Friday, December 17, 2010

Liza Minnelli in The Sterile Cuckoo

Liza Minnelli received her first Best Actress nomination for playing Pookie Adams, a sad young girl in The Sterile Cuckoo, a movie that is EXTREMELY hard to find. I have read on some of the imdb message boards (some time ago) that this was only a sympathy nomination for her because of the recent death of her mother (back to that later). I think that she really did not have that much chance to win, I think she might have been fifth in the voting after all.

The Sterile Cuckoo is a very good movie, which is sometimes a bit boring, but it has so much heart and it really has some very important things to say. Wendell Burton gives a proper performance as Jerry, but he does not really reach the stars with his acting. Everything is fine, but his role is almost just a supporting one if we observe it's importance and impact. Pookie is the main character and although Jerry has more scenes, this movie is about Pookie. I must also add that Come Saturday Night is a really touching song, which easily could have won the Oscar, but I'm OK with Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head too.

Now to Liza Minnelli: whoever told on those imdb boards that Liza only got the nomination because of the death of her mother and guilt is either stupid as hell or hasn't seen the movie. These are the only reasonable explanations. Liza gives quite probably the most heartbreaking performance I have ever seen, plain and simple. Not necessarily the best or the most effective, but the most heartbreaking on for sure. She takes an ordinary character full of pain and vulnerablity and she just did magic with it: Pookie is so alive and loveable.

First of all, the character of Pookie is one of the most dangerous ones ever: there's much more chance of becoming annoying while playing it than being this effective. If she had gone too much over-the-top with Pookie's weird personality, her whole performance would have failed. She is always on the edge of failing actually, but her enormous talent just does not let it. Instead, we get an extremely beautiful and charming performance from the very beginning.

Actually, the fact that The Sterile Cuckoo became a very effective and moving movie is all due to Liza Minnelli. She's so towering and gets so much more out of it than anyone. I wouldn't say that this is a role that is tailor-made for her (I think that is Sally Bowles), but nobody else could have played Pookie better. Unlike Sally Bowles, Pookie is not a woman who is morally ruined but they are both extremely vulnerable. Liza always underlines this aspect of the character: Pookie is an extremely lonely, miserable girl, who is so thrilled by a little happiness in her life. However, Pookie also has much fear that it will not last forever. Liza is unforgettable in the scene, where Pookie tells her feelings to Jerry. She's just sitting alone, her eyes are teary and we just feel so sorry for her.

Even from the very first moment, Liza lets us know that Pookie is an extremely tragic character and nothing great is going to happen in the end. Liza always suggests this and yet we hope that Pookie makes it after all and it's so damn devastating to find out things with her. Pookie's whole world collapses because of the selfishness of Jerry (but is he really that selfish) and Pookie is hurt once again.

This performance is full of amazing, unforgettable scenes like the one when Pookie and Jerry are looking at some tombstones and Pookie lies down in front of one. You would imagine that it is bizarre, but it's actually beautiful. Just like when she lies down on the leaves. It's just wonderful.

And yet this scenes are nothing compared to her long monologue (I think that it's without editing, but I'm not sure) on the telephone with Jerry. Boy, that's one of the best acted scenes in history. So many emotions come to the surface: disappointment, sadness, desperation and so on. When she reveals the truth about her previous vacation is just... I am speechless. It's just something I will never forget.

This is one of those cases when I got way more than I expected. Liza Minnelli's performance is not a surprise, it's fulfillment. I was moved, I laughed, I was heartbroken and went through the emtional states of Pookie. Liza Minelli gently catches you, impresses you and you will just never forget this unbelievable performance, which is one of the best ones ever.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? (Vote on the next year too!)


Louis Morgan said...

I have not seen this one, but IMBD is really not the place for intelligent film discussion most of the time. I think she might have been more favored, since in the Dick Cavett interview with Rex Reed, Minelli and Fonda seemed to be favored.

Anonymous said...

Actually, she and Fonda were apparently the frontrunners going into the race.

Anyway, totally agree. Brilliant, brilliant performance!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic! I'm so glad you liked her.

joe burns said...

I agree.. a really good review for a wonderful performance....

dinasztie said...

Glad you all liked Liza.

hey deanie: Thanks for the information. I have never been able to read anything about this race. I only knew that Maggie was an upset winner.

Fritz said...

Great review, but I haven't seen it yet. And yes, I think that she and Jane were the frontrunners (this might have helped them to win only two and three years later).
And I agree with Louis. For me, the imdb-boards are horrible. Whenever I need a good laugh, I go to the politics-forum :-)

dinasztie said...

LOL, yeah, I was watching a forum for Mary Tyler Moore, where someone was arguing that he/she would never watch her again beacuse of politics. :D

Anonymous said...

Excellent review. I love this movie and you can't help but vicariously fall in love with Pookie Adams. She's emotionally dangerous but at the same time irresistible. A tragic love story. I don't think we will see another film like this one in a long time. It's from another space and time.