Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sibling Assignment #117: Patrica Clarkson in Two Complex, Memorable Roles

InlandEmpireGirl assigned Silver Valley Girl and me a series of January assignments built around the word "best". Here's her third such assignment:

Write about a "Best Movie Because of a Memorable Role an Actor/Actress Played."

IEG wrote about On Golden Pond, here and Silver Valley Girl wrote about Braveheart, here.

Rather than reflect on one movie, I'm going to reflect on two, primarily because they are tied together by the work of Patricia Clarkson.

If you've hung around kelloggbloggin much over the last few years, you know that I deeply enjoy women over the age of about thirty-five, or maybe forty, in movies. Joan Allen. Catherine Keener. Jennifer Jason Leigh. Meryl Streep. Julianne Moore. Allison Janney. Hope Davis. Marcia Gay Harden. Helen Mirren. Laura Linney. Maria Bello. Holly Hunter. Bebe Neuwirth. You get the idea.

When any of these women, like Susan Sarandon or Sigourney Weaver, appear in a movie, it almost never matters to me if I enjoy the movie as a whole. Their work acting never disappoints me. They bring depth, maturity, vulnerability, anger, weariness, and fierceness to the screen, qualities that don't make movies popular, but are what I seek and enjoy most in film.

I've mentioned it before. I almost never watch a movie to escape reality. I watch movies to learn more about reality and these women's work has educated me emotionally and, possibly, helped me understand some of what the world, from a woman's experience, is like.

Two movies featuring Patricia Clarkson in, I guess you'd call them, supporting roles jumped to mind when IEGirl assigned this question.

Both Pieces of April and The Station Agent appeared in 2003 and in them Patricia Clarkson plays two complex, angry, suffering and loving characters, both in the midst of loss.

In Pieces of April, Clarkson plays Joy (ironic name, of course), the mother of April (Katie Holmes [smashing performance]), her wayward daughter, who has invited her grandmother, father, mother, sister, and brother to Thanksgiving dinner in her low rent apartment on the Lower East side of Manhattan. The family must travel from an unnamed suburb in Pennsylvania and it's during their trip that we learn that Joy has breast cancer.

Clarkson plays the cancer stricken mother with anger, cynicism, selfishness, and profanity, and manages to convey, at the same time, a degree of tenderness. She's in deep pain, physical and emotional. Her knowledge that her death is closer than far away moves her to be nakedly honest, unfiltered in her speech and actions. Her pain and the treatment for her cancer makes her sick, and necessitates her medicinal use of marijuana.

The role is without glamor. In many ways Joy is a pain in the neck, not very likable, but, at the same time, she has no self-pity, lets amiability seep through her bitterness. It's vintage Patricia Clarkson, a role played with intelligence, verve, and depth.

Likewise, in The Station Agent, Clarkson plays a complicated and complex character. Her name is Olivia, an artist. Her young son died two years ago and her marriage is in tatters, about to end.

While, ostensibly, the movie is the story of Fin, a dwarf who has moved into an abandoned railroad depot near the snack truck Olivia frequents, it's Patricia Clarkson whose performance keeps this movie emotionally honest.

Olivia, like Fin, craves solitude, for the sake of her grief and her art. At the same time, she is convivial, enjoys the company of Fin (she even gives him a camera to chase trains with), and the man who works the snack truck, Joe.

She's not, however, interested in looking after Fin and in a very memorable scene she breaks from her kindness toward him and lets him know this in no uncertain terms.

Again, it's vintage Patricia Clarkson. She drops her voice into its deepest range, almost a growl, a sound I'd also heard in Pieces of April. The grief of having lost her son, the bitterness of her separation from her husband, the fact that she is not looking to be anyone's caretaker vibrates through her voice as she tells Fin, in essence, that she is not his mother.

It's a brilliant moment and it deepens rather than ends their friendship.

In both movies, Patrica Clarkson portrays loss and grief, but not in a one-dimensional or maudlin way. The grief of these middle-age women takes form in tears, yes, but also in sarcasm, illness, solitude, empathy, aloofness, selfishness, truthfulness, humor, irreverence, and in getting high, whether on pot or wine.

I don't have a movie critic's language for writing about acting, but, to me, these roles were organically played, came from deep inside Patricia Clarkson and took shape as two distinct characters brought to life by Clarkson's marvelously versatile voice and the multiple ways she brings a role physically to life....(my favorite is her struggles with drinking coffee while driving in The Station Agent).

Both are independent movies. Neither generated fanfare. If you haven't seen them, I hope you will. Each is a captivating film, buoyed by the genius of Patricia Clarkson.

1 comment:

Silver Valley Girl said...

I watched "Pieces of April" recently, and really like the movie. I also like the mother character, and I especially liked it at the end that she was the one who went back to April's apartment to have dinner.