If I could pick the winner of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar with a wave of my hand, I would give it to either Up In The Air‘s Vera Farmiga or Nine‘s Marion Cotillard. Primarily because they’re not Mo’Nique, but also because they play far more interesting women with greater portions of shading, strength and simple charm.
It’s easy to play two colors, as Mo’Nique does in Precious — i.e., repulsively malicious and boo-hoo-poor-me. It’s much harder to make a performance work without all the eyeball-glaring and emotional grandstanding, which is what Farmiga and Cotillard manage to do.
I admired the steady toughness in Cotillard’s wife-of-Guido performance, but especially the steel in her girlfriend-of-John-Dillinger role in Public Enemies, which of course is equal (if not superior) to her work in Nine. I’ve already noted that her entire Public Enemies performance can be summed up in that “bye-bye Blackbird” scene, and that she nails it cold.
And Farmiga achieves so much more in Up In The Air than Mo’Nique does in Precious….forget about it. The sexy-businesswoman warmth of her early scenes with Clooney, the calm frankness she radiates in counselling the heartbroken Natalie (Anna Kendrick) in that second-act bar scene, and the take-it-or-leave-it aloofness she conveys in her final conversation scene with Clooney. She’s really the greatest in this film, and yet Mo’Nique has the heat because…she’s badass Mo’Nique!
I wrote this morning that the cruelty in Mo’Nique’s Mary character is so malignant and beyond-the-pale that it seems like a perverse reach. What parent or human being with a shred of conscience or humanity wouldn’t recoil at such a fiendish depiction? And who the hell would vote for it? What good can it do to put such an aberrational life form in a movie? Mary is a simple case of evil sensationalism. You might as well feature a parent who kills and eats kittens every day — what’s the difference?
It’s very easy to be “evil.” The trick is to present evil in a way that (a) people recognize as something they’ve known within themselves or people they’ve run into, etc., or (b) has a commanding sense of style and pizazz.
I would also approve Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air — a much fresher and livelier performance with many more ingredients.