My current Top 5

My current Top 5

6/25/2010

Best Actress 2007: Laura Linney in "The Savages"

Laura Linney’s Oscar nomination for her performance as the neurotic wanna-be playwright Wendy Savage who has to take care of her sick father together with her brother in the dramady The Savages is certainly a case of ‘the nomination is the win’. She was never a threat for the gold but the fact that the Academy remembered her performance after almost every other award body ignored her (even the Golden Globes who have an extra comedy category for her kind of performance) surely proved that she is on the their radar.

The first moment Wendy appears on the screen already tells a lot about her character – she is at work but actually only concentrating on phrasing applications for a scholarship to write a play about her own experiences as a child. When a colleague appears, she smiles and flirts and pretends, and when he is gone, she again focuses on her application. Later, she goes through a storage room and fills her bag with paper and apparently all office supplies that aren’t nailed to the floor. Laura Linney here effectively builds the foundation for both her performance and the character of Wendy: she plays her scenes with a very prim charm and a relaxed naturalness while also adding an always visible element of comedy. This way, she creates Wendy as a women who is self-involved without being narcissistic, funny without being annoying, defensive without being aggressive – and apparently a neurotic mess.

For her, stealing from work is probably one of the most natural things in the world. Wendy is a woman who has her own sense of justice, about what she should get and what she deserves but at the same time she probably doesn’t even think too much about this – for her, it’s just an ordinary part of life, something that’s only too natural and so many people do because it seems like such a victimless crime. This way, Laura Linney makes Wendy immediately recognizable as one of those typical neurotic characters that appear in so many movies but during the story that follows she also makes her much deeper and complex than first expected.

The most refreshing aspect of Laura Linney’s performance is how she shows that Wendy is a woman who is both always aware of how she might be seen by other people or how others might react to her and at the same time so caught up in her own life and her own views and sometimes so unable to control herself that she very often evokes exact the kind of reactions from other people that she normally tries to avoid. It seems as if Wendy is constantly playing and experimenting with different personalities for herself. Wendy isn't trying to hide her true character because she doesn't know her true character herself yet. It seems never clear what kind of character she really is but Laura Linney is always in control of what she wants to show about Wendy – while never letting her performance appear ‘controlled’ but instead doing it all in the most natural and realistic way.

It sometimes appears that Wendy isn’t really such a neurotic character but rather that she just wants to be like this. Whenever the situations of her life become too much for her to handle, she retreats into a place where she can be loud, angry and even obnoxious – being like this helps her deal with her life and if she can convince herself that she really is like this, it might also become justifiable for her. But these neurotic sides aren’t the only ones that Wendy is balancing – there is also a humorous and sarcastic part in her. When her brother tells her that she can sleep on the couch and Wendy says with the greatest way of delivering ‘Where is it?’ because it’s covered in books, she is obviously proud of herself for being so clever and funny.

Laura Linney also handles the moments of Wendy’s affair with a married man with a wonderful mix of pathos and practicality. Having this affair is nothing that seems to trouble Wendy from a moral point of view. The only thing that does bother her is that she is afraid to become a cliché – a woman who is having an affair with a married older man. When he finally tells her that he is only 13 years older than her and that she isn’t exactly 20 anymore, the only way to react for Wendy is again a mix of anger and retreat. The funny thing is that Wendy probably didn’t really think that she might be a cliché – but she thought that she had to think that because that way she can pretend to herself to be smart enough to recognize this while keep going with it at the same time. She probably only wanted to tell her boyfriend about this so he could see that she is aware of all this, that she realizes it, that she isn’t stupid – but his reaction was too unexpected for her. In the end, Wendy doesn’t realize that by trying so hard not to be a cliché she actually ends up a lot more like a cliché than many others would. Laura Linney’s portrayal in all these scenes is so impressive because she is always showing Wendy as what she really is and not what she would like to be. She isn’t afraid to let Wendy look foolish or unlikable but she uses her charm and her talent for dry comedy to make her completely enchanting nonetheless. Laura Linney never forgets to bring a good deal of comedy in her performance but she never seems to try to actually make the audience laugh. Her line deliveries are sometimes so serious that one has to wonder if one should laugh or cry but there is always something that tips the scale in the direction of laughing. Her greatest moment in this area is probably her dead-pan delivery of the line ‘Are you having a heart attack?’ during a game of tennis with her brother. Besides that, Wendy is a woman who is always quick to panic and overreact but Laura Linney uses especially these moments to put in the most comedy into her performance. Who can forget her frantic phone call to her brother at the beginning of the movie?

