' Cinema Romantico: Julianne Moore: A Kinda, Sorta, Something or Other Retrospective

Friday, February 20, 2015

Julianne Moore: A Kinda, Sorta, Something or Other Retrospective



When I think of Julianne Moore I think of her as Mia, the moody middle child who’s come home, mostly reluctantly, for Thanksgiving, as you do, in “The Myth of Fingerprints” (1997). She’s so emotionally sequestered, leaning on acerbic put-downs and mirthless facial expressions for communication, yet letting that armor subtly crack almost in spite of herself to reveal someone who somewhere lost something, whatever it was (unless it never existed [which is totally possible]). It’s my favorite performance in my third favorite film of all time. It means a ton. Rumor has it the moron writing this post once sat in the gazebo Ms. Moore sat in while filming said movie.

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Rumor has is that Julianne Moore is set to earn her first Oscar this coming Sunday. And not just any old Oscar but the big kahuna – Best Actress – for her work in the admittedly schmaltzy “Still Alice.” Of course, because it’s admittedly schmaltzy what’s happened is that this prospective Oscar victory is already being applied with that most unfortunate of labels, the label that Chris Connelly gave it on The Grantland Oscar Preview, the label of Career Achievement.

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When I think of Julianne Moore I think of her as Dr. Allison Reed in Ivan Reitman’s oh-right-I-forgot-that-existed “Evolution” (2001) even though she functioned less as a Movie Character than a Walking Female Stereotype. Or maybe that should be, a Tripping Female Stereotype, seeing as how she is a written as a woman who, in spite of her no doubt impressive resume, spends most of the movie stumbling, falling, dropping files, walking into sliding glass doors, and turning up not so much to “help save the day” as “fall in love with David Duchovny.” Yet in playing the role, Julianne Moore figuratively sighs, metaphorically shrugs, and attacks those tropes with vigor, walking into that sliding glass door like she really didn’t see it and telling Orlando Jones “you're so brave” like the dental assistant of the year. Rotten Tomatoes score be damned, she brought it.

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Career achievement is really no different from Lifetime Achievement, but they already officially give out Lifetime Achievement statues at the Academy Awards, usually to people who should have won individual Oscars and didn’t (see: Lauren Bacall), and so the pop culture axiom is therefore amended to Career Achievement. The veiled meaning is that the precise performance for which the recipient officially earned the award wasn’t “award worthy”, per se, but that because the recipient has given so many “award worthy” performances over the course of his/her career, it’s “time” for him/her to win this one. That narrative's a favorite come Oscar Sunday. “We try to impose a narrative on everything where it doesn’t exist,” Ms. Moore once said in an interview with Lauren Waterman, “because we like narrative.”

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When I think of Julianne Moore I think about how when this happened in the movie theater I didn't breathe for two minutes.



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We do! We do like narrative! I like narrative! It’s why I have firmly (pathetically) held onto the narrative I formed a long time ago at an Academy Awards far, far away (read: the spring of 1998) that SHE deserved the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her peerless work in “Boogie Nights” as an adult actress cum den mother, not Kim Basinger. And that's wholly unfair. That diminishes the work of Ms. Basinger. Hell, it diminishes their fellow nominees, the fiercely comic work of Joan Cusack in “In & Out” and the sumptuously charming work of Minnie Driver in “Good Will Hunting”. And it would totally diminish the work of Moore herself right here, right now in “Still Alice”, a performance that stands on its own just fine, thank you, and has nothing to do with rectifying one blogging moron's pre-Y2K grievance.

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When I think of Julianne Moore I think of her in “Far From Heaven”, trapped in both Todd Haynes’ Eisenhower-era ecosphere and the mold of a 1950's housewife, a living, breathing Stepford Wife, like a woman who's in witness protection and doesn't know it. She can be such a relentlessly emotional actor, yet here it's all internalized because the society in which she's been immured stifles and free-thinking and when she starts have free thoughts she has no idea where they are supposed to go. It's the most buttoned-up emotional frenzy you ever did see, a face warmed by 1950's-era Technicolor that's iced over. You know how Niagara Falls looks right now in the midst of this Siberian Express? That's Moore.

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Cinema Romantico’s had a few imbecilic moments over the years but one of the most imbecilic was smugly “re-evaulating” Julianne Moore's career a few years back, decrying a pattern, as I detected it, of, to paraphrase Ben Affleck as himself in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”, doing the art picture and then doing the safe picture, over and over, again and again. “The Hours” to “Laws of Attraction”, and so on. I was characterizing her as a certain kind of actress and to characterize her as a certain kind of actress was to designate her career as a particular thing.

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Remember in “The Big Lebowski” when Julianne said “The little Lebowski urban achiever, yes, and proud we are of all of them”? Remember how she said it? That was awesome.

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The term Career Achievement would seem to imply an accounting of each performance in a person's considerable career. Except that in the context of an Academy Award it merely works to diminish and dismiss the performance for which the recipient is claiming this award. This performance, the term is implying, does not matter as much as that performance, or that other performance, and in the face of these performances, all the rest of her performances don't much matter. And in the case of Julianne Moore that is ridiculous because in the case of Julianne Moore her career is only as deep and righteous as every last entry on her IMDB page. Writing yesterday on Grantland about the Best Actor race Mark Harris referred to Jeff Bridges' victory a few years back for Crazy Heart, “a win,” he said, “that represents appreciation for a performance that feels like a summary of all that’s good about an actor.” And that's a sentiment I can get behind so much more than Career Achievement, and especially when it comes to Julianne Moore because when it comes to Julianne Moore all that's good about her is, quite frankly, everything.

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The late Robert Altman once said this: “People come to me about “Cookie's (Fortune)” and ask, “Did Julianne know what she was doing? Did she do that on purpose? What was that?" And I say, “Jesus, I don’t know. Sometimes I see it and I think that she really was getting back at her sister and other times I don’t. I don’t know." And they say, “How can you not know?” I say, “Well, how should I know?” 



2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I read to your long long long winded blog about Julianne Moore. you must worship this uninformed talentless hack on a daily basis. I see no redeeming qualities in her acting, her looks, or anything else about her. It is your prerogative to do so, but frankly as an actress which is the only means by which I choose to form an opinion of her, I think she stinks. and for someone who's been in Hollywood for a long time, why in God's name, oops not God's name why on earth or in the universe can she not bleach her teeth?
They're not just off-white; they're bright yellow
and painful to look at. Not an attractive woman...
not a talented actress. Just a hack.

Nick Prigge said...

Incisive.