Thursday, August 19, 2010

Diahann Carroll in Claudine

Diahann Carroll received her only Best Actress nomination for playing Claudine, a single black woman raising six children while balancing between work and her love life with Roop (James Earl Jones) in the movie Claudine. I'm quite sure that Carroll did not have much chance to win that award, she was probably the fourth in the voting or maybe fifth. The race was probably between Faye and Gena, while Ellen emerged victorious.

Claudine is a fairly enjoyable, but bit boring movie about a struggling black family. It's a kind of dramedy, but that does not really describe its genre. It's a kind of mix of optimistic comedy and some heavy drama. Some really hate it, but I did not have any serious problems with it. The same goes for the performance of James Earl Jones: I'm not mad about it, however I certainly enjoyed it to a degree.

But that doesn't apply for Diahann Carroll's excellent, even fantastic performance. OK, I confess I only know her from her guest spot on Grey's Anatomy, but she's not that famous, is she. Nevertheless she rocks in this part giving a very strangely loveable and absolutely believable performance. She perfectly caught the simple problems of this woman: she's struggling in her life, tries to get welfare and find someone she can rely on. The part is very ordinary is far from being an Oscar role and yet she was able to get much more out of her material than she was supposed to be. Although Claudine is a very standard character, she gave a surprisingly layered performance. We get to know so many faces of this woman: she's angry, desperate, romantic, loveable, self-sacrificing, devastated, sad and happy. She shows so many feelings with which we are all too familiar.

I salute Carroll's courage that sometimes she dared make Claudine unlikable. Like all of us, she's not a perfect person, she has her own flaws and fears. Carroll knows the emotions of this character very well and she handles them perfectly. She gently and subtly lets us close to this very ordinary woman with painfully real problems: children, work, family. I also loved how effortlessly she does this: I never felt for a single moment that she was forced or not credible. I just saw Claudine living her life on screen.

Carroll has many very memorable scenes in which she certainly shows how much strength she has as a performer. For example she was unforgettable when her daughter comes home and vomits while Claudine supports her and tries to help, but she's also furious. Carroll's so heartbreakingly natural and real in that short scene: she shows how strong a mother's love and protective instinct can be when her child is in trouble. I was certainly very moved by that scene and it cannot be erased from my memory.

She has many confrontation scenes with everyone in that movie and yet her character never really becomes overbearing or hysterical. She just dealing with her problems and that's it. There's nothing bad about that, she's just acting as a normal person would/should.

I also loved that her character never really became the "suffering single woman", even though she Carroll could easily have played her that way. She just made the best decision: she made her a living, breathing everyday woman you can easily relate to and feel some kind of sympathy for her.

So to sum up, I saw an excellent and very strong performance full of memorable scenes. Although the heavy drama was missing and her material was not the best one ever, Diahann was fantastically real as a struggling woman in Harlem. This nomination was richly deserved and in a weaker year, it could have earned Carroll an Oscar win. Originally I was thinking about giving her a four, but I say whatsoever and give her more as I think she perfectly deserves this.

So what do you think? What are your predictions for my ranking?


hey deanie said...

I liked her a lot in this film. She's fantastic.
And Diahann herself is a legend, very famous indeed.

Louis Morgan said...

This performance is usually well liked but it seems never the film.

1. Gena Rowlands
2. Ellen Burstyn
3. Faye Dunaway
4. Diahann Carroll
5. Valerie Perrine

dinasztie said...

Perhaps I should get to know her career more. Anyway any suggestions about who should be the next reviewed lady?

joe burns said...

I agree on everything! I didn't really care for the movie though, but she made it worth watching.

Do Ellen next!

Kiersten said...

This movie is a classic and so is Diahann Carriol this woman is remarkable and so is her work and yes Diahann is very famous! lol where have you been?? :)