Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman

Debra Winger received her first Oscar nomination for playing Paula Pokrifki, a girl falling for a man who's training in her town to become an aviator in the box office hit, An Officer and a Gentleman. When Debra received her nomination, her father went on record and said that they were very happy about her nomination and all of them (including Debra) believed that Meryl should win the Oscar. Since I can't officially agree or disagree with him (since I have two other ladies left), let me just say how cool it was to say that. Anyhow, I keep wondering how the Academy voted, especially in her case. Jessica was probably second (more on that later), but Debra could have been fifth, fourth or even third, considering the huge success of the movie. I suppose it was a tough one between Julie and her, but honestly, 95% of the votes went to Meryl and Jessica and they were battling out the rest.

To fully show what kind of a movie An Officer and a Gentleman is, let me just reveal the very last scene (SPOILER): Richard Gere takes out Debra Winger on his arms, while the factory workers are clapping around them and you can hear the famous, very 80s theme of the movie. (SPOILER OFF!) Are you f-ing kidding with me? Seriously, it's one of the lamest "romantic" endings I have ever seen (wonder where Titanic's ending came from). Overall, it's no wonder that this film was a smash hit in the early 80s. I suppose the same thing would happen nowadays. Louis Gossett Jr. gives a memorable performance, but that's no something I would give him an Academy Award (Supporting Actor was really weak that year; or isn't it every year?).

Where are you Debra Winger? OK, In Treatment and occasionally fighting with Anne Hathaway, but I am really curious what she would be able to get out of her parts nowadays, at this point of her life. Rachel Getting Married wonderfully showed all the potential she had inside, revealing tons of emotions in very limited screentime. However, thirty years ago she wasn't a real household name yet, despite receiving great acclaim and a Golden Globe nomination for Urban Cowboy. I suppose her Best Actress nomination came just like Rooney Mara's this year. Both of them had a praised supporting performance and along came a role in a box office hit that brought them an Oscar nod.

After providing E.T. with her voice, Debra played Paula, which I consider her finest performance that I've seen. Although An Officer and a Gentleman has basically no clue about how people and life work, Debra was able to turn in a beautiful, wonderful and deeply layered performance in one of the most one-dimensional role an actress can get. Obviously, it was Richard Gere who got the big, flashy scene (screwed up most of them royally) and Debra got the little screentime and the (sort of) unshowy part, which is considered a supporting role by many. Then how the hell is Debra so fantastic here?

I suppose Debra's greatness in this movie has a lot to do with the fact that she didn't have a very polished style of acting at the time. In Terms of Endearment, I sensed that she was playing for the tears and the effect,  but in An Officer and a Gentleman, I felt purity, naturality and beauty coming from her presence. She had lots of confidence here and she almost bursts with the energy inside her. Her deep, throaty voice just adds up to the fantastic outcome of this performance. She's wonderfully sexy and completely irresistable.

When we first see her, she's not an otherworldy, beautiful creature one would expect in a romantic movie, she seems actually quite ordinary. She's a working girl (it kills me just to think about Melanie Griffith), waiting for the end of her shift. However, after a fast change in a car, she becomes a wonderful, beautiful, attractive woman, who's a radiant, irresistable presence. She doesn't overdue the tough worker act, she doesn't make Paula a loud, over-the-top woman (something that an actress of Melissa Leo's calibre would have done with Paula). She just makes Paula the most natural person in the work and as a result, it's just impossible not to fall in love with her.

What I most admire about Debra here, is her ability to communicate Paula's emotions with her wonderfully expressive. She gets dialogues and says her lines, but everything that's important is written on her face. She has an effect on you with some very delicate and subtle impressions. For instance, in the ball scene where she's doing nothing, really, except for flirting with Richard Gere. She makes her character so myseterious and wonderfully deep, it's as if she wanted to seduce the audience as well (she succeeded, brilliantly).

Debra's chemistry with Richard Gere is pretty miraculous and that leads to the most fantastic scenes of Debra, like the ones in the motel room. Debra basically shines in these scenes: there's something about them that still keeps resonating with me. I don't know if I felt sympathy or even pity for Paula but I sure had some intense feelings about her.

