' ' Cinema Romantico: Kate the Great: Happy Birthday & Hideous Kinky

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Kate the Great: Happy Birthday & Hideous Kinky

It’s impossible to quantify someone’s “best” performance – unless we turn it over to the cinematic sabermetricians who, if God is just, will forever continue to not exist – but upon being pressed for Kate Winslet's best performance I would cite her turn as Julia in “Hideous Kinky.” It is incredibly naturalistic, a portrayal wherein the actor appears to be making it up as she goes along, living a life on the screen in all its ragged, mistake-prone glory, resistant to convenient empathy, unyielding to straightforward judgment. In a recent interview for TimeOut London she said of the role “there was a lot I had to guess about maternal instincts because I wasn’t a parent.” I think this aids the performance because Julia has no maternal instincts and has no idea how to be a parent.


A mother of two she flees England for Morocco with her two daughters in tow in one of those classic (is that the right word?) attempts to “find herself." This was the film Kate chose to make immediately post-“Titanic”, defying agent advice and ignoring much more lucrative offers, going low budget and on location. Perhaps it’s easy to connect the dots and say that after starring in the (then) most successful movie of all time at 22, a befuddling age, Kate was in the midst of wanting to “find herself.” Though perhaps that’s just Entertainment Critic Psychology, and maybe after spending months aboard a replica of the most famous sunken ship in human history in a waterlogged tank in Mexico with James Cameron screaming at her she just wanted the hell out of Hollywood.

The film often feels light on the texture of Julia, more interested in her behavior in the moment, which is both endearingly free-spirited and frighteningly wayward. That we struggle to gain a solid grasp of who Julia is only strengthens the underlying theme of the film – as in, SHE doesn’t know she is so how could WE know who she is. Instead she’s grasping at doll figurines (which she sells to make ends meet when checks from her ex-husband back home stop turning up), dragging her children who appear more levelheaded than their mother all over creation, shacking up with an acrobat who has an, ahem, wife, deciding to seek out a Sufi mystic.

That last one’s significant. Sufism is all about achieving enlightenment, and a crucial ingredient to that achievement is selflessness. And Julia is painted quite consciously as being woefully and unwittingly self-absorbed. That’s not to say she doesn’t love her daughters, because she does in her own flighty way, but as the film progresses it calls upon her to genuinely take ownership of her role as a parent. It is at that point “Hideous Kinky”, which has been so choppily organic (which I mean as a compliment), dips a bit into more routine dramatization to pave the way for a resolution. Nevertheless, Winslet conveys an authentic desperation, a young woman trying to breathe underwater. Enlightenment gives way to duty, unless they are one in the same.


I have no idea if they are one in the same, and while I suspect the end of “Hideous Kinky” wants us to believe Julia has indeed “found herself”, I contend such a brilliantly maddening character should not be reduced to such a simple reading.

Sometimes I forget Kate Winslet is only two years older than me, which places her at 38 as of her birthday today. She seems older, even if she still looks younger. She’s a lived a life, man (and she’s saved a man’s life). Three husbands, a kid with each one, she’s going into space, she’s played Ophelia AND April Wheeler, and she earned one of those whatchamacallits. Speaking with Harper’s Bazaar UK this past year, Winslet said of her forthcoming new child and marriage: "It's complicated, I know, and uncertain -- but it's where life happens, between the cracks. It can be a painful process, but I truly hope that never stops for me."

That’s what “Hideous Kinky” is at its best, which is what it’s at most of the time: life happening between the cracks. A woman coming at life from her own oblique angle, and struggling at it – really, honest to goodness struggling at it. And really, that’s how we all approach the idea of enlightenment, isn’t it? From our own oblique angles, and struggling at it?

How much life influences art and vice-versa is anyone's guess (and some will). I can't imagine it's easy cultivating and and giving such performances of struggle, but I truly hope it never stops her. It's like I always say, she's the best there is.

2 comments:

Vancetastic said...

Since I haven't seen Hideous Kinky and so have nothing to add, I will just go the Facebook route and click "like."

Nick Prigge said...

Yeah, it's not an easy movie to find these days. Though in doing a brief bit of research for this post I did notice it has been uploaded onto Youtube in ten minute increments. So there's that.