiant. I cannot say enough good things about this searingly relevant, humane, and yes, suspenseful, film or Cotillard’s all-in, unsparing performance. It’s sobering and tremendous.
So you’ll forgive me if, after Cotillard, I don’t quite know how to discuss Felicity Jones‘s performance as Stephen Hawking’s wife in The Theory of Everything. It may be a lead role in its screen time, but it’s a supporting role in every other sense of the word. Jones charms with her plucky demeanor in Stephen’s courtship of Jane, endears with Jane’s dedication to her husband as the years pass and their situation worsens, and, with her gravity, keeps the film from sliding into mawkishness. But it’s an impressive performance in an unimpressive role, and while everyone loves this film, Jones hasn’t a chance.
So thank god for Julianne Moore. If it weren’t for her astonishing portrayal in Still Alice of a woman sliding into early-onset Alzheimer’s (despite Marion Cotillard’s equally stunning performance), Jones would be receiving this award. From the breezy confidence of a distinguished and loving linguistics professor-mom to the frustrated, embarrassed diagnosed with momentary lapses of memory, to, finally, the dull eyes and slow speech of full-on deterioration, Moore handles it all without a bit of artifice. If you didn’t know she was acting, you wouldn’t know she was acting – her performance is that real, that heartbreaking. It’s a career-high for Moore, and she’s going to be rewarded for it.