previously... Joe Reid and Nick Davis discussed fidgety hand acting and ravenous kisses in The Hours for it's 10th anniversary. We rejoin them for the second half of their conversation. - Nathaniel R
JOE REID: OH that Phillip Glass score. I'm with you, obviously. I actually did much of my writing with that soundtrack playing in the background in the year or two after The Hours, because I'm just that kind of impressionable. But beyond being beautiful and haunting music in its own right, it also immediately sets the mood of the urgently mundane which pervades the whole movie. Laura trying and failing and trying again to bake a cake. Virginia scrawling out a first sentence. Clarissa getting the flowers. The score is repetitive and plain but increasingly frantic. I could roll around in it, crumbs in the frosting and all. So not to get too common about it, but rather than risk ignoring the elephant in the room, let's get to evaluating and ranking those leading ladies, am I right? You mentioned some ambivalence about Julianne Moore's performance, and I think I read somewhere that you value Streep's work here quite highly? Feel like making some friends/enemies among the blog-reading populace?
Nick's answer and more provocative questions after the jump
NICK DAVIS: Once we finally meet in person, Joe, you'll see even more just how common I am.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: 2009, people! I have since met Nick in person. Once. He's super common.]
And we'll be able to pop on that Hours soundtrack CD, because I agree with every single thing you said about it. I love Streep in this movie, fussing with all that long hair and all those Ann Roth-y scarves and heavy jewelry accents, showing us the nervous energy of Clarissa even amid the routines that supposedly keep her grounded. I am crazy about the kitchen meltdown: Meryl unglued, more so than I think I've ever seen her, if you disqualify concentration camps. And really, her *performance* as Clarissa seems more riskily, dangerously loose than her Sophie ever really is. That faucet catches her off-guard, the way her own colorful performance choices often throw other actors off-guard, which means it's a good thing. She even seems surprised how much she's letting herself lose it, but she's very nearly as good in that quietly scary scene where she just powers off, like C-3PO at Obi-Wan's, and even charming Sally fails totally to zap her out of her funk.
I think Nicole is very good and determined, convincing me that her Virginia is smart and intellectually ferocious, interested in pushing at life, truly frightened at times by her own peculiar gifts. I'm not an absolute fan of the famous train-station sequence where she seems to keep getting Bigger which makes STEphen go BIGgeR which maKEs tHEM BOTH GO BIGGGERRR!!, but I do love how she screams out that she's dying in this town.
As written, she's the least interesting character to me, and I kinda wish her Oscar were for something else, but this is really good work, and I had frankly doubted she had it in her. However, I refuse to be put on the spot all three times. Tell me what you think about Nicole and about Mary Louise, and then get us started on Julianne. I'll only say that I love the uncanny chill of her showing up in the end of the movie, which only works because we recognize it's the same actress... though I hope Betsy Blair's originally filmed scenes show up on a DVD or on YouTube some day, because her ghostly quality must have been an extraordinary fit with this character, and I'd love to see what choices she made. But that's all you're getting out of me till you speak up!
JOE REID: Oh sure, leave me with Julianne Moore's performance, the one I have the most tenuous handle on. It's strong work from her, during her All Strong Work, All the Time period. But I always consider it the weakest of the three leads, and I'm actually kind of convinced that that is at least partially the reason Oscar voters placed it in the Supporting Actress category. To me, Laura was the most cliched/least interesting character -- the lonely '50s housewife who dreamed of more -- and whereas I thought Kidman and Streep delivered more in terms of small gestures and moments, Moore just kind of wept. I don't mean that in a disparaging way, necessarily -- it's a very good performance in and of itself. I just naturally gravitate to the other two. It's Nicole Kidman's performance I end up defending most often -- and because of The Nose, it's the most often maligned -- because I find her so much more than the sum of her clip scenes. You know those performances where you're sure you'd like them better if the awards shows would stop showing the same baity clip? That's how I feel about Kidman and the train station scene. If only she'd have gotten more credit for sending Nelly to London for sugar-ginger. Or lying to Leonard about breakfast. Or demanding that Vanessa tell her she looks better.
