In order to become a Best Actress contender this year, you apparently have to play a character who not only struggles (who doesn’t?) but suffers through anguish and misery. You can’t be nominated for playing someone who just plows right through with a robust personality and somehow makes it all work out. You have to wear the yoke around your neck and show the hurt and the steel that it takes to get through difficult stuff.
Rachel McAdams in Morning Glory
Because if you didn’t have to do that, Rachel McAdams‘ irrepressible, never-say-die Morning Glory character could leap right into the Best Actress arena. Her character, a TV morning-show producer, has the drive and pizazz to finesse a tough job in a brutal, high-pressure environment.
Her vibe isn’t the same as Judy Holliday‘s in her Oscar-winning performance in Born Yesterday, but it’s almost in the same general ballpark. Ditto Katherine Hepburn‘s Oscar-nominated performance as a headstrong heiress in The Philadelphia Story. The closest precedent, of course, is Holly Hunter ‘s Oscar-nominated news-producer performance in Broadcast News.
But no — today’s rule is that tears have to stream down your cheek and you have to get bruised and pushed and kicked around.
Black Swan‘s Natalie Portman, portraying a Manhattan ballet dancer, suffers through intense insecurity and anxiety about whether she’s good enough to satisfy her director and stave off a competitor. Poor Annette Bening suffers the pain of marital betrayal in The Kids Are All Right, and Julianne Moore — the cause of Bening’s anguish — bears the guilt of having jumped into an impulsive, unwise affair. Another Year‘s Lesley Manville is constantly grappling with alcoholism and loneliness. Jennifer Lawrence suffers through constant suspicion, hostility and threats in Winter’s Bone. Nicole Kidman‘s character is tortured by the relatively recent death of a young son in Rabbit Hole. Anne Hathaway is dealing with first-stage Parkinsons disease in Love and Other Drugs. During half of Blue Valentine Michelle Williams is grappling with a marriage that’s lost its spark and is heading downhill. And I Am Love‘s Tilda Swinton plays a Russian-born wife of an Italian industrialist whose affair with a younger man (a chef) invites terrible tragedy.
Think about Diane Keaton winning Best Actress for Annie Hall 32 years ago, and how the only downswirl issues her character went through were relationship problems with Woody Allen. That kind of female role doesn’t seem to be happening any more. Not lately it hasn’t, and certainly not this year.
I’m basically saying I wouldn’t mind if the woe-is-me moodface from all those highly-touted female performances was enlivened by a little spritzy can-do by way of McAdams.
Meet the mopies — always with the tears and the stress and the anguish and the pain. (Except, possibly, in the case of Amy Adams — I haven’t seen The Fighter yet.)