90s Showdown: Julianne ”Maggie” Moore
Let me begin by apologizing because I’ll be talking about Julianne Moore’s (vote for her here on Andrew’s Showdown) physicality, especially that in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. But I can’t help but comment on her look, preceding the Jem doll a decade later, evoking the sexuality missing from early Michael Mann LA heist movies. She is a product of her time, Amber is, when women could be pastel glamour without slinking into being tawdry. She can evoke that era in a snapshot.
Or maybe she’s classy in our standards, a quality that only Moore can bring to a character on the other side of the fence. Moore never overacts even in situations where it would call for it, her character being in an industry of exaggeration and reputation, but even then she sells any situation she’s in. She’s sexual but she also understands the banality of her own objectification, allowing distance even from the men she loves. Even if we’re hearing a voiceover of her in that high timbre we can feel the body from where she comes.
Moore’s characters in the 90’s always have been volatile yet caring, active as an actress in a decade of unconventional matriarchs. She’s the mother and the whore and makes a case for the latter. And she is quick in her actions and towards her surrogate children (e.g. Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler), a swift word or nod delivering her inner cognitive dissonance, unknowingly doing harm to the people she loves or dismissing the idea that what she does could be harmful. But she still has good intentions, we sympathize with her when she’s hurt and we cheer as she quietly heals.
“”This is NOT funny!” Or…
Jocky Mark Wahlberg as Tommy, a student straying from existentialism and going into nihilism? Is he showing his intellect through his scruffy beard? He deserves the criticism that Brad Pitt gets when either of them get to speak big words and political pontifications, and I guess it isn’t fair that both men get that kind of flack. Well, at least he nice to look at especially when he’s beating people up. I always wondered why he keeps coming back to be work with one of the most vilified directors to ever live. It’s like the Skarsgard-von Trier collaborations but with mixed results. In David O. Russell’s I Heart Huckabees Tommy’s a de facto big brother to Albert Markovsky (Jason Schwartzman), a role reminiscent of the one he’ll altruistically take in The Fighter.
Meet Jonah Hill, whose father is played by Richard Jenkins. Half a decade or so ago they were pre-fame and pre-Oscar nominations. These shots belong to a sequence that will get their family into a verbal argument with Tommy, which ends in breaking Godwin’s law. There are too many beards in this movie.
Naomi Watts, the pretty cheerleader with problems.
I never understood the vitriol against David O. Russell‘s I Heart Huckabees. I still like how subtly minimal the art decoration is reminiscent of Magritte – Dustin Hoffman‘s character even name drops him! His partner is played by Lily Tomlin and anyone who has ever been on Youtube has seen her spats with the equally short fused director. I understand, ‘philosophical comedy’ is a hard sell. It’s a lesser version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, both satirizing our notions of therapy. It mistakes philosophy with its little brother in psychology and psychiatry, although I guess you’ll be healed mentally if you newly subscribed to an extreme way of thinking. And in that sense it doesn’t necessarily bring in the ‘philosophy,’ assigning lines of thought like existentialism or Catherine le Bon’s (Isabelle Huppert, in the few and delightful times that she’s glammed up and has her own way of following her clients) nihilism to groups of characters and instead making them fight on different sides of corporate dominance. But I didn’t mind that because I equated everything quirky into funny when I was younger. That until I rewatched it and saw the dream/therapy sequence with Jude Law‘s character having long, stringy hair, letting Albert suckle on him. The camera tilts but I’m not going down there with it!
The Fighter‘s first sequence places the camera behind Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), as his brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) throws fake punches behind him. They play fight as Dicky welcomes a documentary crew to his hood at Lowell, Massachusetts. You see the brothers, the crew, the neighbors yet the neighborhood feels uninhabited and thus, artificial. The rest of the film feels that way, the small city, both depicted with interior and exterior space, feels sunny bot not vibrant. The camera then zooms out with the same speedy feel as director David O. Russell’s earlier work Three Kings or the opposite yet reminiscent of, dare I blaspheme, a shot in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.
Lowell, Massachusetts, where everyone wears a size too small except for Dicky, who, despite revealing musculature later in the film, has an emaciated face floating above ratty oversize t-shirts, and for a while, Micky, better dressed than his brother, who tries to hide that he’s getting fat for lack of exercise. When they’re physically in shape, Micky and his girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) would have their enviable three percent body fat sticking out on top of their boxing shorts or cutoff jeans.
