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FYC: Lily Gladstone, Supporting Actress

by John Guerin

I could not have predicted that in a movie starring Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and Michelle Williams, a performance by relative newcomer Lily Gladstone would leave me the most affected. The best short film of 2016 is the third act of Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, in which Jamie (Gladstone), a solitary Montana rancher, falls for Beth, an out-of-town lawyer (Stewart), who is stuck teaching an educational law night class four-hours away from her home in Livingston. Stewart, unsurprisingly, adds another formidable performance to her collection of direct yet remote modern women, but the revelation here is Gladstone, who contributes a sensational breakthrough performance that deserves The Academy’s attention...

One frosty night, after all her horses have been tended to, Jamie, by some combination of loneliness and weeknight boredom, drives into town and casually finds herself sitting at the back of Beth’s dreary classroom. Something about Beth — her cryptic attitude, evident disarray, or jumbled expression activates Jamie’s desire and sparks a compulsive fervor. Gladstone’s face practically glows while watching Beth lecture about teachers insurance, and when Beth agrees to join her at a diner after class, Gladstone watches her eat with the intensity of me watching Nicole Kidman’s Birth close-up. Gladstone is constantly, quietly strategizing, measuring how much excitement to effuse or decoding signals in Stewart’s preoccupied exchanges. After one evening class, Jamie brings a horse to pick up Beth, like a knight rescuing her princess. The look on Gladstone’s face is so euphoric that it enables us to infer the newness of feeling this moment has spurred. In this scene and in so many others, Reichardt’s brilliant direction confuses the straightforward motives of both characters, but such uncertainty is also the result of Gladstone’s expert emotional modulation, confounding ideas about queer desire and evading the very validity of such claims. Does Jamie “want” Beth in a traditional sense, or might she want to be her? Does she even know what she wants? Is this love or a welcome reprieve from the mundanity of ranching? Would this high-strung lawyer give her any attention under different circumstances? 

When Beth suddenly quits the class, Jamie makes the long drive to Beth’s town that same night and searches for her until finally catching her arriving to work the next morning. In a devastating scene, Jamie realizes her investment in Beth is almost completely one-sided. As Beth, previously distracted by work stress, begins to process this near-stranger’s spirited attraction, Jamie swims to the edge of her own desires and is forced to confront a much different outcome than she had imagined. I mention Kidman in Birth because here Gladstone, in a softer register, creates her own radiant portrait of a woman lying to herself, not from the result of some supernatural delusion, but from assuming that attention is attraction. Watching her experience such a blow reminds us of her luminous repression in earlier scenes, but the luminosity has been shattered and the repression only deepened upon Stewart’s clear and unequivocal rejection. Jamie may recuperate from this missed connection, but I myself can think of few characters from 2016 that occupy my thoughts more than this lonely, pining, and finally lovelorn rancher. 

In an almost silent performance, Gladstone conveys a level of muted intensity wholly comparable to Liv Ullmann or early Hollywood icon Janet Gaynor. Her knack for carefully expressing a host of emotions through tiny details played across the face would make Julianne Moore proud. Gladstone possesses a strange majesty and remains in complete control of Jamie’s unruly feelings. Her eyes alight like magnetic fields as her voice slips with veiled excitement, signaling immense heartache through careful calibration. Her performance requires us to pay a great deal of attention to the detail and implication laid out across her expressive face, but the final result is a nothing less than a vigorously full-bodied creation.

more on Certain Women | more from John Guerin | Supporting Actress Oscar Race

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Reader Comments (13)

a nomination for her will also be a wonderful way from Academy to end OscarSoWhite controversial...but which spot could she fill?

KIDMAN? not the best fan of LION but she's great in her, infact, GREAT scene...and then I wish she could add a nom to her resume

SPENCER? on the web not many are enthusiastic of her chances, but she's actually a supporting in a film that could receive several other noms...and SAG/GG shows that her contribution is appreciated

So I'm afraid that for Gladstone or Gerwig won't be easy to score...

January 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

Unfortunately, Certain Women is so far off the Oscar radar that it might as well be in another galaxy.

January 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I would absolutely love it if she got nominated. But it's not looking likely. To me, what's more important is that Lily Gladstone gets more work. Give her Star Wars, a Hulu miniseries, I don't care. I just want to see her get more work.

One thing I liked about her performance and her character is how she's written and portrayed with such dignity. Even after she realizes her drive up to see Beth was a mistake, Gladstone and the film never judge her. Might have been a mistake, but it only humanizes her.

January 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMatt St. Clair

Think those magazine covers would have benifitted by including more obscure names like her.

January 5, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordon

I like Michelle Williams in general but I thought she is just ok in Manchester by the Sea. I really don't get her critical citations.

Viola and Naomi are locks; this is why i wish Viola is competing in lead. Her role in this category is too big compared to her competitors but best actress is competitive already so at least Viola competing in supporting gives me less headache.

I really love Kidman in Lion. Her role and screentime are small but she is so good in it. She is moving without being cloying and it could be a nothing role in the hand on other actors but she made it so special.

That leaves Gerwig and Spencer; they are both really good too. I know some don't really want Spencer being nominated but IMO, she is actually better than Williams. So, if I have to leave someone out here to make room for Gladstone , it has to be Williams (not gonna happen though)

January 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

Damn now I wish I could see you watching Kidman in Birth

January 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

TRIVIA: *If* Lily Gladstone somehow gets in, she'd be the first Native American actress to get a nomination and only the third overall (the other ones are Chief Dan George for "Little Big Man" and Graham Greene for "Dances with Wolves")

January 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterIrvin

Love this so much. She's OUTSTANDING, and you really capture why. So nice to see so many people connecting with this performance.

John, who would your supporting actress nominees be this year?

January 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohanna

Thanks Johanna! My nominees would be:

Lily Gladstone - Certain Women
Riley Keough - American Honey
Octavia Spencer - Hidden Figures
Hayley Squires - I, Daniel Blake
Rachel Weisz - The Lobster

How about yours?

January 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Olivia Colman (The Lobster), Maria Dizzia (Christine), Riley Keough (American Honey), Molly Shannon (Other People), Antonia Zegers (The Club). Hate leaving so many greats out!

January 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohanna

How I see it, Gladstone's biggest issue isn't that she's in a film that's off Oscar's radar (how do we know what they are or aren't watching, etc etc), but that her stuff doesn't come until later in the movie. If the disc gets thrown in and they're not taken by it and turn it off, they won't even see her. It's the opposite in a way of Marhershala Ali, who even if people don't like it they'll get to see him long enough.

Still, considering it'd be Kidman who I think is in fifth place, if we had to lose her to make Gladstone nomination happen then I'd be okay with it.

January 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

great post thank you for postingfinger print gun safes

June 1, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterglenn mason

<p>Lily hasve been one of my favourite. Nice to seem an article about herfinger print gun safes</p>

January 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterErik Storm

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