Marlee Matlin received her first (and to date only) Best Actress nomination and Oscar for her screen debut as Sarah Norman, an angry, stubborn girl in Children of a Lesser God. Nowadays, I would instantly predict her for the Oscar but that wasn't the case back then. Although she had already won the Golden Globe, most people predicted Kathleen Turner or Sissy Spacek. I'll never understand why, I guess they didn't know the Academy. You see, Kathleen Turner was a huge star at the time but I just can't see her winning for a comedy performance. Matlin's work was, however, really baity and Oscary.
Children of a Lesser God is a very nice, touching movie about deaf people and accepting them. The best word to describe it is indeed nice. It's nicely written, nicely directed and the actors give very nice performances. William Hurt received his second consecutive Oscar nomination for playing a teacher in a school for deaf children. He goes there and encourages his pupils to use their voices. Hurt shows the character's enthusiasm quite well but I think an Oscar win would have been a bit much. Piper Laurie is also very good as Sarah's mother, however, her role is a bit limited. The nom was deserved for her, though.
I don't know if Marlee Matlin is a very talented performer or a charming person full of star power. I guess the fact that she's deaf was a major drawback in her acting career, unfortunately, and that's probably why we can mostly see her on television and she rarely does movies. Nowadays, she's mostly a celebrity but she's really someone that you can look up to. I think what she does in real life is extraordinary. Still, I don't know if she's a really great actress.
The fact is that Marlee Matlin is really great as Sarah Norman but this is one of the cases when you can say "she just played herself". Indeed, the same criticism could be said about Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler or Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (though that criticism be REALLY argued) and yet both performances are considered nowadays iconic and fantastic. However, in Marlee's case that seems to be rude. Playing a deaf person must be easier for a deaf person but Children of a Lesser God is about accepting and realising that deaf people are really not that different. However, the movie (and Marlee) shows how hard it can be for them and they always have to struggle in life.
Marlee's performance here shows that struggle and fight so well. I think The Silent Scream could have been a great title for this movie. Marlee's work is extremely intense. This was her first movie so she was quite inexperienced and it fits these fierce roles so well. Just like Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone (BTW, that girl is amazing in X-Men: First Class), Marlee plays her role with this previously mentioned fierce intensity that could only be done by newcomers. She really had no vanity and always cared about what the best was for Sarah's character.
Newcomers tend to be very emotional an loud and starngely, that's the case with Marlee. She has only one line so she only has to work with her hand. Personally, I don't know the sign language but I didn't need William Hurt's interpretation to understand Marlee. Everything was in her eyes, gestures and it was a thrill just to look at her. Marlee was not afraid of making Sarah even unlikeable. I think the biggest problem with such roles is that the actors make the characters either saints or unbearable, demanding little bastards. Marlee, however, made a mor complex picture of Sarah. Sometimes she's unlikeable, sometimes she's romantic, sometimes she's angry. This whole thing is about making people realise that people with disadvantages are not different at all. Marlee wants to make us not look at Sarah as if she was something weird. And it's indeed beautiful. Moreover, the scene when she finally talks is unforgettable and it's so beautiful.
I guess my only complaint could be that sometimes the performance felt a bit incoherent and it was a little bit uneven. Still, this is great work by Marlee Matlin who didn't make Sarah the "ordinary disabled character" but she played her as a real human being instead. She beautifully portrayed all of Sarah's emotions and this was really a beautiful performance. Excellent, thought-provoking work.
I went for a very strong 4 in the end.
What do you think?