Friday, February 6, 2015

A Discussion on the Oscars and The Norbit Effect

Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending
For those unaware, there is a common conspiracy trend known as "The Norbit Effect." In 2007, actor Eddie Murphy was posed to win Best Supporting Actor for his excellent turn in Dreamgirls. It was considered a comeback and proof that the actor wasn't just some hack. However, he released what is widely regarded as his worst film around the time that Oscar voters were turning in their ballots called Norbit. As history shows, Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine won this category. However, with Norbit in wide release on Oscar Night, many suspect that it was the cause of Murphy's loss. After this weekend, does any of the main front runners stand any chance of falling to this trap?
As it stands, The Norbit Effect is nothing more than a myth. Yes, Norbit was a very reviled low point for the actor. Coming into this Oscar season, the two names to keep an eye on are Best Actor nominee Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Best Actress nominee Julianne Moore (Still Alice). Both turned in amazing performances that have been recognized by awards season through and through. However, this weekend marks the release of Jupiter Ascending and The Seventh Son respectively and if critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes is any judgment of quality, things aren't looking too great. In fact, many are calling Jupiter Ascending as Redmayne's worst performance in his career. 

This has launched a hundred think pieces in the past few days on whether or not this will sway the voters. If for no other reason, it will help competitor Michael Keaton  (Birdman) take the lead over Redmayne if this holds true. Keaton has been in the wings for most of the season and has won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in Comedy/Musical. In most cases, Redmayne has remained the champion if for no other reason than turning in a great physical performance that always gets the voters attention. Same can be said for Moore, who is less threatened by her competition based on awards season. The only real alteration came during the Golden Globes when Amy Adams won for Best Actress in Comedy/Musical. However, Adams isn't present in this final race.

Still, it would be unprecedented if this would be the case. Redmayne is more likely to suffer from The Norbit Effect than Moore simply because his role is more high profile. Still, there's a major difference between Redmayne and Murphy. Redmayne is an up and comer who has had a few noteworthy roles in films like My Week with Marilyn and Best Picture nominee Les Miserables. Murphy, at best, has long been considered a studio comedian who churned out forgettable fare prior to Dreamgirls. He had no redemption outside of this film to keep voters from second guessing themselves. In fact, Murphy hasn't really proven himself since. At best, Jupiter Ascending can be considered a misstep for Redmayne or at very least an interesting moment in against type casting. Because he has produced Oscar-nominated work in the past, there's a sense that he'll do so in the future.

It seems unfair to call it The Norbit Effect without really discussing the trend in the eight years since. Of the noteworthy moments that could qualify, there was Best Actress nominee Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married). While it was true that she wasn't posed to win, there's still the sense that the thematically similar Bride Wars didn't help to give her an edge with one of her early career best performances. In fact, it seems a little unfair that a career high would be upset by a career low. Of course, she lost to Kate Winslet (The Reader), which many still consider as a long overdue win for being one of her generation's greatest actresses.

There's a lot of other examples to consider. However, the one point that refutes The Norbit Effect came in 2010 when Sandra Bullock was simultaneously up for Best Actress (The Blindside) and a few Razzies (All About Steve). In both cases, she won those awards within the same weekend. While All About Steve was a terrible movie, there's an understanding that she won predominantly because of the promise to show up to the Razzies ceremony if she won. While there haven't been too many prime examples prior to this year, she is the antithesis to the argument of The Norbit Effect.

While it may seem anticlimactic to say, The Norbit Effect is simply a myth that doesn't mean much. While it is a convenient plot device in the Oscars conversation alongside the comeback narrative or comedian going serious, it doesn't remain true for anyone but the film of which it represented. Norbit was a reminder of Murphy's decline in good terms with everyone. Who knows why certain people win and others don't. Redmayne has been a favorite, though the chances of Keaton's upset has remained an underlying threat this whole season. I don't see it happening for Moore, whose profile seems to almost be disconnected from The Seventh Son. As a whole, we're just looking at two really bad movies by two really good actors. It happens in every career and sometimes it just happens at unfortunate times.

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