July 22, 2013

Marie Dressler, Min & Bill

as MIN
 photo ScreenShot2013-07-14at114343PM.jpg
Won: Academy Award - Best Actress
I can't even believe how much of an anomaly Marie Dressler was. This is a woman who was heavy-set, 61 years old, and completely non-traditional in terms of movie star looks--and yet she was the most popular Hollywood star during the early thirties. So while Dressler certainly stands out appearance wise in comparison to the likes of Norma Shearer, Mary Pickford, and Janet Gaynor, given her crazy popularity (they made Marie Dressler puppets for godssake) her win is unsurprising, sort of like Sandra Bullock's win in terms of a beloved movie star getting her due if you will.

 photo ScreenShot2013-07-14at110326PM.jpgI thought Marie Dressler was the best thing in Anna Christie, and when I watched her in this clip from The Hollywood Revue of 1929, there was something about her that I just enjoyed, though I can't quite put my finger on what that is. Perhaps that's part of Dressler's charm, this inexplicable regard one feels when she is onscreen. I will say that what Dressler has that no other nominated actress during her time has is an impressive control over her lines--she has a way with executing dialogue that makes you believe everything she's saying.

 photo ScreenShot2013-07-14at114018PM.jpgUnfortunately, I was surprised to find while watching Min and Bill that I didn't care as much for Dressler or the character of Min. One type of character that I normally don't enjoy is the curmudgeon--and boy does Dressler play the curmudgeon well. She has the perfect expressive face for it, and therein lies my issue with the performance. We get shot after shot after shot of Dressler reacting to things and it's almost always a signature stern frown--like Lionel Barrymore, after awhile I grew a bit tired of it. Again, I don't know if it's fair to fault an actor's performance based on how their face is, but I really wished that Min had more to offer expression-wise outside of "scary old lady"--the final moment of the film, as Min is being arrested by the police, we see her crack a faint smile, and it was so touching that it almost seems a waste that she spends the entire film looking like the photo above. Don't get me wrong--her acting is great, but overall the whole performance felt more one-note than I'd have liked. Going back to the Sandra Bullock analogy, I fancy Dressler's performance to Sandra Bullock's in The Proposal--both solid pieces of work, both having ridiculous moments of slapstick comedy, both memorable in the scope of their careers, but not necessarily great if we're to discuss excellent examples of film acting.

1 comment:

  1. I actually finally enjoyed this performance. I saw it 20 years ago and it did nothing for me. I saw it recently and here's what I noticed: in the first half her mugging and the expected slapstick of the Dressler persona were at full steam ... but in the last half, she was centered and specific and she gave the character dimensions that weren't in the dialogue. To admire Marie Dressler for underplaying seems preposterous, but she managed it here and I understood the levels she was targeting. I don't think she equaled Norma Shearer in "A Free Soul" but I get why she won the Oscar. Textured and brave.