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I Know I’m Late to the Michelle Williams Party . . .



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. . . but I think her Best Actress Oscar nomination for Blue Valentine is richly deserved. As I mentioned here last month, the film is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time; indeed, it’s a howling outrage that the film received only that one nomination. Ryan Gosling’s performance was terrific, but talent and virtue will have to be his reward for the time being. He comes across as quite intelligent also, in a controversy about the film. From an L.A. Daily News story before the nominations were announced:

Blue Valentine generated a buzz . . . when it was slapped with an NC-17 rating by the Motion Picture Association of America because of its sexual content. After a final appeal by The Weinstein Company’s Harvey Weinstein, the film is now rated R. . . .

When we talked, the rating hadn’t been overturned, but Gosling says that he wasn’t totally surprised by the initial ruling.

“I think it’s an insult to Michelle. . . . From what I understand they think it’s too real,” he says, referring to the sexual content in the film. “It’s a damaging message that [the MPAA is] sending — that women can be portrayed in a sexual context that’s forced or involves some type of political torture or violence and that’s entertainment but . . . if it’s a woman receiving pleasure, it’s pornographic.”

The particular scene Gosling is talking about is quite revelatory, because it doesn’t indulge in the typical hyper-romanticization and hyper-athleticization that characterizes sex in mainstream U.S. films. Instead of the typical Hollywood scenes — 90-percent-nude celebrities grinding and pounding on tabletops, in elevators, and on kitchen sinks — the film shows us people having sex, well, in the ways real people actually do have sex. (One aspect of the scene is something I’ve never seen depicted in any film, or even mentioned in a novel or memoir; but it is true to life.) It thus captures the real beauty of sex in a way the typical Hollywood product does not — and that’s a genuine tribute to the acting involved. (Ars est celare artem.) Williams almost certainly won’t win the Academy Award — Natalie Portman is the likeliest, followed by Annette Bening and Nicole Kidman — but her work in the film is soul-enriching and deserves all the attention the nomination will bring.

 

UPDATE: On the recommendation of our distinguished colleague  Bob Costa, I just watched on Netflix the 2008 film Wendy and Lucy. Another powerful performance by Michelle Williams, this time as a young woman trekking from Indiana to Alaska in search of work, only to have her car break down, and her dog go missing, in Oregon. Williams succeeds in conveying how terrifying and heartrending the most prosaic deprivations can be. I found her difficulties in this film even more affecting — because more intimate and less picturesque — than the spectacular ordeals undergone by the characters in the current film The Way Back: The Gulag escapees in the latter film are self-consciously undertaking a heroic, death-defying quest Against the Tides of History; all Wendy wants, in Wendy and Lucy, is a job and her dog, and has to stay alive, and not lose hope, when it looks like she will be denied both. When it comes to the human heart, there are no small quests, no insignificant loves.



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