Friday, November 2, 2012

Jill Clayburgh in Starting Over

Jill Clayburgh received her second Oscar nomination for playing Marilyn Holmberg, a neurotic schoolteacher having an on-again-off-again relationship with Burt Reynolds' character in Starting Over. Jill had previously received a Golden Globe nomination and yet I'm very surprised that she managed to pull off this nomination, considering the fact that Jill was in contention for a Drama as well. I suppose this film was more successful and had more hype than La luna. Interesting enough, three of the Comedy Actress nominees went on to receive Oscar nomination (that's something that quite rarely happens). I'm not sure if Jill or Marsha was the fifth finally, but I guess Jill had more leftover love from last year (though you can say the same about Marsha's 1977 nod). 

Although Starting Over tries to be a very intelligent romantic comedy, much in the style of Annie Hall, it becomes a weak imitation of that classic way too often. It's much more Hollywood (change Woody to Burt Reynolds) and it's humor is much less sarcastic. In fact, I didn't find this movie funny at all despite the fact that I knew which parts were supposed to make me laugh. That being said, Burt Reynolds gives a proper performance, though hardly one that screams an Oscar nomination to me. Same goes for Candice Bergen, who's really sexy and is singing that catchy song excellently, but fails to give any depth to her character. I'm not surprised by her nomination, though (she's a sexy Hollywood insider, so there we go). 

The only thing about Starting Over that's not screaming Hollywood seems to be Jill Clayburgh, fresh off her An Unmarried Woman fame. She obviously doesn't fit the criteria of the sexy Hollywood lead in this movie: first of all, co-lead at best and she's also not sexy in a very traditional way. I suppose Clayburgh's career was very much about challenging Old Hollywood's idea of how a woman really "should be" and in fact, she tried to portray the reality. And I suppose that's what made her so popular in the seventies, when American cinema took a radical turn from what it was and didn't become what it was later in the eighties. Jill Clayburgh is one of the typical 70s figures.

This way, Marilyn Holmberg also seems to be out of place in Starting Over, especially comparing her to Candice Bergen's character: Marilyn is neurotic, insecure and she's basically the definition of the ugly(ish) duckling that doesn't turn out to be a beautiful swan. Although she may be an ugly duckling, it's just impossible not to fall in love with her, when she starts yelling at Burt Reynolds in her first scene. It's easy to see why she made such a strong impression on him. 

What I really enjoy about this performance is that it's coming from an era when quirky didn't mean the annoying Zooey Deschanel, but something utterly loveable and natural. What I mostly loved about Jill here is that the charm and wit of Marilyn was coming out of her so naturally and effortlessly. This kind of performance can seem incerdibly artificial if the actress doesn't possess a natural charm. Many people compare Marilyn to Diane Keaton's Annie Hall and even accuse Jill of imitating Diane, which has some merit, though I feel it's more the screenplay that tries to outdo Annie Hall, making Marilyn even weirder, even more neurotic and putting her in even more awkward situations. Although Jill occasionally surrenders to that cause, most of the time she manages to add her very own touch to this character. 

Also, if I had to find a better comparision to this character, it would be Diane Chambers in Cheers. Shelley Long's flawless, perfect performance showed three years later (on television, Hollywood was too busy making popular blockbusters at the time) what Marilyn should have been, how she should have been written and acted. I think Long would have done miracles with Marilyn, turning her into one of the most iconic characters of the seventies, with a very simple thing: subtlty. If Jill's was also a perfect performance, I probably wouldn't be able to imagine anyone else in this part, but in every scene, I was wondering how brilliant Shelley Long would have been (and how amazing Ted Danson would have been in Burt Reynold's role!!!). You could blame it on the fact that Cheers has been on my mind lately (true), but I cannot ignore the obvious comparisions in the character.

What made me think about that is also the most brilliant chemistry ever between Danson and Long, which Reynolds and Clayburgh do no have. I should obviously think that despite all of the differences, Phil and Marilyn were destined to be together and I always had my doubts if they really were. However, I felt that it's more of Burt Reynolds' fault than Jill's. Since he failed at showing the dilemma of the character believably, Jill's excellent job seems to be wasted and the movie is about how they are supposed to be together, no matter what.

That being said, Jill Clayburgh excels the most in the scenes when Marilyn has meltdowns over Phil's behavior. Jill points out brilliantly how Marilyn becomes the most honest when she's raging and yelling. Although it's not that obvious that Marilyn is putting on a performance with her calm self, she seems way more honest this way. :)

Jill was able to make up for most of the mistakes of the screenplay: although it never intends to make Marilyn more than an interesting turn in the story, Jill created something more complex that really is, by far, the biggest achievement in the movie. Jill could have done even more with this character if she had been given better material, but she' charming even under the limitations of the story.

It boils down to one thing in the end: Jill Clayburgh gives a really charming, likeable performance in Starting Over, that really is much better than the film it's in. She  creates a very human character that seems very easy to relate to. Although her chemistry with Burt Reynolds is not perfect, the most important thing is that Jill is able to tell you why Phil fell in love with Marilyn. Very enjoyable lightweight work.

What do you think? :)


mrripley said...

A very honest review.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting write up,keep up the great work.

dinasztie said...

Thanks to both of you. :) It's probably the biggest compliment I can get. I'm trying to be more objective and less emotional about performances. When I'm really UP, I just can't be objective. :) Now everything seems more clear. I felt like putting it out there.

mrripley said...

gr8,i still feel her supporting turn in 2006's running with scissors with crimnally overlooked.

Louis Morgan said...

I have not seen this one. It is interesting that her first nomination is constantly talked about but her second rarely is. Your review though does a good job of telling why that probably is though.