sabato 12 agosto 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1992: Joan Plowright in Enchanted April

Joan Plowright received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Mrs. Fisher in Enchanted April.

Enchanted April revolves around four women dissatisfied with their lives who decide to take a vacation in a castle in Italy in order to find peace and happiness. I remember finding the movie rather dull and uninteresting the first time I watched it, so I was actually quite surprised when I found myself enjoying it this time around. It's far from being a great movie and there are considerable flaws to be found in it - the cinematography is a little underwhelming as it does not capture the full potential of the beautiful landscape and the screenplay, although Oscar nominated, is not particularly great with the all of the characters being somewhat sketchy and a few awkwardly written lines (Lottie's monologue about love is rather cringe-worthy). But nonetheless it's a charming movie that might never become anything that special but is still nice enough to watch and Mike Newell deserves a lot of credit for that as the movie's charm derives mostly from the delicate and tenderly hopeful tone he manages to set for the story. The cast is not amazing, but it's rather engaging for the most part.

The first time I watched the movie I was completely unimpressed by Joan Plowright's performance and honestly quite baffled by the nomination, which I immediately disregarded as a typical veteran nomination. Having rewatched the movie, I now feel quite differently: I still don't think it's a great performance (though it's mostly the role's fault if it isn't) and I felt there were better performances that could have been nominated instead (even if we stay within the "stern old lady softens up" trope, I thought Maggie Smith did it better in an even more light-hearted way in Sister Act). But I've actually come to appreciate this performance and the delicacy of Plowright's realization of her character's arc. My main problem with the performance doesn't really come from Plowright's acting but from the conventionality of the role itself: Mrs. Fisher is nothing more than an archetype, specifically the one of the elder woman who is grumpy and distant towards everyone only to reveal later on a more tender and sensitive side. It's a role that has been seen and done a thousand times really, to the point it's not all that exciting unless a) it's performed in a particularly outstanding fashion b) the role is written with particular depth and complexity. Sadly, it's not the case here: Plowright does a perfectly respectable job with the character and the ease and confidence of her acting style shouldn't be a surprise considering her distinguished history both on stage and on-screen, but at the same time I wouldn't say she exactly reinvents the wheel with this performance; and the role itself is a rather unoriginal version of the aforementioned archetype. But still, Plowright's natural talent is enough to slightly elevate the role and even if the overall result isn't all that memorable it's a very nice performance.

Plowright's earliest scenes in the movie are actually the ones I like the least. She is more than adequate in her portrayal of her character's cranky behavior and she has a few genuinely funny moments ("I didn't know Shakespeare and Chaucher either", "I hope you're not in the habit of seeing dead people"). At the same time, though, the writing behind the character is at its most conventional in those scenes and I have to admit that there were moments in which I actually felt Plowright herself was a little off. Especially in the first scene, she occasionally comes across as a little more theatrical than she needs to and might go just a tad over-the-top in her deliveries and over-accentuates Mrs. Fisher' pompusness. But those are just very minor quibbles and Plowright deserves a lot of credit for managing to make Mrs. Fisher far less obnoxious than she could've been. Technically she is a very cold, unlikeable character for at least half of the film but Plowright manages to suggest that there is more to Mrs. Fisher than what meets the eye, very subtly conveying the inner loneliness and quiet desperation of the character, who spends most of the time reading and internally mourning her late husband. I'm usually not a fan of the use of voice-over as I find it a very unsubtle and obvious technique but I have to say that it's probably the performance's strongest asset - Plowright has an extremely expressive voice which makes those moments feel particularly intimate, heartfelt and touching.

