This is a performance that seems mostly praised or hated with nothing in between. Those who dislike this performance mostly seem to dislike the character – but for me, this is only proof that Estelle Parsons did a fantastic job since she did exactly what she was supposed to do: showing Blanche as a neurotic and hysteric mess who underlines the stress of the situation the gang is getting into while also standing as a symbol for the tragedies they have to endure as time goes on.
With her performance, Estelle Parsons makes it easy with the viewer to sympathize with the character of Bonnie – it works in the context of the movie in which Bonnie and Clyde may be killers but are still a glamorous couple and in some way the heroes of the picture. Gene Hackman makes Warren Beatty even more handsome while Estelle Parsons make Faye Dunaway even more admirable.
But Estelle Parsons does not disappear behind Faye Dunaway. Her performance is much too loud and hysteric to get lost anywhere – who can forget Blanche running around in the middle of a shooting, screaming at the top of her lungs (one of the funniest scenes I have seen)? The most important triumph in Estelle Parsons’s work is that she makes Blanche a realistic character – Bonnie and Clyde is placed somewhere between the old and melodramatic style from the 40s and the realism of more modern pictures and the performances all capture this by being both over-the-top and believable.
Despite all the obvious problems that arise when Blanche enters the movie, Estelle Parsons is still able to make this character not only annoying but also very interesting. The relationship between her husband which seems more like that of a child and its father (the way she grabs her arm when she sees a gun or constantly calls him ‘Daddy`) is endlessly fascinating. Estelle Parsons’s appearance also begins to turn the movie around – up until now Bonnie and Clyde seemed to have an easy life, killing and robbing, but Blanche not only makes life much harder for them but she also accompanies the downfall of the duo.
Estelle Parsons also miraculously achieved to turn the character completely around during the run of the movie without ever turning her into somebody else. In the scene in the car, she suddenly shows a new and unexpected side in Blanche and it’s maybe the most moving and human moment of the whole story. Later, she has one powerful scene after another, kneeling on the floor and praying after her husband has been hit by a bullet, ‘Dear God, please help us!’ It’s a very hard scene because immediately after her prayers, Blanche realizes that her eyes are hurt and she screams ‘I think I’m blind’. It seems as if God had answered and he has shown Blanche that it is too late for prayers – because of Estelle Parsons, that whole scene is so strong and for the first time the movie achieves a much more serious tone in which a lot of aspects are put in new perspectives. And her later scenes, when she screams ‘Daddy, don’t die!`or she is alone and blind in a police cell are incredibly moving and heartbreaking.
A curious and sometimes even strange performance – but all this only helps to achieve very memorable and powerful results.