Just a thought… That’s an actor’s dream to get something meaty and juicy and challenging to work on. [Rutina Wesley]
It used to be that if you wanted a clear path to a big movie award nomination, you should try to find a role in which you played a prostitute. “Play a Hooker, Win an Oscar,” as the New York Times put it back in the 1990s. For a while there, playing a nun would also be a very good career move. But now? Find yourself a really messed up mother role. Or at least, that’s the case this year.
In some kind of weird coincidence, the last three films Rob and I have gone to, in an effort to get caught up on the biggest nominees before the 90th Academy Awards on March 4th, have all featured the most bizarre sorts of mothers. I mean, most of us have mothers – or are mothers – with enough flaws to fill an hour on Dr. Phil. But these three characters are truly worthy of not just a couch, but a wing in a psychiatric facility.
Here they are in order that we saw them: Frances McDormand’s tormented mother in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is profoundly angry and profanely expressive. Her daughter’s been murdered and mother is exasperated with the lack of progress in solving the case, but she has her own reasons to feel extremely guilty. For my money, Ms McDormand’s performance is out of this world. That’s the mean-but-means-well mom #1.
The second in this category is the character played by Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird. She berates her teenaged daughter mercilessly. Is it love? Is it nastiness? Is she trying to protect her daughter from a world that is going to break her heart?
When I was about ten years old I told my mother I wanted to be a singer. I remember exactly where we were – on a bridge in Trenton, Ontario in a blue Plymouth Valiant – when she matter of factly said, “There are a million girls out there better than you.”
Did it break my heart? Sure it did, at the time. Was she right? Absolutely. In her “take no prisoners” kind of way, my mother was saving me from going out there and failing. And maybe I have her to thank for me getting into radio instead, although she did ask, “Why would you want to do that?” Remembering that discussion makes me give Lady Bird’s mom a bit of slack. But just a bit. I do think she meant well.
Then there’s Tonya Harding’s mother in I, Tonya. There is only one scene in the movie where it appears LaVona Golden (played to perfection by Allison Janney) might have a heart somewhere in her smoke-filled chest and it turns out she was just trying to get something. LaVona Golden used not just her sharp tongue, but her hands (and even a knife) to make her points with her skating-crazy daughter. And there is absolutely no room for mercy in judging her, although the mother claimed that Tonya only responded to negative reinforcement.
There you have it: three very different characters, three films well worth seeing. We’ve put Three Billboards at the top of our ranking (although we’re seeing Shape of Water this week) for Best Picture. Of course, if Dunkirk could take all of the awards, I’d just have Christopher Nolan’s name on everything. That doesn’t seem to be the way things are leaning this year. Perhaps Winston Churchill needed a meaner mother.
I’ll be back with you here tomorrow.