Friday, August 20, 2010

Ellen Burstyn in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Ellen Burstyn received her third Oscar nomination and won her only Oscar to date for playing Alice Hyatt, a widow, who tries to support her child while also wanting to become a singer in Martin Scorsese's fogotten little movie Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. She wasn't much of a front-runner that year (I guess they must have thought it was Faye's time), but I think it helped her a great deal that she was expected to win the previous year and yet lost (What a surprise!!!!LOL).

This movie has such a long title that I don't want to type it. It's DEFINITELY not Scorsese's biggest masterpiece, but it's not that bad, despite the fact that it's boring and a bit annoying. The supporting actors give solid performances at best, personally I don't think that Diane Ladd was that good, but I agree that she shined in some scenes. And boy that kid annoyed the HELL out of me, I mean he was such an utterly stupid little bastard that I'm not surprised that the guy beat him (totally deserved if you ask me).

However, Ellen Burstyn whom I admire very much (Gosh, how did she lose for Requiem for a Dream? OUTRAGE! SCANDAL!) gives an excellent perfomance as Alice Hyatt and she's even able to hold the movie together with her great acting. The role of Alice is partly interesting: it's not a very baity role, but it has some big opportunities for Burstyn, who's always able to shine. Probably the best word to describe this performance is charismatic. Burstyn has a kind of magnetic presence which always attracts your eyes and therefore steals the whole movie (as she's in almost every scene).

When we get to know Alice, she's just a houswife having a rough husband and a stupid, annoying smart-ass child. It's so heartbreaking when she's crying while she sleeps on the bed and after that has a tender moment with her husband. However, her world turns upside down when she unexpectedly becomes a widow. The scene where she receives the phone call about her husband's death is simply terrific: it's so heartbreakingly real the way she screams. Yes, it's a bit over-the-top scene, however I think that Burstyn was as subtle with that scene as possible.

It's marvellous how effortlessly Burstyn goes to point B from point A with this character. We're entertained so well that we do not really notice how well Alice develops. Burstyn totally lived this character and became one with her. Actually I think that Ellen Burstyn is a perfect chameleon: she always disappears in her roles and becomes one with them (let's face it: real method actors are simply brilliant). I always saw Alice Hyatt in the movie and never Ellen Burstyn.

Probably the greatest scenes of her performance come along when she's struggling to become a singer and meets Harvey Keitel. Her quiet desperation in the scene where's literally begging for a job is simply hearbreaking: there's such a huge reality and experience behind it. Burstyn was completely able to catch the thoughts of this character. Her big scene with Harvey Keitel when he attacks her is also magnificent: the terror and fear in her eyes makes it very hard to watch and yet it keeps you very interested.

Her so-called "chemistry" with Kris Kristofferson is also OK, though a bit more romance could have been useful to that storyline. Actually it's more of the director's fault that he almost ignored it. Ellen is great in those scenes too, but I wished for a bit more fire in it, if you know what I mean.

Her initial feud with Flo (and then friendship) is also very well-acted by Burstyn (and also Diane Ladd). She perfectly showed the rivalries, but also the fellowship between women. I love their dialogues very much and I found them very clever and credible. I liked the scene where they were relasing while sunbathing and chatting, it was a very naturally and flawlessly solved sequence.

It was also a great achievement that she was able to make her scenes with her son very loveable and not as annoying as the kid himself. But I must also tell that I missed something from this performance. I don't know what, but something seemed a bit off. I guess that she never had such a huge breakdown scene which could have made it even more impressive.

Nevertheless, I can honestly say that I saw a very-very fantastic performance by an actress I love and I was quite impressed by her. It's not her greatest performance (hello Requiem for a Dream and The Exorcist), but it's still an unforgettable and excellent portrayal of an ordinary woman.
So what do you think? I'm looking forward to reading your predictions. Who should be the next reviewed lady?


Fritz said...

Mmh, everyone loves her except me. For me, she is the opposite of charismatic.

Malcolm said...

I'm excited to see Dunaway!

I'm always fascinated to see that film

Anonymous said...

I LOVE this performance and film! The scene near the farm where she's all, "Can I touch your beard?" is just, like, amazing.

Louis Morgan said...

I have not seen this film but I wonder what you thought of her in Harry and Tonto?

joe burns said...

I think she'll come in second or third. I love the performance, and the film is pretty good.

dinasztie said...

OK. So Faye's next.

Louis: I liked her to a degree, but in that movie nobody had a chance to shine as they were overshadowed by the brilliant Art Carney.