Take One: Birth (2004)
Whilst watching Birth I’m sure you, like me, were thinking: just what the heck is Anne Heche doing in Central Park? Near the start of Jonathan Glazer’s reincarnation baffler Heche acts in mysterious ways. She suspiciously sneaks out of a hotel lobby and onto the snowy streets of Manhattan. She’s rustling around in the bushes, digging a hole. Is she burying the gift intended for Anna (Nicole Kidman)? Is it even a gift? It looks like some sort of proof, evidence. Her character, Clara, holds the film’s secrets from the get-go. In accordance with the way Glazer structures the script in these early scenes, fragmented by Sam Sneade and Claus Wehlisch’s editing, Clara becomes an enigma we know we'll worryingly come back to later.
Heche’s scenes with Sean (Cameron Bright) after the friction of the plot has been replaced by psychic damage throw a puzzling curveball (the buried package!) to the remainder of the film. These moments provide us with Heche’s best, and most tense, work to date. Insidious, slightly witchy and perverse, Heche reveals a reverse deus ex machina that shows Clara to be the queasily spiteful and questionable presence of the story. Her face, shot in extreme close-up, displays a deliciously evil sheen as she devastates the young boy. On evidence here, I’m baffled as to why filmmakers aren’t snapping Heche up to play the kinds of complicated icy queens usually reserved for Tilda Swinton. Birth features an all-round stellar ensemble but if you haven't seen it recently watch it again to see Heche wrench entire scenes away from the lot of them.
Two more Heche triumphs after the jump including Psycho (1998). Yes, that Psycho...
Take Two: Cedar Rapids (2010)
Heche is the sole female player in Cedar Rapids who engages in daft corporate shenanigans with three other insurance sales fools (John C. Reilly, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Ed Helms). Copious beers and shots, a flirtatious nature and a wily way with words might be the best way to sum up Heche’s Joan “O-Fox” Ostrowski-Fox. The sales quartet plays by their own rules during a convention to win the ‘Two Diamonds’ insurance award in the titular Iowan city.
Joan indulges in (drunk) skinny-dipping in a hotel pool, a (drunk) midnight ride on a food trolley, a (sober, I think) corporate scavenger hunt, a (drunk, then quickly sober) trip to a hardcore house party and then (drunken) extra-marital sex with Helms’ Tim Lippe. She plays fast and loose, letting her hair down in Cedar Rapids – and only in Cedar Rapids. Joan’s not a responsible gal and it's a rare pleasure to see a successful businesswoman played for gleeful laughs (with a handful of moving moments dotted throughout) on the big screen. Heche makes the comedy and pathos of her character work by being a cheeky bad girl, but an essentially good-natured one. Her Joan is like a fun, naughtier version of Vera Farmiga’s Alex in Up in the Air or Stockard Channing’s The Business of Strangers character with a whoopee cushion, or a less foul-mouthed and mussed up Wendy Kroy from The Last Seduction. That's fine company to keep for Heche's ever-so-slightly immoral insurance vamp. But Heche gives Joan a sweet hue, too. I’d like to see more unconventional O-Fox capers.
Take Three: Psycho (1998)
This ain’t the time or place to get into remake-woe fisticuffs – though Gus Van Sant’s Psycho is surely the test case for yay-or-nay cinematic revisits. Let’s ignore the quibbles and look at the acting. Vince Vaughan’s clammy-giggly Norman, Julianne Moore’s feisty Lila and Viggo Mortensen’s suave Sam all re-enact with aplomb. Heche gives us a perkier, glammed-up Marion Crane, the new-old film's most intriguing character. She adds a great level of sprightly conviction to the role before succumbing to her horrible murder.
Lit by Christopher Doyle and dressed by Beatrix Aruna Pasztor, Heche is Marion 2.0: Jean Seberg hair, tangerine underwear, fingernails hot with colour. For the first forty-five minutes – Heche’s total screen time before her (shower) curtain call – she out-classes everyone in the film. New Marion is the key role, our route to Norman Bates and cabin No.1. and Heche is a tour guide with consummate skill. Her co-stars in the early scenes (James LeGros, Rita Wilson, James Remar, Chad Everett) seem under-rehearsed in comparison. Not that Heche is good by elimination, but she’s the only one who really both catches that Psycho 60s vibe, and gives it an added twist. She’s a skittish, more playful presence than Janet Leigh even as she mimics many of her mannerisms and she adds a smirk of girlish excitement and new kinks of her own. The clipped ‘60s lilt to her voice may be one anachronism too far for some moviegoers (you can hear the research in her voice when she says, “Sometimes only one time can be enough” in Norman’s parlour), but she's completely in tune with Van Sant’s experiment. Her contribution is an often clever and enchanting comment on Marion’s infamous psychotic episode.
Editor's Note: Three more key films for the taking... Donnie Brasco and Walking and Talking are my two favorite Heche performances (other than Birth and Psycho, which were already covered by Craig here). Heche was also a terrific addition to Rampart's thorny bustling female ensemble. Like Craig, I'm completely mystified that more auteurs aren't tripping over each other to work with her.]