I have to wonder if some of the same reasons I love Vera Farmiga are the same reasons the Academy and Hollywood seem to have such ambivalence towards her. Perhaps its her mix of being super thin and super hot and also being such a dynamite, powerhouse actress. Imagine Meryl Streep chops poured into a demure heart-melter like a young Nicole Kidman and I bet you 60% of Hollywood right there is pissed off. Not only does she anger them by trying to be hot AND a great actress, she’s THIN. This is not to say Kidman isn’t a great actress, but her range is limited (not a bad thing in and of itself) and she’s always Kidman, the vaguely off-putting, regal bonny lass, needing a false nose to really get Oscar notice–as in THE HOURS. Farmiga on the other hand is more like a De Niro of the RAGING BULL era, or a Dustin Hoffman of the MIDNIGHT COWBOY era; she’s got impeccable range, searing charisma and fearsome commitment, and thus is a living reminder of Hollywood’s current failure to provide strong, complex female characters worthy of her awesome ilk.
In her strengths, she reminds us there once was a time when such roles existed… that’s right! I of course mean the 1970s.
In the 1970s, feminism was still at the door kicking-down phase, so there was no time or inclination to indulge in third wave housewife fantasias and bling parades. Films starring Meryl Streep (KRAMER Vs. KRAMER, SOPHIE’S CHOICE, FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN), Jessica Lange (FRANCES), Sissy Spacek (COAL MINDER’S DAUGHTER), Sally Field (NORMA RAE) or Jane Fonda (KLUTE, JULIA) were heavy-duty sagas of repression, sexuality, regret, triumph and change. Comedies were full of drama: Jill Clayburgh was in AN UNMARRIED WOMAN and even Marty Scorsese made a woman movie (ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE). These were “Important Pictures” given long-term runs and heavy commercial time. I know because I remember all the hoopla, reviews, and Time articles, and since I was a young kid with nothing but contempt for any movie that didn’t have monsters or army men, I certainly didn’t go looking for them.
Of course there are still such “heavy women” films, and now they tend to be about druggie moms either dealing with rehab or fighting for custody after they get out. One such gem is DOWN TO THE BONE (pictured above). The story of a cocaine addicted mother of two, it miraculously sidesteps all the usual child-worship in such films, to present a mom who is neither perfect nor abusive. (She’s just a mom, for fuck’s sake! Imagine, a movie where it’s not “all about the children” in this dark age!) AND Farmiga looks drop-dead lovely in her shiny black Halloween witch’s costume. AND there’s some great shots of a writhing pet corn snake, eloquently and Eisenstein-ishly edited in amidst the junkyhood, indicating presumably the serpentine nature of addiction.
Other shining Farmiga films: her postpartum-suffering mother of two (including one smooth sociopath) in the underrated horror indie, JOSHUA (which I write about here), and a caffeinated police shrink with poor taste in men in THE DEPARTED (which I write about here).
But the problem here is that you have probably never heard of DOWN TO THE BONE or JOSHUA until now. You know THE DEPARTED though, and that’s the one where she’s shoe-horned into a pointless, obligatory nude scene. The former two are just shuttled to DVD as Sundance also-rans, too slow, disturbing or “depressing” to make for a fun evening’s blockbuster rental. And won’t somebody think of the children?!!!
Farmiga already has a lot of the smarter critics beating their chests and hollering about how unfair it was she missed an Oscar nomination for BONE. But that doesn’t mean I can’t add my holler to the gentle din: VERA FARMIGA, J’TAIME!!