My current Top 5

My current Top 5

3/22/2010

Best Actress 1978: Ellen Burstyn in "Same Time, Next Year"

When Ellen Burstyn won the Oscar for Alice doesn’t live here anymore, she wasn’t at the ceremony because she was appearing in a play called Same Time, Next Year in New York. In the same year she won the Oscar, she also won a Tony for her performance in this play and later she received another Oscar nomination for her performance in the movie version. Considering all this praise for her performance, the final result is a bit disappointing.

From the first moment to the last one, it is very obvious that Same Time, Next Year was born on the stage. The whole plot happens in a little guest house in California, where Doris and George, played by Alan Alda, meet once a year for a secret affair. Of course, the movie version also gave us some shots outside the house and shows us the Pacific Ocean, but overall, the whole movie sometimes seems like a taped play.

Thankfully, Ellen Burstyn knew the difference between these two mediums and her performance is able to entertain the audience without ever making its theatrical roots visible. But even though Ellen Burstyn is able to fill her part with life and her usual charming self, Doris is a paper-thin character who exists in a paper-thin, clichéd story without any real highlights.

The movie begins incredibly cheesy with George and Doris meeting in a little restaurant while a schmaltzy song is playing in the background. A little later, the two of them wake up in bed together and even though they are both married, they take a very relaxed attitude about their time together and soon they agree to meet again at the same time, next year.

The biggest problem of the movie is that it is simply not very good. It has some entertaining moments but overall it is a boring and overlong story about two not very interesting people. The movie follows their romance/affair over a time span of 25 years and during their talks we also get to know more about their “normal” life. Unfortunately, Ellen Burstyn is never given the same quality material as Alan Alda. Ellen Burstyn may be the better performer, but Alan Alda gets a very dominant and moving back story that develops over the course of the movie. While he gets to use this material very effectively, Ellen Burstyn often has nothing else to do than react to Alan Alda. Almost all the good moments in the story come from him while Ellen Burstyn is never able to create a full-flesh human being out of Doris which is more the fault of the script than Ellen Burstyn. She shows that Doris is a little naïve, but also smart but she never makes her really interesting.

Both the script and the performances of the leading actors underline that they never feel bad in any way about their adultery. Since this is supposed to be a light comedy, it makes sense that there are no scenes of remorse or guilty feelings but it deprives the actors from playing three dimensional characters. Ellen Burstyn’s joyful and optimistic performance may be charming and easy to like but it seems the actress decided to play her part mostly on the surface.

The real highlight of the movie is the chemistry between Ellen Burstyn and Alan Alda who believably show how their characters age and the relationship between them becomes closer and more mature.

The main concept of the movie is that the viewer only sees the two lovers meet every five years and each time, the big question are how they look like and what is new with their life. While George basically remains a rather conservative business man his entire life, Doris goes through various phases in hers. She starts as a little wife, later she gets to do some comedy when she is pregnant (here, Ellen Burstyn gets to make her only really funny line of the whole movie about pregnancy and Butterfly McQueen), later she becomes a hippie and finally a successful business woman. Ellen Burstyn portrays all these stages well and never loses the core of the character, but the scenes never really connect and apart from the obvious change on the surface, the script never really gives Doris and Ellen Burstyn much to do.

But even though the part of Doris is no Blanche DuBois, Ellen Burstyn is still able to make the most out of it. Her performance is charming and lovely, sometimes amusing, sometimes touching and her interaction with Alan Alda helps to keep everything going smoothly. She is very natural in her part and handles the various stations of Doris’s life with ease and grace. This is especially remarkable because in some way a lot of humor in the movie comes at Doris’s expanse since it is easy to laugh at her for her constant changes in life but Ellen Burstyn always prevents her character from losing her dignity in the process.

Overall, it’s a nice and harmless performance that gets

2 comments:

Sage Slowdive said...

I would give her 4, I thought she was very good given the material.

Fritz said...

Mmh, I don't know...for me, she is a clear 3,5...