December 5, 2015

Jane Wyman, The Yearling

I've spent a lot of time complaining about female archetypes and gender roles and the limitations they've played on many a Best Actress Oscar-nominated performance. And Jane Wyman's Orry Baxter--a wife, a mother, and pretty much tertiary to the shenanigans of Jody and Penny--embodies everything I'm not looking for in a Best Actress performance. But herein lies a surprise: in spite of my hang-ups on domestic representations, I didn't think Wyman was so bad. In fact, I think she elevated the role's limitations in the very best way an actress possibly could.

What initially struck me was how unlikable Orry was. Often times frustratingly so. This isn't your warm, gleaming, mother who prides over her son with tears in her eyes. This is a rather intricate, complicated woman obtusely included within a not-so intricate or complicated film. You are forced to ask yourself: why is Orry such a bitter bitch? and I think that very element is what makes her so interesting. There's a lot of internalizing on Orry's behalf here, a lot of feelings that aren't explicitly being revealed, and as a viewer you're left to wonder about her and 'figure' her out. Wyman is tasked (and does a great job at) shading Orry with internal glimpses of this woman--whether it be her mourning at the graves of her children, her vulnerable crack in facade when Penny asserts his dominance, her momentary second-guessing herself when Penny compliments her beauty--there's a lot of subtle shading here that makes Orry fascinating, that keeps you interested in character who could have otherwise been a one-dimensional creation in the hands of a lesser actress. Additionally, I found Wyman to be the best actor of the film. Hands down she is the most compelling, but she is also the only character to have stayed with me. Sure, I think of the boy and his baby deer when I think of The Yearling--that's a no-brainer--but I also think of Wyman's multi-tired work and emotion, and isn't that quite an achievement when the role you have on hand could have easily been another drop in the (long suffering) wife/girlfriend/mom bucket?


  1. Great review! You like Wyman's performance more than I do and, as usual, you back up everything you say with specifics and thoughtful perspectives. Having read your review, I now want to take another look at the film just to reappreciate her work. And isn't that the point of "Oscargasms" .... inspiring thoughtful consideration of film history?

  2. I just saw her :) She was actually the last nominee of the 40s I had to see so that decade is done for me. :)

    I also liked her, her coldness worked very well but she was never truly unlikeable. I just wish they had given her more screentime, she is hardly in the movie.

    On another part: the boy has to give one of the worst child performances ever - I can believe he won a Juvenile Oscar for this. The dramatic scenes at the end where laughably bad.

    1. lucky that you're done!! I wish I were done with this godforsaken decade lol

      Agreed, she doesn't have much to do and yet that was okay with me because she does a lot with so little. And in terms of the kid--lol. I don't know about the worst child performance I've ever seen, but it was definitely OTT and the kid cries about 7 times too many. And i didn't know about his juvenile win!