In my opinion Plowright's performance grows in strength as Mrs. Fisher starts to soften up to the other ladies and finally befriends them. The transition is a little bit rushed but somehow Plowright manages to make it work - Mrs. Fisher's newfound sweetness, gentleness and humour don't feel like altogether new but rather, thanks to Plowright's carefully realized performance, as things that were always hidden inside of her. She just blossoms on-screen and Plowright manages to make this develpment surprisingly affecting. Her character is often tossed aside towards the end of the movie in favour of Miranda Richardson's and Polly Walker's but she is a welcome presence whenever she pops up. My favorite scene of her performance comes close to the very end, in which Lottie (Josie Lawrence) promises Mrs. Fisher that they will keep being friends when they return to London. Again, Plowright's killer-good voice over is key to her portrayal of Mrs. Fisher's loneliness and she deserves credit for managing to create a somewhat meaningful dymanic between her character and Lawrence's one despite the latter's rather overcooked performance. And she certainly ends the performance on a very pleasant and heartwarming note as Mrs. Fisher plants her walking stick in the ground to let it blossom as she leaves the castle - it's a rather lovely moment and a fittingly sweet closure for the movie.

Mrs. Fisher is not a great role or an especially challenging one, but Joan Plowright's performance manages to rise above it. It's not an especially remarkable achievement and probably every good British actress her age could have delivered a solid performance in the role, but nonetheless she does a very nice job at portraying her character's transition from bitterly cold and warmingly open-hearted. It's very much like the movie itself - nothing particularly noteworthy but definitely pleasant to watch.


7 commenti:

  1. Haven't seen this yet, thoughts and ratings on the rest of the cast?

    I saw Inserts yesterday, i found it a bit overlong and at times a little boring, but the performances were very good. What did you think of Hoskins and Davies?

    1. Richardson - 3 (Her Golden Globe win is a little puzzling since she is not really given a whole lot to do here, but as usual Richardson is at the very least solid in the role. She brings the right sort of graceful intelligence to the character while also being quite moving in her portrayal of the character's underlying unhappiness. It's a thankless role as she is just kind of there for a large chunk of the movie and rarely gets an opportunity to truly take the spotlight, but it's a good performance)

      Lawrence - 2 (I really did not care about this performance as I found her to be especially over-the-top in the role, often distractingly so. Her character comes across as more obnoxious than endearing and it's hard to sympathize with her plight due to how overcooked the performance feels. Her development is extremely rushed and Lawrence does not make it any more believable, and even in her portrayal of her character's newfound joy I found her to be somewhat grating)

      Walker - 3 (I thought she was quite terrible in her first scene as I thought she over-accentuated every single line reading. She improves greatly once her character arrives in Italy though, and I found her to be extremely good at portraying both her character's allure but also the desperation that lies beneath. She too suffers from a rather rushed arc but I felt she managed to make it work well enough and even to carry a certain emotional weight to her key scenes)

      Molina - 2.5 (He's usually at least fine and that's the case here as well. He does not get to do all that much though and I never felt he shared that much of a chemistry with Lawrence, though I'd say it's more her fault than it is his)

      Broadbent - 2.5 (Perfectly fine but he gets even less to do than Molina. He works well with both Richardson and Walker though and realizes the different relationships his character has with the two women quite well)

      Kitchen - 2.5 (I liked his performance as I found it rather charming in a low-key fashion and I liked his chemistry with Walker. He was kind of underused though)

      As for the other two:

      Hoskins - 4 (Effective performance even though he isn't in the movie for long. Nonetheless I thought Hoskins delivered a properly showboating performance in the role of the domineering, powerful producer as well as conveying remarkably his emotional distress as the situations spirals out of control)

      Davies - 3.5 (A fun bit of work from him and I liked his anti-chemistry with both Dreyfuss and Cartwright, creating a very entertaining and interesting dynamic in the scenes involving their three characters. Past that I thought he did a good job at conveying his character's personal ambitions and delusions in a way that is both comedic and somewhat touching)

    2. 1. Tomei
      2. Davis
      3. Redgrave
      4. Richardson
      5. Plowright

  2. 1. Marisa Tomei
    2. Judy Davis
    3. Vanessa Redgrave
    4. Miranda Richardson
    5. Joan Plowright

  3. 1 Tomei
    2 Richardson
    3 Davis
    4 Redgrave
    5 Plowright

  4. Probably go 3.5 myself, but I agree with your assessment.

    1. She was quite close to a 3.5, though ultimately I decided to go for a 3 because I'm pretty much indifferent to the first half of her performance.