Does a standout performance make an entire film worth seeing? Do relatively so-so films get more attention than they deserve, because one performance is remarkable and infectious? If I re-watch Scent of a Woman, is it only because of Al Pacino’s top-notch presence? Is Monster just an okay movie, but Charlize Theron’s camouflaged interpretation of the material makes it better? Can the same be said for Capote or Ray?
This holiday weekend, I’ve seen two films in theaters: I’m Not There and Enchanted. Both had me impressed and surprised, in two different ways. Yet both feature a knock-out performance by two actresses commanding the screen. I would argue that both films are greatly served by these characterizations, complimenting an already good package. However, I’m Not There would be sorely lacking without Cate Blanchett, while Enchanted wouldn’t be as refreshing without Amy Adams.
Cate Blanchett portrays the “gone electric,” 1966 version of Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’ warp-biopic-fever-dream, I’m Not There. She is one of six thespians playing the enigmatic folk legend, in six different vignettes. Some may criticize her for playing Dylan like a mimic but I find that kinda false. Christian Bale, for example, as both the early “Times A-Changin'” Dylan and the later born again Dylan, merely channels the songwriter’s persona. Blanchett masterfully feeds off of the Dylan vibe, but she does much more than that, and creates a character that’s unique. Some of the other actors (especially Richard Gere as a bizarre “Billy the Kid” version of Dylan and Heath Ledger as the “movie star/family man” version of Dylan) simply react to the surroundings instead of enhancing them.
I’m Not There is a good film and a powerful film, but it’s also a near-miss masterpiece. Meaning, the parts are better than the whole. Some of these parts, though, are amazing. And if Blanchett’s performance (and to Haynes’ credit, her entire segment of the film) was chopped out, the film would suffer greatly.
Ditto on Enchated and Amy Adams. It’s a nice, fairy-tale-in-Manhattan comedy, but Adams makes the picture what it is. The scipt lobs some funny dialogue, the musical numbers are inspired and tuneful, but Adams is the talent that carries Enchanted to a place it actually doesn’t deserve to go. It’s one of the only films of the year that actually works for audiences 8 to 80. As Giselle, an animated beauty banished to live-action New York City, Adams delivers the kind of naive charm that would make you say “a star is born” if she hadn’t already an Oscar nomination two years ago for Junebug. This is her first major role since that nomination and it should prove to cynics that she’s the real deal.
Much like Blanchett, Amy Adams is helped along the way with some razzle dazzle and Disney magic. Also like Blanchett, she does most of the heavy-lifting for her co-stars. In both cases, these two women are enough to get you to the theaters as well.