Saturday, January 3, 2009

Supporting Actress Blog-a-Thon, or How Kathy Bates is Mrs Helen Givings

This post is part of the start of the year festivities over at Stinky Lulu's Supporting Actress Blog-a-Thon. Check out the Class of 2008 over there.

My choice for this? 

Kathy Bates as Mrs Helen Givings in Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road.

Much has been made of the Titatic reunion in this Richard Yates' adaptation and true to form, a decade later, Kate and Leo prove that they have grown into remarkable thesps. And yet, Mendes surrounded them with such gifted supporting actors (the electric Michael Shannon, the wide-eyed Zoe Kazan - and yes, she is related to that Kazan, the chirpy Kathryn Hahn) that there's never enough praise for one of the most accomplished ensembles of 2008 (the ensembles of Demme's film, Kauffman's opus and Nolan's blockbuster are among the other ones I cherished).

That's a long way of saying: I want more people to think, watch and warm up to this film, because, upon second viewing it only gained more depth and power and this is in part due to its strong cast. 

But, on to Kathy:

Kathy Bates is one of those rare actresses that finely works good comedy characters (About Schmidt, Titanic) even when the material doesn't deserve it (Failure to Launch, Waterboy) so it's always rewarding seeing those comedic chops being used for purely dramatic purposes. In Revolutionary Road, Bates creates such character in the pithy Mrs Givings. This is a character actor who you can laugh at but cry with

She brings much needed comedic respite in this bleak drama in her scenes with her son John, but she also brings a certain vulnerability and pathetic eagerness that makes her all the more tragic when (com)pared with the Wheelers. Mrs Givings is indeed symptomatic of the suburban way of life of the 1950s - caring for lawns, enjoying small talk on weekends - and Bates portrays her not as a cartoonish character nor as a pity case, but as a woman who thoroughly thrives in this world yet can't get beyond the deluded nature of that world, to the chagrin of her son, her husband and the Wheelers themselves. That this is all tinged with (both intentional and unintentional) comedy just makes the performance all that more remarkable.

Following are a couple of lines that Bates sells so well they could be laugh riots by their lonesome, but given her organic performance in the film, feel very at home in Yates' sordid tale and in Haythe's screenplay. They tread the line of being boringly mundane and horribly quotidian, which seems to be exactly what Mrs Givings represents for both the Wheelers and for Yates.

"Now of course it isn't very desirable at this end, as you can see Crawford Road is mostly these little cinderblocky, pickup-trucky places. Plumbers, carpenters, little local people of that sort."

"It's like the European house leaf only these have the most wonderful yellow blossoms!"

"John, come look at this fabulous picture window!"

Kate and Leo might be getting the press, and Shannon might be looking to bag a nomination (precursors be damned!) but Bates really adds a wonderful breath of fresh air to this sometimes claustrophobic, though for that not less enjoyable gem of a film.


Matt said...

i didn't even know she's in this... i'm glad because she's great and needs to stop picking bad roles to act in.

Dame James Henry said...

I can not wait for this film to open near me because not only do I love Leo & Kate, Sam Mendes and marriage in jeopardy films, but Kathy Bates also finds another film worthy of her talents. Yay for her! I've loved her ever since I saw Misery at my friend's insistence a couple of years ago so I'm glad that you approved of her in this film.

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