Nashville is a brilliant movie about various people connected to the music business in Nashville over the few days surrounding a political convention. It's an engaging, captivating experience from start to finish that benefits greatly from an absolutely amazing screenplay that gives depth and humanity to each of its characters. Like in every ensemble movie, some of the characters/performances overshadow others - but what's so great about Nashville is that every performance, even if it's not necessarily memorable per se, adds something to the movie. Everything about Nashville comes together beautifully: there is not a single false note in this piece. The satire involving both the musical and the political world is handled very cleverly, as it is clearly evident but it's never heavy-handed. This is just an incredible film.
Lily Tomlin plays the role of gospel singer Linnea Reese, which is just one among the many characters in the movie. It's the kind of role that could have easily disappeared in a movie like this: between charismatic music stars, sly manipulators and hopeful wannabes, a character as ordinary as Linnea could have appeared completely bland and uninteresting. But Lily Tomlin manages to take this quality of the character - its ordinarity - and make it its biggest strength, turning Linnea into the most relatable and human figure in the movie. Tomlin is an actress best known for her comedic work and her usually colorful, loud screen-presence, so it's quite astonishing to see how capable of subtlety she actually is - her performance in Nashville couldn't be more gentle and restrained. She completely denies her usual persona both on and off the screen embodying so effortlessly the simple reality of this woman. Her greatest achievement is her ability to make every single moment of her performance stand out in a way: Tomlin does not have a lot of screen-time in the movie and she has basically just one truly big scene, but she manages to make every little detail of her work here count. She's just quite wonderful in her few scenes that show her singing with her choir - she has a lovely voice and she exudes joy and radiance during those brief numbers. And she's fantastic in the few scenes that take place at Linnea's home, fleshing out Linnea's relationship with her children and her husband (Ned Beatty) completely in just a few minutes. I love each of Linnea's moments with her kids, who are both deaf - she perfectly conveys the patience, warmth and motherly love of the characters and she manages to achieve this while seemingly doing almost nothing. Her minimalistic approach works wonders for the character, and just with the encouraging smile on her face as she listens to her kid she expresses all we need to know. She barely has any screen-time with Beatty but both actors are great at just conveying the present state of their relationship - there is a certain degree of affection between the two of them, but certainly not love, let alone passion. They realistically portray just a certain indifference in their relationship, almost a resignation that their marriage is not a very passionate one.
The crux of Tomlin's role and performance revolves around the character of Tom (Keith Carradine), a handsome but shallow singer who takes an interest in her, calling at her house multiple times trying to arrange a meeting between the two of them. Tomlin is absolutely terrific in each of those scenes as she conveys an incredible variety of feelings with very little dialogue: during the phone calls, she often just listens and quietly reacts and Tomlin never misses any single emotional beat, portraying her character's emotional turmoil with subtlety and restraint. She does not need to verbally express her worry, her vulnerability and her curiosity, because you can read the feelings of the character right across her face and her small gestures. Her big scene occurs when Linnea agrees to come to a club and watch Tom perform: it's an absolutely phenomenal scene and Tomlin does an incredible job at conveying even the tiniest emotion of the character. I love the way she at first tries to sit next to Tom but, upon seeing he's with another woman, sits alone in the back of the club - it's all done in such a natural and spontaneous way. And of course her greatest moment is the famous long-shot of Linnea as she listens Tom singing "I'm Easy" (which is probably one of the best Oscar-winning songs ever): it's perhaps the most beautiful scene in the entire movie and Tomlin does an absolutely amazing job at portraying her slow, gradual realization that he's singing to her. What I love the most is that Tomlin does not betray the quiet nature of the character in this scene: while other actresses might have been tempted to go for a showier approach, she remains extremely subdued in it, expressing her character's emotional state with her face and her eyes while sitting still, overcome by the emotion. It's the character's key scene and it comes at such a perfect moment it amplifies the power of her whole performance. She's also great in her final scene with Carradine, in which Linnea prepares to leave Tom's room after they had sex and he already calls another woman: Tomlin is excellent as, without saying a word basically, she brings so much maturity and cleverness to the character of Linnea - she is not going to be one of Tom's girls who consistently pine for him: they had sex, and now she's perfectly aware of her own responsabilities and that they must part ways. Out of all the characters in Nashville, she's probably the one with most dignity of all.
Linnea Reese is not a large role, but Lily Tomlin makes the most out of it and delivers a magnificent, unforgettable performance that is an absolute masterclass in subtlety. It's such a quiet, intelligent, realistic and moving performance - after the movie was over, I felt like I really knew and understood the character completely. I already admired the performance when I first saw it, but watching it a second time made me truly understand its greatness. It's a brilliant, unforgettable achievement in an excellent movie.