The highlight of her whole performance is her monologue about her real father and her (kind of) break-up with Richard Gere's character. She's just haunting in this scene, revealing the soul of this girl. Again, what's important is really on her face and not in what she says.

Many people ask the question: is she leading or supporting? Frankly, my answer is obviously leading. Despite the screenplay's intentions, she's the emotional centrepoint of this movie and she provides us with the most memorable moments of her so-so movie. I guess the only thing I could have against her is the fact that despite the wonderful, even haunting effect she had on me, she didn't hit me really hard. But frankly, with this role, she did way more than it could be expected in this movie.

All things considered, Debra Winger is incredibly great in An Officer and a Gentleman, giving a deeply layered, very emotional and haunting performance that didn' cease to amaze me. She gets so much out of this seemingly one-dimensional character with the help of her wonderful, beautiful presence. She's just wonderful all around.

What do you think?

13 comments:

Louis Morgan said...

I pretty much agree she makes far more than one would expect out of her material.

Fritz said...

I expected you to love her. :-)

I also think that she got the best out of what she was given but that's still too little for me.

Sissy said...

Agree with Fritz, still I loved her in Cannery Row...

Anonymous said...

Debra Winger is a terrific and wasted actress. She didn't even have to speak to be stunning in Rachel Getting Married. In 1982, she is my third place, making Paula a three-dimensional character out of nothing.

Eddie.
p.s. Is it true she provided the voice for ET? I always thought it was an urban legend.

Derek Bowman said...

I'm not a fan of this perf. I like Debra Winger, but she just can't take this material anywhere, and Richard Gere is pretty awful.

Calum Reed said...

You're making me choke on my cheerios. This is a serviceable performance but nothing more, and she has hardly anything to do.

Far better in "Terms of Endearment" a year later.

dinasztie said...

You would probably choke to death reading heydeanie's review of her. :P

mrripley said...

I would have nominated her,gere,keith,gossett and blount in 82.

hey deanie said...

^ Hahaha! Love the shout-out as much as I love her in this movie. Thrilled that you liked her so much.

Anonymous said...

I was an extra in an Officer and Gentleman and Debra Winger had an elitist attitude.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't help responding to your comment "An Officer and a Gentleman has basically no clue about how people and life work"...

You are so far off the mark on this. I was an "Officer and a Gentleman" and I can tell you the portrayal of officer candidate training at that time was so spot on it was unnerving. The naivety with which all of us young men went into these things does not negate the very real aspect of Vietnam, military bearing and striving to find ourselves. The way women were both adored, worshipped and yet denied in those times made Debra Winger's part fit perfectly.

In those days we had TV but no internet, no social networking... nothing to view the world from a higher altitude than the narrow perspective of dramatisations that created reality more than portraying it.

If you are a movie buff then pay closer attention to the details. The opening scenes with the whores, that father who was forced to care but actually did little more than tolerate his son... the numbness of innocence revealed in that first lineup of civilians on their journey to becoming officers.

I was there. The portrayal of the "Peugeot Sound Debs"... all very real.

I was, in fact the reality of this movie that popularised it more than the sentimental nonsense seen on the surface by a few who only seem to remember the ending yet few questioned who was saving whom.

Anonymous said...

I thought Debra Winger was wonderful in the role of Paula--her acting is subtle, e.g, a slight lift of the eyebrow as Sid and Zack approach the two girls at a dance--0h the anticipation--and then her heartwrenching disappointment when Sid chooses Lynette. Watch it again--she's great. Her throaty laugh is famous for a reason--it's sexy and contagious. And Richard Gere? HOT!

Anonymous said...

Another bit of input from yet anothe r"Anonyous". Difficult to critique in 2014 something created from the social preferences of 1882. Yet, wht might be the most interesting aspect about Winger's performance in OAAG was the general dislike she felt for Gere at the time. I recall that, some time later, Winger came clean how doing the "love scene was especially difficult ... due to her ambivalence toward Gere personally .. leaning much more toward not liking him.http://www.zimbio.com/Co-Stars+Who+Didn't+Get+Along/articles/XsTDJHbXf4a/Richard+Gere+and+Debra+Winger