The fact that Mary Steenburghen is an Oscar-winner seems to be rather forgotten today but in 1980, she swept the Supporting Actress awards for her performance as Lynda Dummar, the charming, quirky and a bit odd wife of Melvin, an eternal loser who constantly lets every bit of money he gets slip through his fingers.
Melvin and Howard is a very interesting but also strange movie – it’s the kind of movie that seems to have no real point and leaves the viewer with more questions than answers but it also provides some nice entertainment and some very unique characters. One of them is Lynda – she sometimes seems to be a bit slow but she is not stupid, maybe a bit naïve but at the same time she clearly knows what she wants. She doesn’t possess a true heart of gold – maybe silver because she is a very honest, open and good-hearted person but she will not tolerate any kind of behavior she can’t accept.
It would be best to say this – when the script denies her any possibilities, Mary Steenburghen is still interesting to watch as the constructs the character of Lynda. When the script offers her any possibilities, she is golden. Her scenes in the strip clubs, where she works because she loves to dance, are hilarious and, of course, who can forget her most famous moments when she does a tap dance at a game show in TV? Her dance, her joy when she wins, her jumping around and screaming is simply unforgettable.
These comedic scenes are mixed with various dramatic moments like losing the custody of her child or leaving Melvin (for what feels like the 1000th times) after he again spent all their money on things they don’t need. Her little conversation with him before she leaves in which she tells him of her dreams of being a French interpreter is almost heartbreaking.
It’s a very original performance and if Mary Steenburghen had been given a stronger character in a stronger movie, she might really have been outstanding. So, she had to settle for a little less but still gives a great, memorable performance.