Today's Paper Newsletters LEARNS Guide Obits Distribution Locations Public Notices Digital FAQ Razorback Sports Crime Puzzles Today's Photos

Supporting performances not nominated

by Piers Marchant | March 10, 2023 at 1:52 a.m.
The only male role of note in Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” is that of August, a schoolteacher charged with taking minutes of the meetings women in an isolationist religious sect hold to decide whether they should leave the group. Ben Whislaw plays him with a tender urgency, but he got no love from Academy Award voters.

Oscar buzz will only grow in intensity from here on in, until it gets to the point where it's like you have a wasp nest sealed over your skull. But we are not here to heap further acclaim upon those celebrated actors already given a nomination.

Let's send a few flowers to some of the actors whom the Academy did not see fit to bestow such honors upon. They might not win a golden statue on Oscar night, but that shouldn't take anything away from their accomplishments in 2022.

Ben Whishaw, "Women Talking": Whishaw's incredible range has been apparent for years -- this is an actor, after all, who's done excellent work in everything from "Perfume" and "Bright Star," to the past few Sam Mendes-helmed Bond films -- but the more he's on screen, the more you can appreciate his keen talent. As the lone non-horrific male in Sarah Polley's anti-patriarchal, religious-sect chamber drama, he has to carry the emotional weight of his gender, else the film falls into straight polemic.

His character, August, the bedraggled schoolteacher of the clan, is only allowed into the women's meeting in order to take notes for them, but it's clear early on how his unrealized adoration of Ona (Rooney Mara), which leads to the film's most gripping emotional beats, suffuses the entire affair in meaningful melancholy. Sad-Whishaw might not yet be a world-recognized meme (though I can't verify that), but seeing his deep eyes pool in grief is as harrowing an emotional experience as leaving your dog for the day in your apartment. Balancing the justified anti-patriarchal vitriol in Polley's film, Whishaw shines as a capstone.

Andrew Scott, "Catherine Called Birdy": In a sense, Scott plays the villain in Lena Dunham's winning middle-ages comedy about a young woman (a brilliant Bella Ramsey) who refuses her father's entreaties to marry into wealth in order to save the family from ruin. As the family patriarch, Scott is the one pushing his daughter toward one fraught suitor after another. His profligate spending and boozing is also a big part of the reason the family has come to such dire straits in the first place, a fact well-documented by Catherine, who offers withering critique on her dear papa in heavy voice-over.

But a curious thing happens over the course of the narrative, when Catherine is finally forced to re-investigate her various assumptions about the family: Her dad, filled with foolishness and intemperance as he might be, also deeply cares about his family. Scott, a deeply talented actor with a deft comic touch, plays Lord Rollo with all the requisite foolishness when called upon, but underneath that layer is a roiling emotional core that becomes more and more predominant as the film progresses. It would have been easy to play the role as a sort of one-note John Hughes-esque parental buffoon, but Dunham and Scott find the soul of the character, and in so doing, create a far richer experience to appreciate.

Janelle Monae, "Glass Onion": As the requisite even-keeled heroine in Rian Johnson's devilish follow-up to "Knives Out," Monae has to anchor the film with a likable protagonist we can root for, amid the amusing carnage of the other vainglorious characters, acting like rich diphthongs amid the splendor of the private island to which they have been invited. What's more (SPOILER ALERT!), she has to do this while performing as another character, on top of the character she's actually portraying. It's a bit like reciting "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," translated in German, as a Frenchman, while attempting a cockney accent.

What's more, each character she plays -- the actual person, and the person they're portraying -- has to be believable and, more importantly, sympathetic, as she is the heroine we very much want to see succeed against the gasbags and clowns she's up against. Not only does Monae accomplish this feat, she knocks it out of the park such that the ending of the movie strongly implies she might become a regular character in the ongoing series. I'd say that's a pretty strong mission accomplished.

Anya Taylor-Joy, "The Menu": Similarly, Taylor-Joy has to do yeoman work as the primary audience touchstone in Mark Mylod's beguilingly vicious darkly comic satire of the foodie industry, and the rich twits who help perpetuate it. Taken as a paid consort by just such a foodie (played with oily aspiration by Nicholas Hault) to an impossibly exclusive dining experience on its own small island, Taylor-Joy is the lone rep of what we might call real life -- a working woman who has neither the excess money nor the galloping ego to pursue such exclusivity on her own -- and the only character who seems to have the ear (and sympathy) of the brilliant, mad Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), as he drags his devoted clientele to their doom. She's the smart girl (though hardly a virgin) trope from the horror movies, in other words, using her wits and guile to escape out of a situation those far more monied and blue-blooded cannot.

The 27-year-old Taylor-Joy has already shown impressive range in her career (everything from a chess prodigy, to the daughter of a 16th-century religious purist), but here, playing more or less the straight person, she shines precisely because of her lack of obvious affectation.

Madeleine McGraw, "The Black Phone": As Gwen, the kid sister character in Scott Derrickson's grungy '70s throwback horror flick, McGraw takes what is generally a thankless role -- often a kind of annoying, whiny wet blanket -- and turns it into a sort of revelation. No hangdog helplessness. She's instead a confident, resourceful kid, looking out for her kidnapped big brother with a winning reserve of moxie and guile.

McGraw is the rarest of creatures, a former Disney kid who has smartly moved away from the mouse without having to do the obligatory splashy sexpot routine in order to escape. Erudite and measured, she helps turn Gwen into the legit parent figure -- not giving up on finding him, channelling her fear and misery into focused, highly effective, action -- far more effective than their actual parents (again, it's set in the '70s).

It's not every young actress who could pull off such an in-tune, heady performance at her age, but the fact that she makes it stick as well as she does (in a film that was surprisingly effective, largely on the strength of her work, alongside Mason Thames, who plays her older brother) is a positive herald as to her potential. My advice would be to buy your stock now; she could eventually be a star.

  photo  Anya Taylor-Joy’s turn as Margot, an enigmatic young woman who accompanies a try-hard foodie to a very exclusive dinner was the highlight of the psycho-horror satire “The Menu.” But it’s not the sort of role the Oscars recognize.

Print Headline: Supporting performances not nominated


Sponsor Content