“Looper” has been chugging along for quite awhile when Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe winds up in a cornfield at a farmhouse for reasons to complex to delve into here, only to find himself suitably threatened by a shotgun-wielding Emily Blunt. At this moment I thought to myself: “Holy gods. I forgot Emily Blunt was in this movie.”
I am always forgetting Emily Blunt, though this is not to suggest she is forgettable. It’s just that when I think of “The Devil Wears Prada”, I think of Meryl Streep. When I think of “Sunshine Cleaning”, I think of Amy Adams. When I think of “The Adjustment Bureau”, I think of the jaunty hats. When I think of “Dan In Real Life”……okay, I really did forget she was in “Dan In Real Life.” (I have not seen “The Young Victoria” in which she plays The Young Victoria. I will rectify this grievous oversight.) And as I was thinking back over all the performances that caught my fancy in 2012 I returned to “The Five Year Engagement” and realized it made me think of the extra-boisterous (English-accented) Alison Brie, not Emily Blunt. And then I realized this was unfair.
In “The Five Year Engagement”, to paraphrase author Patricia Bosworth, Brie bulges out of the movie while Blunt becomes one with it. Her Violet is engaged to Jason Segel’s Tom. She is admitted to grad school in faraway Michigan which prolongs the engagement. The film itself eventually betrays the integrity of Violet, resorting to pedantic clichés and story roadblocks, a teaching, manipulating lothario (Rhys Ifans) and her fiancé’s deer jerkey-infused breakdown, etc. The side characters, like Brie, are generally outlandish in an effort to keep laughter up amidst the very real questions at the film’s core, but Blunt, honest and likable, finds truth in spite of her pat resolution (and the script's utter refusal, in adherence to unspoken Hollywood Code, to give her any truly funny lines) by generally embodying her own words “I don’t think we can figure out all of our problems before we get married.” She wants to stand by her man, sure, but she also wants to stand on her own. (Thumps chest.) Respect.
And in “Looper”, when Joe turns up out in the cornstalks because “Looper” is a futuristic time-travel movie and Joe’s older self needs to ensure his future survival by killing Sara's (Blunt) son Cid now, Blunt is standing all on her own...save for that shotgun she damn sure knows how to use. It is a film more of plot than character but Blunt’s gruffness and eternally pained expression evokes a self-sacrifice, a decision that she CANNOT have all that she wants, that she has chosen her son, that motherhood – however messed up she may be as a mother – trumps all. She will stand by her son and even stand in front of her son, if the situation calls for it, to trade her life for his, and quietly she allows her attitude to urge Joe to make his own stand.
If she channels a little Linda Hamilton in “Looper”, she channels a little Katherine Hepburn in “Salmon Fishing In The Yemen.” Not in mannerisms, really, but in spirit, even if Blunt’s personality is not and probably never will be as outsized as Hepburn. The spectacularly titled film, despite its current day setting, is meant to be old-fashioned, a sort of adventure/romance more about allegory than reality, and Blunt’s Harriet Chetwode-Talbot has gumption, drive and a kind of unassailable attitude. Her courtship with the buttoned-up Doctor (Ewan McGregor) she hires to help bring, against all logic, salmon to the desert of Yemen, hits all the expected beats but Ms. Blunt (and Mr. McGregor) make their journey feel organic even if it is obviously pre-ordained. And although she has to break her back-from-the-dead fiance’s heart, we believe she means no ill-will because she makes us believe she is turning in logic for faith.
As hokey as “Salmon Fishing In The Yemen” was, her best film of 2012 was majestically raw. In “Your Sister’s Sister”, Blunt is the first “Sister” of the title, Iris, the ex of Jack’s (Mark Duplass) deceased brother who, we learn, has cultivated feelings for Jack. And the two of them, separately, enter the orbit of Iris’s sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) at a cabin in the woods. All three performers are brilliant but Blunt's character is the least transparent, making her job just a bit more difficult, and here she deploys her natural and vast charm to clever effect. Initially she comes across like the most put together of the trio before carefully revealing the doubt and insecurity lurking just beneath.
This quartet of performances does not vary wildly and that is precisely what I love so much about them. It would be wrong to compare her to, say, Meryl Streep. After all, three of the four films are set in America and yet in two she still utilizes her native English accent. She applies what I suspect is much of her own personality and then tweaks just a bit, here and there, for each role, so that even if the exteriors reveal similarities, the interiors are all their own. It reminds me of the trick so many actresses of yesteryear used to manage, the way in which they could skirt the middle ground between Movie Star and Thespian. That has become so rare and it is what makes Emily Blunt sort of an old-world throwback. Which, of course, in our cyclical society is precisely what makes her acting style so fashionable.
In fact, no actress or actor was more emotively fashionable in 2012. Emily Blunt is Cinema Romantico's Performer of the Year.