Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sally Field in Places in the Heart

Sally Field received her second Oscar nomination and Academy Award for playing Edna Spalding, a widowed mother who's trying to keep her farm during the Depression in the Oscar-winning movie of Robert Benton, Places in the Heart. Sally's win seems to be one of the most inexplicable Oscar wins of all time considering the fact that she wasn't due and she didn't knock this performance out of the part enough to come out victoriously for a second time. However, the fact that three of her fellow nominees were previous winners and that Judy Davis didn't get Best Actress awards because of her own co-star must have been the reason why Sally took home and was able to deliver her infamous "You like me" speech. I wonder what would have happened if Peggy Aschcroft had been campaigned in leading (I guess Geraldine Page would have won in 1984, Whoopi in 1985 and Lorraine Bracco in 1990; oh damn it).

Places in the Heart is excellent entertainment but nothing more, really. I seem to be underestimating a Best Picture nominee, which in my opinion is not the case, I just think that it has no right to be among masterpieces like Amadeus and winning Original Screenplay over Broadway Danny Rose. Still, Places in the Heart is a delightful, pleasant experience after which you have no trouble going back to your daily stuff, you just feel a little bit better. Lindsay Crouse and John Malkovich received Oscar nominations for their respective supporting performances though I think it was a deserved honor only in Malkovich's case (and just because it was a shitty field; and yes, he still stood next to me a couple of weeks ago. lol). 

Although the fact that Sally Field is a two-time-Oscar-winner pisses of a lot of people and I find it weird as well, it's still really unfair to compare her to Hilary Swank. In my humble opinion, Sally Field is a really-really talented actress (seriously, anyone who can say really-really as fast as her deserves an Oscar for that alone): she tends to go over the top and yet that leads to excellence and memorability (see Norma Rae). Television lead roles and supporting roles in feature film fit her better not because she's "inferior" by any means, it's just that she's the best when she can concentrate her energy for a shorter period of time (honestly, who can forget her as Abby's mom on ER or her being the single worthy thing of attention in Forrest Gump). 

The character of Edna Spalding would be an lead excellent for a tv series. Places in the Heart seems to be a "best moments" version of a season of a tv show with its many characters and storylines. Edna would be indeed an excellent lead there: she would be the center of all the storylines and I presume she would be able to carry a whole show on her shoulders, especially if a talented actress got to plax her (maybe even Sally Field). There would be great episodes (just like there are great scenes here) with the titles "The Death of Mr Spalding", "The New Worker" or "The Tornado". However, this episodic sturcture of the film prevents it from being really deep. 

And unfortunately, that applies to Sally Field's character as well. She suffers a lot from the many storylines: despite being the most interesting person in the whole film, she doesn't get to develop and not even Sally is able to do much with her. When we first see her, she's a hard-working, dedicated mother and wife and she remains so in the end. Maybe in this case, the character shouldn't change so much but I never saw that she really was going through anything at all. There isn't enough time for her to show her grief and it seems as if nothing happened. It wasn't drama I missed, it was reality. I feel that instead of the useless Amy Madigan/Ed Harris storyline, the director should have focused more on Edna's story.

I suppose this is the reason why many people consider Sally's performance a total disaster and a terribly unworthy winner. However, I feel that with Sally's natural charm and radiant presence, this one turns out to be a pleasant and lovely experience. Although it's true that Edna doesn't really go from point A to point be, Sally almost completely makes up for it with her warmth and kindness.

The aspect that Sally nails the most in this part is Edna's steadfast determination and willingness to fight for her family's survival. She's not a loud revolutionary like Norma Rae, she's more quiet, more careful and she tries not to get to emotional. I suppose with such a character, Sally Field could have done so much more but Edna didn't provide her with meaty monologues. Whether you like it or not, Sally has to chew the scenery to make a performance work. Without that, she becomes a bit insignificant.

Still, Sally's able to be effective in many of the scenes and she makes it impossible not to sympathise with her character. With the struggles of Edna being so emphasised, it was very difficult to screw up this aspect and thankfully, Sally was able not to do so.

Sally's best scene comes towards the end when John Malkovich's character asks her to describe how she looks like. It's probably the single greatest thing that Sally achieves in this movie. She manages to give some real depth to her character and we get to discover that she's a real woman besides her admirable heroism and motherly instinct.Watching Edna softening during a scene is just a wonderful experience and her chemistry with John Malkovich there (and Danny Glover in the rest of the movie) is just wonderful.

In the end, I can conclude that while Sally Field does nothing spectacular or really significant with her character, she still gives a proper and likeable performance as Edna in Places in the Heart. The screenplay and the movie is seriously working against her and she wasn't given enough opportunities to fight against it and maybe she didn't even have the strength as an actress in the first place. Still, her performance works just like Places in the Heart does: it relaxes you, entertains you. It's like drinking a cup of tea: it feels good but hardly makes you come.

What do you think? As you can see, I'm back. I'm not yet back on full speed (it comes after 21 June) but I'll be able to post at weekends. One or two posts/week seems realistic. I'll say when it changes. :) Hope my return was satisfactory for all of you guys and I hope you missed my craziness. :) 


Oscargrouching said...

I agree with your rating and review

Fritz said...

I like her more. She's just so touching in some parts.

Nues20 said...

Yay you're back!
Great review - I agree with you mostly.
I think Norma Rae was a stronger Oscar win for her.

Could you all please support my blog

I have done 2006, 2008 and 2009 all this week.

Please comment and follow!

dinasztie said...

Nues20: I'll gladly support your blog though not THAT regulary yet but after 21 June, I'll read & comment regularly. Good luck with your blog and above all, have fun! That's the most important.

Cole said...

I didn't see this film so I can't say anything about Sally's performance but I really love her as an actress and as a person.
Glad you're finally back :) not yet in full speed but back!

mrripley said...

Yes you are back,thank goodness,i do check every day.

i don't mind the win because the other 4 are just ok plus lange,spackek,redgrave all have wins from me anyway and so does sally but she really is the best here,did you like her in steel magnolias,i think she is our 2012 welcome back nominee for lincoln.

dinasztie said...

This is what I not so secretly wished for. A sweet welcome back. :) Thanks y'all.

Anonymous said...

Yay for you're return! Sally is one of the least talked about double Oscar winners (especially this perf) so I'm glad to see something about her!

Louis Morgan said...

I think I completely agree about her performance and the film itself.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back! And a great review!
I liked A Passage to India better than you did. I think it's a great movie.