Thursday, February 17, 2011

Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point

Shirley MacLaine received her fifth Oscar nomination (fourth in the Best Actress category) for playing Deedee Rodgers, a former ballerina and a housewife in Herbert Ross' Best Picture nominated movie, The Turning Point. It's interesting to think about Shirley's Oscar chances here: on the one hand, she was considered overdue, on the other hand, her performance was not big and celebrated enough and did not sweep the precursors. She was pretty much like her sister-in-law, Annette Bening this year. I guess she was the fourth in the voting.

The Turning Point is a fine, if a bit boring movie. When I first saw it, I thought it was horrible with horrible writing and awful performances. Now, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. I don't know it might be my Black Swan mania but I found The Turning Point quite good. It was nominated for not less, than 11 Oscars and won NONE of them (just like The Color Purple). However, I think that 2 nominations were just jokes: although Mikhail Baryshnikov and Leslie Brown show some fantastic dancing, their acting is mediocre at best. No wonder they lost to real actors.

Ok, I don't know if I have previously mentioned this, but I just can't stand Shirley MacLaine. Although everyone seems to be so crazy about her Oscar speech, I think it was very big-faced and it did not show any humility or grace. It was funny for sure but it wasn't very appropriate. Moreover, I did not really like her remarks about her loss to Elizabeth Taylor. However, I always try to overcome my dislike for her personality and I want to concentrate and focus on her work in certain movie as I think she's a very good actress.

It's very rare when two performers from the same movie are nominated together in a leading category. In the supporting categories, it's much easier not to compare them. However, when you have two lead nominees, the comparisions are inevitable. You see, have you heard any discussions about F. Murray Abraham without Tom Hulce being mentioned at once? You always hear: he was terrific but Hulce was just as good. Same goes for Thelma and Louise, Terms of Endearment (Shirley again) and the ladies from The Turning Point. Especially, The Turning Point and especially Shirley MacLaine in it. There's one reason for that: I think that Shirley is so dependant on the role of Anne Bancroft and she also relies on Bancroft and the other actors very much.

I know that I should put this a bit more kindly but here's the truth: Deedee's role is boring and uninteresting. There I said it. There isn't much in the screenplay for her and although there are big moments for Shirley, there is no real top of the whole performance. Let's face it: Deedee is an unhappy woman who regrets her decision (which she made a really long time ago) and she's jealous of her old friend and acts in a very bitchy way with everyone. This is pretty much only the top of the iceberg but Shirley somehow added some real humanity to this real. She portrays all the emotions of Deedee extremely well though she's not required to do much.

The first (and biggest) problem with this performance (and the reason why it cannot really work) is that Shirley let herself be a victim of the weakness of the screenplay. She sank into it without trying to swim. She gets into the background too often and even though she has almost twice as much screentime as Anne Bancroft, Shirley seemed to be much more supporting than Anne. Shirley doesn't have much time either and quite frankly, when she wasn't on screen, I did not really miss her and not because I could still feel the strength and radiance of her presence but because I wasn't interested in her. I was like "OK, here she is, she's good and then she's gone. OK, there are other actors here." Shirley's performance was never very fulfilling and substantial.

Also, I don't think that Shirley gave her best here. I never felt that she tried hard enough to be something really great. She has some very intense moments, like the confrontation scene between her and her daughter. Deedee reacts so badly to confrontation and she instantly starts accusing others. The greatest achievement of Shirley was that she was able to show that there's some kind of an emotional bubble around Deedee and she's just unable to express her emotions in subtle way. She just immediately starts being bitchy. That huge catfight scene between her and Anne Bancroft would have been quite ridiculous (like something from Melrose Place or Dynasty) if they hadn't laugh in the end. I was a really honest reaction which was nailed by Shirley (more on Anne later). It totally fit Deedee's character. Those scenes are extremely memorable and might just make up for the rest.

So, to sum up, Shirley MacLaine's performance in The Turning Point is a bit mixed bag. On the one hand, her presence is not strong enough, doesn't fight against the weakness of the screenplay and she doesn't give the work of a lifetime. On the other hand, she has some very strong and well-acted scenes, which may not make up for the rest completely but they're quite good.

I go for this strong 3,5.

What do you think?

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