Brenda Vaccaro received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Linda Riggs in Once is Not Enough.
Once is Not Enough is an excruciatingly bad movie about a young girl who, while recovering from an accident, falls in love with a man who reminds her of her father, a fading movie star who has just married a lesbian, wealthy woman. It's an absolutely terrible experience that is both absurd yet frustratingly dull, with the director Guy Green struggling to find a tone for this mess. The screenplay is particularly awful - every single character is basically a cliché and the dialogue is at times so ridiculous it becomes unbearable. Despite starring a few renowned actors such as Kirk Douglas, Alexis Smith and Melina Mercouri, the cast is mostly disappointing, with the lead actress Deborah Raffin being especially stilted.
Even though Brenda Vaccaro won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, I seriously doubt she had an actual chance to win the Oscar that year. Today, her nomination is considered somewhat puzzling and it's easy to see why, considering that Once is Not Enough is probably one of the trashiest movies ever nominated for an Academy Award. But in spite of the quality of the movie, I don't think Brenda Vaccaro's performance is bad - in fact, I think she's the movie's saving grace. I don't necessarily think it's an Oscar-worthy effort, but it's a rather lively and captivating turn that makes the movie a little more tolerable whenever she pops up.
Vaccaro plays Linda, a former classmate of January (the lead). We learn from her first scene that she used to be ugly but is now beautiful after a series of plastic surgeries, and she is also the editor of a magazine, even though she is the first one to admit but it's not so much due to her professional talent but rather due to her sexual performances. To put it simply, it's a pretty terrible role that is rather one-note for the most part, as it mostly requires Vaccaro to deliver a handful of crude jokes about sex and to embody the role of the somewhat supportive friend. She has to deal with very poorly written leads, and for every funny joke that are five that are not. Still, despite all of this, Vaccaro manages to make Linda by far the most interesting character in the movie, or at the very least the most enjoyable: even with such an awkward script, Vaccaro manages to be a consistently entertaining presence on-screen due to her energy and comedic verve - she is only occasionally truly funny, but she undeniably brings a welcome breath of fresh air to a movie that desperately needs it. The role itself is rather over-the-top and so is Vaccaro's performance, but not quite in an unnatural way. She's showy and larger-than-life but enjoyably so, and she effortlessly steals every scene from everyone else in the cast. As I mentioned, she has a pretty terrible material to work with but she manages to somewhat sell even the lousiest lines. It's a rather admirable turn to be honest - her movie is terrible, the role is as well, yet she manages to deliver a good performance due to her effortless charisma and her spontaneous energy, surviving the awkwardness of the script with her sheer confidence as a performer. In particular I find Vaccaro to have a terrific voice that has a rather husky quality to it which makes her delivery quite unique and captivating.
The other main function of Linda, besides being a comic relief, is acting as January's friend - even though most of her advices are questionable to say the least (in one scene she tells January to ask her own father to have sex with her, seriously what is wrong with this movie?). Vaccaro can't strike up much of a chemistry with Deborah Raffin, who couldn't be more boring if she tried, but she still does well as the supportive friend type - Linda is hardly the best friend one could imagine and Vaccaro does well at portraying a certain extent of shallowness and selfishness in her, but there is genuine warmth and affection in their scenes together. Past that, there is not a whole lot to the character of Linda but Vaccaro really does her best to add something substantial to it: she does well in specific moments at portraying her character's insecurities behind her façade - due to the problematic writing the slightly more serious moments don't mend especially well with the rest of the performance, but still Vaccaro tries her best and to an extent she does succeed. The strongest moment of the performance is her final scene, in which Linda has a breakdown after she is fired from her job, as the boss was just using her for sex all along. I found Vaccaro to be actually rather great in that scene and I found her to be surprisingly moving in her portrayal of her character's desperation. She handles the outburst very well, being properly intense without overdoing it, but she is even better at the very end after she calms down and is consoled by January. I found Vaccaro's performance to be actually quite heartwarming, managing to make the friendship between Linda and January quite touching despite Raffin being so bland in the role.
This is not a great performance - the writing and the movie itself are so awful they don't allow Vaccaro to go far with it. But, still, it's a strong performance: I enjoyed every second of her work, waiting for her to appear again and bring some life to the terribly dull proceeding. Her energy and charisma makes her by far the standout of the picture and she also does an admirable job at trying to add some depth to the character, with her final scene being particularly remarkable. I could see why someone would find her performance to be terrible, but I thought she made the most out of the terrible material she had to work with.