Her amusing embarrassment when they are watching an old, from today’s point-of-view racist movie with some black people is very funny but later, when she is having one or her mood swings, she doesn’t seem to care again what others think of her. The way she runs through the hospital, looking for a little pillow she gave her father, again shows how she likes to totally focus on little things when she can’t deal with the overall situation. It shows how much the nearing death of her father is affecting her. When she is crying that she and her brother are such horrible people for putting their father into a nursing home, it is again a moment where Wendy feels that she has to cry, she has to show sorrow – but at the same time she would never actually take her father to her own house. But showing her regret is something that helps her to feel better. And later, when she is trying to get her father into a better nursing home that actually wouldn’t take him because he is too sick, she is trying to help him by cheating on a questionnaire. Again, Wendy likes to pretend that she is doing it for his own sake but she is actually doing it to make herself feel less guilty.

In her own constant awareness of her character, Wendy also knows that her lying and pretending might not be justified even if she pretends that it is. When Wendy tells her brother about an important scholarship that she received, Laura Linney plays the scene with a combination of both pride and sorrow because at this moment Wendy feels proud and happy to be better than her brother but the weight of this lie is bringing her down at the same time. When she finally reveals where she really got the money from, Wendy again tries to justify her behavior and Laura Linney shows that she seems more justifying it to herself than anyone else. The greatest achievement of Laura Linney so becomes to make Wendy a woman who is basically completely unsure of herself, insecure and frightened and who tries to cover it up, to make it in the world because she has to and to try to get the best out of life – even if the only person who is standing in her way to achieve all this is herself.

Laura Linney also works wonderful with Phillip Seymour Hoffman. His character is much more realistic and pragmatic than Wendy and their arguments and fights that are still always an expression of the loving relationship between them are certainly the hightlights of the story. Also wonderful is the scenes when Wendy is looking for affection from one of the male nurses in the hospital.

Laura Linney does all this in a very natural performance that is certainly the highlight of the picture and presents a wonderful mixture of heartbreaking drama and unforgettable comedy. The way she creates this character, brings her to life and into the viewer’s heart and mind is a wonderful achievement that makes the unexpected nomination very understandable. A strong and immensely likeable performance that flawlessly interacts with the work from her co-stars which gets

11 comments:

Robert said...

I love, love love Laura Linney but I haven't seen this yet. I'll check it out soon!

Fritz said...

If you're a fan, then this movie is certainly a must!

Louis Morgan said...

I basically agree, although I did not care very much for the film.

Fritz said...

I fought the film was surprisingly good and found exactly the right balance between comedy and drama to tell this story.

joe burns said...

I would have given her a higher rating- Why just four stars?

Fritz said...

Well...because that's what she get's from me! :-)

Okay, seriously: It's simply a typical four-star performances from me. She is very good but I think the role itself doesn't demand enough from her to get more (from me, at least).

I know she's your winner, so I understand why you would be disappointed.

Fritz said...

But did you like what I wrote about her? I tried my best to highlight all the positive things about her.

joe burns said...

I would have given her a 4, 5/5 because I felt she was perfect all the way through and did above four level work at least to me.

No offense or anything, but I thought you spent a little to much on saying that she acts neurotic but really is trying to hide who she really is. I'm not saying it's badly written or anything because it's not! I'm just saying that's what I thought.

Fritz said...

No offense taken! Critics are always welcome! I fear that I am slowly turning into one of those people who have really not much to say and then end up talking for half an hour to cover it up...I will keep that in mind in the future!
The thing is that writing these reviews has become my main goal so I now maybe overdo it but I will work on that.

Sage Slowdive said...

Well, I agree with everything you said...it just felt like a 4 :)

Fritz said...

Good! :-)