NICK DAVIS: I agree that Julianne doesn't yield a lot in terms of isolatable gestures and moments, and yet it's not *quite* a performance where you wind up fully excusing that approach because That's The Character. I do love how alien she suddenly seems while Richie is sifting the flour, and she answers his question about how Daddy will love them if they bake a good cake. I like her trying to hold it together in the bathroom while doing her "normal" voice for that loud conversation with Dan in the next room. I actually wish the filmmakers hadn't pushed the setting of that plotline from the late 40s of the novel to the early 50s, because the "50s housewife" trope, even if it often sounds more reductive than it is, kind of starts Julianne in a place where she's fighting cliche from the outset, and not always winning. Keeping her Polish, second-generation American ethnicity might also have given the character more of an interesting purchase - and led to some interesting casting possibilities. Still, for my money, Laura is actually the *most* interesting character - not sure if she likes her kid or if she wants the one on the way, not sure what she thinks about her husband or her neighbor, in love with her reading, an imperious figure in her son's eyes even though she seems so gauzy and vague. So I wish I loved the perf more, though I agree with you that it's strong. So that's my chunky paragraph.
JOE REID: I can't add anything to what you said about Streep's performance. Ditto and agreed. I think the more distance we get from 2002, and the less we remember about everything else that was swirling around that Oscar season, we'll stop seeing Streep's supporting nomination for Adaptation as an acceptable excuse for why she was squeezed out of a Best Actress nomination for this.
Before we wrap this up, I'd like to propose a few short questions in the interests of covering all our bases (and feel free to return fire):
- Among the Best Picture nominees of 2002, where do you rank The Hours?
- Was Virginia's dead bird a more or less tortured metaphor than Laura's deflated birthday cake?
- What kinds of books do you think Laura Brown: Canadian Librarian placed on her "Staff Recommends" shelf?
- And how awful was it to see that entire pan full of the crab thing just dumped into the trash can?
NICK DAVIS: Here comes the short-answer portion:
... easily second-place on the Best Picture roster, but nowhere near catching up with The Pianist; ... the bird is even more tortured than the cake; ... perhaps the same books as that other spaced-out alien, unnervingly ambivalent, bookwormy ghost-mother, Laura Bush, who I bet had dreams about the Lincoln Bedroom suddenly filling with seaweedy water after she saw this movie, and I bet that was NOT necessarily a nightmare for her; ... oh, the tragedy of the crab thing. I hope they eventually do one of those paperback reprints of The Hours where they include sample questions and recipes in the back, so we can all make the crab thing.
My parting questions for you:
- What does it mean that John C. Reilly can be this well cast and still bring so little to the table?
- Are you inclined to stick up for Stephen Daldry in this post-Reader era, when he gets pilloried as the emblem of everything that's wrong with Best Director?
- Do you still geek out about seeing Scott Rudin bring those three gals to the podium with him when he won the Golden Globe, including Juli in those fetch green earrings?
- What do you make of Meryl calling Clarissa the "meat and potatoes of the film" in the DVD commentary track, suggesting she's the Everywoman character? (Your answer to this last question may depend heavily on how many boundless Manhattan apartments you own.)
- And if you were to direct a second, parallel version of The Hours recasting all three leads and maybe a couple supports, who would you hire? (Way to wrap things up, right?)
JOE REID: ...This was, of course, the tragedy of John C. Reilly -- that he was so successful as an ensemble player through the late '90s, then in 2002 he finally got credit for being so great in EVERY SINGLE MOVIE, only that led to his contributions to The Hours and Chicago and Gangs of New York being ever so slightly overrated. And then he fell into the clutches of Will Ferrell and all was lost. (That was not a short answer.)
...I was in the minority who didn't find The Reader's nominations all that egregious. If Oscar is going to fall back on nominations for actor's directors who shepherd above-average prestige fare to Best Actress wins for beloved actresses, I'm cool with that.
...Still geek out, and still wonder why Rudin can stand with those three and not have them appear to be his harem, yet Big Harv can escort Gwyneth and Penelope Cruz and Renee Zellweger around the Beverly Hilton and it feels incredibly unseemly.
...There are few things Meryl could say that I don't find delightful, but I'm glad you bring up the insane spaciousness of that apartment. My eyes bug out of my head when she hauls out that gigantic seating chart, as I'm fairly certain you couldn't fit that many tables in all of Greenwich Village
. ...Oh, that is just impossible! ...Okay. Well, if I'm going to go full-bore into my own preferences, it'd be like this: Either Tilda Swinton as Virginia and Emma Thompson as Vanessa or the other way around. Laura Linney as Clarissa Vaughan (Robert Downey Jr. as Richard? Viggo?). Mary-Louise Parker as Laura Brown (my favorite call, as she has the perfect combo of motherly/not-motherly) with perhaps Sarah Paulson (Marcia Gay Harden?) as Kitty. And obviously, Judi Dench as Nelly.
[Editor's Note: I would like to thank Joe & Nick for sharing this rollicking and thought-provoking conversation right here. I only wish I could have joined in. But wait! We all can. That's what the comments are for. At the very least you have to want to answer those quickfire conversations, yes? -Nathaniel R]