Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby

Hilary Swank received her second Best Actress nomination and win for playing Maggie Fitzgerald, an aspiring female boxer in 2004's Best Picture winner, Million Dollary Baby. Hilary Swank wasn't considered a front-runner at the beginning of the awards season as Imelda Staunton or Annette Bening were expected to win their first Oscars. Imelda was the critics' darling, Annette was the industry favorite. And there came the stupid Golden Globes that like to mix up things and give the edge to the stars (see Sandra Bullock) and then the SAG followed because (I guess) they wanted to make up for the Boys Don't Cry loss of Hilary there. These two awards created lots of buzz and in the end, Hilary's second Oscar became inevitable and she became one of the most hated actresses ever to win the award. Many compare this to Sally Field's second win though I think the only similarity between them is that they both won two Oscars from only two nods (by that, you could even compare Hilary to Vivien Leigh so come on...).

Although this was only my second watch of Million Dollar Baby, I felt I've seen it many-many times. In Rocky, The Fighter and the list could go on and on. However, Million Dollar Baby is the worst one of ALL of them. It's obvious, overly sentimental, unoriginal, extremely manipulative and, above all, awful. Yes, in my humble opinion, this choice is one of the worst ones ever made by the Academy. However, it's not Clint Eastwood who's responsible for this. In my book, he's a very good director and the directing is decent in this one but the screenplay and the story is just horrible (the screenwriter also penned Crash, just sayin'). Morgan Freeman won an Oscar but what was exactly worthy about him? His bored narrations or tired looks? Three words: Thomas Haden Church. :)

I admit that Hilary Swank is not among my favorite actresses. I am also quite pissed by the fact that she has not one but two Oscars when great actresses like Barbara Stanwyck, Irene Dunne and Glenn Close (though I hope she wins this year) never received Academy Awards. One just keeps wondering about the absurdity of Hilary's two time Oscar-winner status, while such grand dames are Oscarless. It's a real shame, in my opinion. Let's not kid ourselves: Hilary Swank is an obviously limited performer. She's good at playing masculin women but apart from that I cannot really imagine her in other roles. Also her very obvious campaigning and Oscar baiting is something very annoying to me (in many ways, she's like Melissa Leo).

Because of the above mentioned things, it's become quite chic and trendy to hate Hilary's second win for Million Dollar Baby. But does that apply to her actual performance? I've seen tons of people hating her for winning but that's mostly due to the fact that she won her second over Annette Bening and Kate Winslet. However, basically nobody talks about her actual work in Million Dollar Baby. To tell the truth, I didn't have much recollection of her work before I rewatched her.

Working from a terrible script, Hilary doesn't really have much of a chance to shine, in my opinion. Sure, there are the Oscar scenes but I don't see any real depth or emotion in them, just clear manipulation. On the outside, this role is a dream though it needs lots of hard work and dedication from the actress that I've actually seen from Hilary and yet the shallowness of the character didn't let her show what she could have done with the part. Maggie Fitzgerald is a moving cliché, much like everyone in the movie. The movie wants to make us believe that her development is real, however, I don't see any development in her at all. Even when her dream comes true, Maggie remains the very same person who's really not transformed by her success. The elliptic story of Million Dollar Baby really hurts this character and Hilary as she doesn't have the opportunity to develop her own character. Once we see her struggling and living a miserable, poor life and twenty minutes later, she's fighting at a championship. We see Maggie only as "a girl from a trailer park who has a dream".

Hilary's Oscar speech was particularly annoying to me as (after beating four way more deserving, fantastic performances from great actresses) she emphasised her cheesy sentence. "I'm just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream." Obvious and totally tasteless, she accepted in the manner of Maggie Fitzgerald. And you don't get much else from her work, either, only cheesy, "seen that, heard that, been there, done that" monologues delivered with a very annoying accent.

The movie's (and Swank's) obvious aim was to make us sympathise with Maggie and strangely enough, despite what I previously said, she succeeded on many levels. It's impossible not to feel for Maggie when we see her eating other people's leftovers and running at the beach, chasing her own dream. I admit being moved by her once or twice but I just felt so cheated, too. It was like "yeah, yeah, fine but not enough to win me over".

But again: what could Hilary do in this movie, where a great actress like Margo Martindale becomes a caricature? Nothing, but remaining what the screenplay intended her to be: a cliché, nothing more than that. She does the Oscar scenes the way she's supposed to, she's easy to sympathize with so what else can I ask for? Truth and honesty, no cheap, shallow emotions. I might be difficult to please (though I don't think so) but this performance made me angry for many reasons and never because won the Oscar over the brilliant other nominees.

What do you think?


Fritz said...

I love her in this! :-)

Alex in Movieland said...

I think she's my winner for 2004 and I completely adore the film, which is heartbreaking and... beautiful.

who cares about her speech? The performance is fantastic. :)

I could've guessed Winslet as ur choice, but not that you'll be so against Hillary. To me it wouldn't have mattered if it were her 5th win, the performance is there. the politics shouldn't count here.

anyway, that's just my opinion. :) no accidental win there.

dinasztie said...

Clearly, I'm the party breaker here. I hate everything about her damn movie and I may even say she's the best(!) thing about it.

Well, I didn't make it clear: I wanted to make a parallel between her performance as the character and as an Oscar winner. :P Both are incredibly shallow and cheap, obvious, annoying and think I'm gonna fall head over heels over her. Oh no. Hate this thing every possible way and with passion.

Alex in Movieland said...

I have no further comment, as I've clearly expressed my point. :)

dinasztie said...

Heartbreaking and beautiful film= Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. :)

Louis Morgan said...

I have never cared for the film or her performance. I don't hate her work but there is nothing I really like about it either.

Alasdair said...

I don't hate Hilary's performance as much as you do and I believe she deserved the nomination but I completely agree with your choice of Kate Winslet as the winner. Her performance as Clementine in my opinion is up there with some of the greatest performances out there. She was robbed!

Anonymous said...

Well Hilary's performance was not ground breaking but she did justice to what she was given incredibly well.Deeply felt and emotional performance and totally worthy of an oscar. Every one has his opinion and we should respect that but your review was downright cruel and personal. I enjoy your reviews so please be nice. Yes even in our criticisms too.

Anonymous said...

Envy is such a low feeling

Anonymous said...

You are so clearly angry for the fact
she has two oscars and you have nothing your frustration is so sad