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[This is a contribution to The Class of 2007 Supporting Actress Blogathon hosted by StinkyLulu.]

“An overlooked gem” is how I described Margot at the Wedding in my post about my favorite films of the year. But it also works to describe Jennifer Jason Leigh, who I don’t think has received enough credit for her great performance in this movie, much less her entire career.

Sometimes, being a good actor can backfire: if your performances come off as “too natural,” it may seem as if you’re not acting much at all. “I could do that,” someone from the audience may say. But he/she cannot project the same sense of being a part of the same world as the actor up on the screen. It’s hard for some to accept different acting styles. Robert Bresson’s (who had a background in painting) use of actors as “models” is far different from acting today, and even though his films are wonderful, the acting may be distracting to some since it’s so unnatural. While watching a Greta Garbo performance, I know I’m watching a movie. When I see a performance from someone like Jennifer Jason Leigh, I figure I’m watching life through a window until the end credits roll.

This year, Leigh starred in her husband Noah Baumbach’s film Margot at the Wedding, a movie about Margot (Nicole Kidman) visiting her sister Pauline (Leigh) for her wedding to a guy Margot doesn’t like (Jack Black). During their scenes together as they stay up late at night and chit chat while music from their past plays on a record or CD in the background, they reflect on their past, laughing at subject matter usually left for discussions with a psychiatrist. It’s as if I’ve walked in on my mom talking to her sister in the middle of the night. Think of Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata, whose second half is much like these candid scenes in Margot.

One of the most heartbreaking scenes from any movie this year has Margot trying to assure Pauline she has kept quiet about her dislike for Pauline’s fiancé. Pauline escalates gradually from calm to furious, repeating through tears, “No, you haven’t kept your mouth shut!” We feel her pain not because of the dialogue (which helps), but the way she delivers the line makes us feel we’ve heard that same exact line that same exact way before.

Pauline explains to Margot’s son that, when they were kids, Margot once tried to cook her by sprinkling her with paprika and putting her in the oven. The characters laugh on-screen, but the audience can’t help but wonder if Margot’s hatred of Pauline would go so far. We’ve heard a lot up to this point in the film about how strongly Pauline and Margot feel about each other, so this scene rings as particularly disturbing. Leigh doesn’t soften the story either by her performance: she tells the tale in such a casual way (and even laughs after she’s said it), leaving doubt whether the story is false or not. (We never find out.)

Leigh hasn’t received much mention for her role, even though she is probably one of the finest things about the movie. All the performances are wonderful (Kidman is great as usual, and Black turns in a stunning serious performance), but Leigh gives off the same natural vibes that she did in films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Short Cuts, and, specifically, Margot. It’s a shame her magic has been lost in this great year for cinema (Amy Ryan and other rewarded supporting actresses were also fantastic), so I hope the greatest supporting actress performance of 2007 by Leigh in Margot can receive it’s rightful love if I and others who care deeply for it it continuously recommend this highly underrated film to everyone we know who has not seen it.

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One Comment

  1. I was “this” close to using Amy Ryan for my entry but decided a) she would be am overused populist choice and b) I’d feel shorthanded without access to the DVD. Nice write-up for Margot and good point about naturalistic performances getting lost in the shuffle.


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