Friday, September 17, 2010

Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman

Jill Clayburgh received her first Best Actress nomination for playing Erica, a recently divorced woman living in New York in Paul Mazursky's acclaimed movie, An Unmarried Woman. In my opinion Clayburgh had a fair chance of winning as she had strong support and I think she was eventually third in the voting. The old school actors must have went with Ingrid Begman and they might have given Fonda some votes, who also had the new generation supporting her. Clayburgh must have been the most popular among women.

But enough about speculations. An Unmarried Woman is a fair movie, which is not ground-breaking, but great. OK, some say how much impact it had on today's culture, but I don't consider Sex and the City as marvellous as most people (in other words I dislike it). However, there are not that many similarities between these two, maybe the over-the-top conversations of four women. The actors give very fair performances, but they really don't have very complex roles.

When I watch a performance, I always at least try to leave expectations and previous experiences behind and focus only on its effect on me right then. Clayburgh's acting here is very much loved and applauded, some go crazy for it. I never believe in the hype and that's why I wasn't disappointed by her. I did not expect much, but I did not get that much either (or did I?). All I saw was a very strong and subtle work, which really impressed me occasionally.

Without a doubt Clayburgh's strongest and most memorable scenes are in the beginning when she plays the happily married woman who's perfectly satisfied with her life. She has a career, a great husband and a daughter, excellent sex life and lives in a huge apartment. Clayburgh never suggests that Erica doesn't feel alright. She's perfectly balanced, calm person you can truly count on. Actually, (in my opinion naturally) Clayburgh inhabited this face of Erica much better and more interesting. She's absolutely free of clichés, her acting is very impressive.

But it's a huge and significant change in Erica's life (and Jill's performance) when her husband admits cheating on her and says that he wants a divorce. Clayburgh's reaction in that scene is totally priceless: as we see this huge, pink, American dream life falling apart, it's so damn natural (their breakup scene was so much like in Far from Heaven, don't you think with the husband crying that he loves someone else) and heartwrenching. That's probably the highlight of Jill's whole work in this movie. She's 100% realistic and so damn subtle (plus she saves a horribly edited sequence).

But I just felt that from a magnificent beginning, the standard of Clayburgh's whole performance went a bit downhill. Don't misunderstand me here, I absolutely loved her afterwards too, but she really had her best moments in the first scenes. She's amazing sometimes, especially with the therapist. Right then I almost felt that I was talking to the shrink and not Clayburgh. It's funny that only after watching the whole movie did I realise her brilliance here. She's always so subtle and extremely believable.

I felt though, that Alan Bates really ruined this film. There was nothing wrong with his acting, but when he appeared, the movie slowly, but firmly fell apart. Jill was still able to grab our attention, but everything was became quite boring. However, it's mainly Clayburgh's achievement that this whole thing works. She's the engine, the power, she has so much screentime (she's practically always on-screen) and a very baity role, which is much more layered than you would think. She gets into your mind and leaves there a seed which becomes a beautiful tree if you think about it.

Right now, I have to withdraw my previous statement that I did not get much out of Jill Clayburgh's performance. It's truly-truly amazing work, which is extremely realistic, layered and powerful in its subtlety. I did not really expect to write this down when I started this review, but she's just unforgettable.
So what do you think? Ingrid is next, than Ellen.


Fritz said...

lol, when I began to read the review I thought you would give her something bad but 4,5 is the perfect grade.

Louis Morgan said...

Well done and interesting review, since it was a negative review of a performance you did rate positively.

joe burns said...

yes! She won't win, but I'm rotting for her for second!

dinasztie said...

Fritz & Louis: Well, I might have been a bit negative, but after all I really liked her.

Joe: Well, there are four other ladies left, but she has a chance to become second.