Goldie Hawn took home her only Oscar for her film debut as Toni Simmons, the ‘dumb blonde’ fiancé of Walther Matthau in the charming comedy Cactus Flower. Oh wait, actually, she is not truly his fiancé but his mistress because he is married. Oh wait, that’s not true – this is actually a lie he told her because he thinks that this way Toni will never want to get married herself. But then, one night, Toni can’t stand it anymore – the idea of not being able to have this man all for herself is too much for her and she decides to kill herself. What in reality should be the start to a very serious drama is here only the opening act for a romantic comedy of errors – who cares that she wanted to kill herself? Is she maybe mentally unstable? Who cares?
Okay, I think this should be enough plot details for now. As you can see, the movie has a lot of possibilities for entertainment and it’s also clear that Goldie Hawn’s role is much more a co-lead than a supporting performance. Anyway, what about her actual performance? Well, everyone who has ever seen a performance by her knows that she has a wonderful talent for comedy and this is also visible in every frame of Cactus Flower. Her Toni is certainly not dumb, only a little naïve and maybe even too good for this world – she would never believe that Julian would actually lie to her, she believes in honesty and loyalty. Goldie Hawn thankfully never exaggerated any of her acting to get some laughs – instead, she is almost subtle and very quiet in her part, staying true to the character by presenting her as an unwilling victim of lying and cheating. She focuses on Toni’s desire to make everything right and that way constantly unknowingly only making more trouble for Julian. In some ways, she seems to be a plot device that allows Walther Matthau to go from one new desperate situation to the next but Goldie Hawn knows how to avoid being pushed in the background.
It’s a very natural performance without any ‘big scenes’ but she flows beautifully along with the main storyline. Her big eyes and her short hair help her to make a lasting impression and it’s especially impressive that Goldie Hawn even manages to hold her own against an actress like Ingrid Bergman – she actually upstages her whenever they are together. When Toni finally learns the truth and small tears come out of her big eyes, it’s an unexpected and very heartbreaking moment.
It would be very easy for the audience to laugh about Toni because she is so clueless but you never do that because Goldie makes such a sweet-hearted person that can’t help but love her. Overall, it’s a funny, totally charming and believable performance.