The movie also makes Micky look short (in reality Wahlberg is 5’9″), since no one that jacked could weigh 145 pounds. I’m not saying that the clothing nor the physicality does all the characterization – I’ll have a lot to say later about those aspects of the movie. I just like those details within the costume or mise-en-scene popping up once in a while.
I’ve previously said that I can’t relate to trashy characters. How many times do I have to say that I hung out with a bad crowd in high school or work with the working class now before it sounds like I’m appropriating something that isn’t mine culturally? I don’t feel comfortable in saying that I can relate to the characters and the situations they get into. It has already thrown and turned off some audiences against the film. But I feel like I can relate to these characters.
The playacting violence that for some reason is associated with both fun and survivalist thinking more than performed working-class masculinity. Their gestures. Dysfunctional families and in-laws. Women who are tough and foul-mouthed. Trouble with the law. Characters who are oblivious to the self-serving nature of their actions. I especially like scene when Dicky realizes that he’s hours late to train his brother. Of course he’s late. I can assume, consuming drugs in his level, that if he starts a session at 8 o’ clock, he’ll be lucky to realize that he had to get out.
Or like mother Alice (Melissa Leo) booking Micky into one badly matched HBO fight after losing another, not realizing she’s hurting and exploiting a son who may not wanna continue into this career. Expecting different results. O. Russell shows how poverty can induce insanity without harshly labeling these characters as insane. If any of us does the latter, then that’s our fault.
Harsh verbal and physical confrontations. Terrible ideas of trying to unsuccessfully scam people out of their money. Any of these things can be a subject for one movie. And it all feels real coming from these actors.
Like movies with trashy characters, we see a substantial amount of physical antics, bad decisions and yelling here, but none of those three things take the forefront in the film. Or at least we aren’t welcomed into the storm, as the film’s continues that with the family explaining which of their members are Eklunds and which are Wards, treating this fact of their lives matter-of-factly and without shame. And then two bar fights happen, one between Micky and another guy and another between two women. O. Russell knows how to stir the pot at the right time.
Another instance showing the character of the Eklund-Wards is when they’re watching a documentary about Dicky’s crack addiction – they’re bravely confronting the reality of their situations. The only time they’re hesitant about the material is when Alice tells Dicky’s son to stay upstairs or when Dicky, now in jail, unplugs the big TV set to stop the schadenfreude from the other inmates. If anything they’re prouder to watch this than to watch the first rounds of Micky’s fights. While that doc is playing on HBO, Micky’s college dropout girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams), instead of avoiding ‘white trash,’ knocks at his door and slowly, like a human being, reaches for his hand.
It also helps that Charlene has the best lines of the film and steals the show. From contending with pretentious film patrons on a better side of town while on a date with Micky as well as confronting his family members, she sure knows how to stand her ground. A scene with her in the lions’ den of Micky’s sisters and another when Dicky makes an impromptu visit to her house make her an integral part of the best ensemble acting this year. Even in a scene when Alice tries to explain to her why he’s not sitting on a stool. Yes, that was Alice’s moment but it says a lot about her character that they have made peace that way.
There are negative effects and connotations to the film’s ‘team effort’ feel. From the first sound of the film – hearing Dicky’s voice as he talks both about his career and his brother’s, the audience knows that this isn’t Micky’s film. Charlene and Alice dissuade Micky from giving up, which would be encouraged even by a different peer group within the town. Micky’s dependence towards other characters shows how weakly written his character is, and that can be said about the rest of the characters too. The script then, despite its wonderful cadence, serves to be a impressionistic work on characters grinding against each other’s nerves. The characters then, have to have these fights and verbal exchanges a hundred times to grow as human beings.
So is this movie trying to say that what happens about the characters are more important within the characters? And it is true that it takes a long time for people to grow, and that evolution gets slowed down by poverty, lack of education and drugs. Although those things allow perseverance.
I didn’t have those questions while watching the movie. If you sat in the same theatre as me, you’d think I was watching the best movie ever. 4/5 rating because of the arguably shabby script, but it created characters I’ll love and cherish until another charismatic ‘hillbilly’ comes along.