Sunday, January 07, 2007

Abigail Breslin & Toni Collette, Little Miss Sunshine

For StinkyLulu's supporting actress blogathon, I offer up a two-pack. One of these actresses earned a globe nod for her performance; the other has a SAG nomination. Both are oscar-worthy.

First off: Abigail Breslin as Olive. She's looking good for an oscar nod even without my endorsement (which obviously carries much sway in academy circles), but I still feel the need to give a shout-out.

I've heard this perf pooh-pooh'ed many times as a typical "child actor" performance, i.e. she's just being cute. I beg to differ. Can you think of any other child actress who would've been as perfect in this role? I can't. Dakota Fanning would've fallen flat (but then Dakota is more satanic than cute). Most kids would've fallen flat. But not Abby. The whole film rests on having the perfect girl playing Olive, and Abby Breslin is that girl.


Consider any number of tricky but lovely scenes: Olive's squeal with joy at hearing the answering machine message, her frantic exclamations to her stuffed animals. Her teary confession to grandpa in the hotel, and her dejected look in the hospital. Her silent plea to Duane after his meltdown, her exhange about heaven with Frank. Her controlled excitement in declaring track "twelve," her awkward pageant catwalk. Her perfect line reading of "in the trunk of our car," and of course, the dance. Olive's pure joy and innocent exuberance is what sells it. It's neither too sexual nor too timid.

I fell in love with Abby Breslin through her portrayal of Olive Hoover, and that was through my critical instincts, not in spite of them. Any number of things could've gone wrong in this performance, but she strikes just the right balance throughout; the performance is pitch-perfect and adorable. She's willing to act goofy and look ugly to become her character (a quality AMPAS always loves), and she holds her own and then some against a cast full of oscar and emmy nominees. As the titular Little Miss Sunshine, Breslin shines, and holds the film and the family together.

And speaking of holding the family together, we come now to Toni Collette's Sheryl.

Toni has the unfortunate distinction of being Hollywood's go-to-girl for atypical, earthy, or otherwise unglamorous women. She plays the frumpy sisters, the put-upon mothers, the "natural beauties" who often play second fiddle to the stars. Her Sheryl Hoover is right in keeping with this trend. She's the only one in the cast of quirky characters without a real dream of her own, a goal for which to hope and strive. Her only wish and ambition is for others around her to be happy, for them to reach their goals, for the family to be at peace.

But Collette endows Sheryl with a great sense of personal identity. She lives for her family, but she knows who she is. Sheryl is all our mothers, but also her own person - an archetype and a distinct character. This is no small feat for an actress. Collette understands that in a script full of archetypal characters in absurd situations, the actor must find the truths and specifities of her own character, and then use them to stay totally, truthfully responsive to the moment, however implausible that moment might be.

It may seem that Collette has little to do in her part, but don't be fooled by its lack of showiness. That Collette slides effortlessly into this great ensemble is a testament to her individual talent. With a lesser actress in this pivotal role, the film as a whole would not have worked. But Collette is in tune with the work of her fellow actors just as Sheryl's in tune with the happiness of her family, and thus, the characters and performances all fall beautifully into place.

My favorite moments in Collette's performance are the quiet ones, where she shows Sheryl's wry humor and weary pride in her work of family maintenance. Watch her reaction to hearing of Olive's placement in the pageant, the slight bit of annoyance and sarcasm in her smile as her daughter squeals with joy; Sheryl is of course happy for Olive, and knows Olive would never notice her annoyance, but we the audience can see it in Sheryl's eyes: "oh boy, here we go again." And listen to the quiet pride she takes in being right when the stick shift breaks; "push down hard," she tells her husband. And then there are the scenes where we see her softer side; when Sheryl's shell cracks and she breaks down and cries in the hospital, we want to both laugh at her and cry with her, but most of all we want her to feel better.

We're always rooting for Sheryl because she's rooting for everyone else, even when she's angry at them. And we're always rotting for Olive, because... well, come on, how you can you not? I'll personally be rooting for both these actresses on oscar nomination morning.

For your consideration:
Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
Toni Collette, Little Miss Sunshine

Toni & Abby forever.

4 Comments:

Blogger Ali said...

Very nice, Adam. Reading this has reminded me that my problems are more with the screenplay more than anything. Adored the cast, and although I may complain endlessly about the overratedness, I think Breslin would be a great nominee choice.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Ali said...

Ugh, there's only supposed to be one "more" in that first sentence.

7:08 PM  
Blogger adam k. said...

Thanks, Ali!

As much as I love Emily Blunt, I kind of want Breslin to be nominated over her. Mostly because of all the likely Sunshine nominees (Breslin, Arkin, Arndt), Breslin is by far the most deserving. In an ideal world, fraudulent Blanchett would get the boot so both could get in.

I know what you're saying about the writing, but the actors sold it, and that's the important thing. I think there's a lot of good stuff in the writing, even if some of it is problematic. For the record, my personal favorite original screenplay of the year is Volver.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Kamikaze Camel said...

I would be perfectly fine with Breslin being nominated (I'd prefer Blunt bump out Barraza, but that's just me I think). She is cute, but she is more than that.

I can't agree with Toni though. I mean, she's good and all (it is Toni after all), but I dunno. It didn't stick with me at all.

2:26 AM  

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