Sunday, January 9, 2011

Supporting Actress Smackdown, Part II: New York Woman

(Note: this is the second part in a two-part post series for StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Smackdown. The first piece was entitled "Old Little Princess" and featured Winona Ryder for Black Swan.)

All right, now that you've heard about the "actress on the edge" who wasn't eligible for my Best Supporting Actress prize, let's continue with one that was not only eligible, but won the prize in a tough fight with Inception's Marion Cotillard--Amanda Peet, a real New York Woman.

Please Give has one of the finest ensembles assembled this year, but the star who shined the brightest was Peet. The former romantic comedy mainstay had never truly distinguished herself as a remarkable actress before, but Give was apparently all she needed to break out.

Both acerbic and unflinchingly honest, Peet's portrayal of New York tanning spa employee Mary is fearlessly unlikable, the kind of performance that only seems to come but once or twice a year (the only other performance this year I can compare it to in that regard is Nicole Kidman's in Rabbit Hole, and Kidman is nowhere near as free of vanity in that role.

Make no mistake--there are very few redeeming qualities to Mary. She stalks her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend, making endless cracks about the woman's overly-muscular back. She conducts herself like a child in social situations, refusing to censor herself. She has a drinking problem. She is utterly self-centered. Her relationship with her sister (Rebecca Hall, also doing career-best work in Give) is bitter, with years of resentment built into emotional barriers. She sleeps a married man (Oliver Platt) despite her cordial relationship with his wife (Catherine Keener). And she uses a tanning bed far too often.

In short, Mary is the New York Woman no one wants to be friends with.

Yet instead of playing the character as a one-note, Peet found the vulnerabilities in Mary, the shredded remains of a young girl who never really felt like she had any self-worth. Her relationship with her sister is bitter, but the bonds of sisterhood can be felt pulsating below all the pettiness. And Mary's desperation rings true to life.

It is a masterful performance and one that deserved much more consideration than it received this year. In an ensemble of wonderful, fascinatingly flawed women, Peet stands out with a character who should be so easy to hate. Instead, she created an inarguably awful woman, but one with more than one dimension to her. 

Phenomenal work by Peet, not once upstaging her co-stars or chewing the scenery. The performance is real, and it is beautiful actressing on the edges.


Robert said...

Rebecca Hall was my favorite in this movie, but Peet was also really great. Like you said, she was never flashy but she was just perfect and so real!

Cal said...

Definitely one of the more thoughtful supporting performances this year. I thought she was too harsh at first, and although her character's arc is a little too plotted she manages to create a really sad portrait of a woman who had higher expectations for herself.

Kevin said...

Robert--I liked Rebecca Hall very much as well, but I'm coming to a sort of sad realization about her: with one notable exception (her brilliant performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona) she kinda plays the same role over and over. Nowhere is that more evident than in The Town, sadly. It's colored my opinion of her a bit.

Carl--I think the character is drawn to be a very harsh, unforgiving role for whoever plays it, and Peet doesn't shy away from that. The fact that we as an audience can like her at all is an incredible testament to Peet's abilities.

Karen said...

Three cheers for Amanda Peet! I'm a long-time fan and I'm hoping she gets some more solid roles. Nice write-up!