Part 2

The Dark Side

by PopMatters Staff

16 February 2009


Meg Ryan and more

Meg Ryan In the Cut (Jane Campion, 2003)

Ryan was a last minute replacement to respected director Campion’s initial choice of Nicole Kidman. I’m personally thankful this fluke happened, because I can’t imagine anyone but Ryan in this role. The likelihood of an actress such as Ryan, who has flitted about from rom-com to drama (both successfully and otherwise), actually succeeding at meeting the challenges of Susanna Moore’s harrowing script, which is from her novel and is packed with intensely sexualized twists and turns, was not high. Ryan uses this to her advantage and imbues her performance in In the Cut with the experimental wonder of a hungry, fledgling performer. The low-key Ryan eases herself into the mind of Franny Avery first and foremost. Allowing us to think about words (disarticulation comes up more than once) and poems and her daydreams. The intimacy in this film is signature to Campion’s career-long style. Unfortunately, the film was rated as a post-‘90s sex thriller but film buffs will know that this is just as much of an art film as Campion’s previous work; The Piano, Sweetie, or An Angel at my Table with the hypnotic color palette, edgy cinematography, and a willingness to absorb into the internal thoughts of these characters and their odd relationships to one another. It’s a marvelous departure for Ryan while it’s another testament to Campion’s ability to find an artistic erotica in almost any location or setting. TD

Kim Stanley Séance on a Wet Afternoon (Bryan Forbes, 1964)

Stanley’s desperate, shaded (and shady!) performance as the kidnapping charlatan Myra is proof that the most challenging kinds of character studies that happen ever so rarely nowadays, happened with more of a frequency and consistency more than forty years ago. Kim Stanley gives what no other words except tour-de-force can describe. As a somewhat arrogant psychic, she concocts a sinister master plan to gain public notoriety for her strange gifts. The movie itself is arranged and edited excitingly, and could work as a remake today—but one wonders if anyone else except Stanley could deliver this performance as potently and sincerely.  Stanley adds an extra element of intrigue into her scenes of dour introspection by fusing the vivid physical details of Myra with the private thoughts of her medium, which adds to the atmospheric, claustrophobic creepiness. The film escalates into an insight into the turbulent powers of the criminal mind and how warped even the most gifted people can become. These cerebral, difficult acting propositions are met with ease by the unforgettable Stanley’s dedication to such an unusual, full villainess role. [trailer] TD

Charlize Theron Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003)

Aileen “Lee” Wuronos, on paper, is an almost offensively shameless Oscar-begging character: a serial killer/prostitute/lesbian. Add in a few extra points for this actually being a real person. Compounding matters considerably is the fact that, impossibly, the glacially beautiful South African-born Charlize Theron would be playing this downtrodden woman, who, let’s just say knew her way around the block. Fortunately, what could have descended into a camp nightmare of gigantic proportions instead provided a showcase for one of the most original star turns of the new cinematic millennium; one that actually ended up working. This is the kind of acting that rarely gets rewarded, the kind that comes along every so often and reminds you of what exactly actors are capable of accomplishing and capturing through good-old fashioned physical transformation, including gaining 30 pounds, and an array of prostheses. Even her eyes look profoundly soulless and tragic thanks to almost black, reptilian contact lenses. Lee is vaguely inhuman: lumpy, sketched out, wild-haired. She is a liar, a con-woman. Theron’s immersion into this character is not as a blatant copycat act, the actress also employs a gravelly voice and a Mid-Western cadence, haggard make-up on her skin, and tough body language. The actresses’ mastery of these costume constraints is a testament to her strength and range as a performer and she pulls off the impossible: making a drop-dead beautiful movie star disappear. MM

Kathleen Turner Serial Mom (John Waters, 1994)

Arguably the most affable of the “Dark Side” section, Turner’ giddy, serial-murdering suburban every-mom Beverly Sutphin was a gold-mine of physical comedy for an actress to play, and Turner went through her paces with hilarious abandon. Whether it was brandishing a leg of lamb to off her latest victim or subliminally garnering suggestions from her family as to who deserved to be next, Turner, as directed by legend John Waters, was given a rare chance to over-play and not be criticized for it. Beverly was over-the-top, outrageous, psycho, and ballistic, but rather than being a one-note caricature, Turner instead wisely made her a mother crusading to fight the small injustices keeping her family (and every family) down –- we all hate those jerks who don’t recycle, don’t we? Something must be done to remedy the situation, even if it means murdering the boy who broke her daughter’s heart with a fire poker at a flea market or simply making some of the most hysterical obscene phone calls ever put to film, directed towards hapless local divorcee Dotty Hinckel (Mink Stole). “Are those pussy willows”, she taunts Dotty with evil hubris. Beverly wants recognition for her hard work, whether that “work” is killing a math teacher for insulting her parenting skills, or preparing the perfect meat loaf for a cozy family dinner. MM

Lucyna Winnicka Mother Joan of the Angels (Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1961)

Possessed. Nuns. If those words don’t entice, then rest assured that Winnicka’s staggering performance as Mother Joan of the Angels most certainly does. The Polish thesp’s characterization is a daring one, though any apprehension that might have been felt during her more unhinged on-screen moments remains invisible to the viewer. With the mere blink of an eyelid, she can swerve seamlessly from the angelic to the demonic, conjuring virtual hypnosis from her audience whilst resisting the lure of the facile caricatures so readily available to her. This anti-heroine has more substance than a mere cardboard Satanist: the actress recognizes that she is, above all else, a red-blooded woman. Caught between desire and duty, Mother Joan’s metaphysical malady consequently transforms into an emotive essay about the very price of one’s devotion—and against this curious backdrop, Winnicka creates the most beautifully twisted art out of private anguish. SB

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