Monday, April 27, 2015

Birthday Take: Sally Hawkins in "Blue Jasmine" (2013)

Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine
Welcome to The Birthday Take, a column dedicated to celebrating Oscar nominees and winners' birthdays by paying tribute to the work that got them noticed. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive retrospective, but more of a highlight of one nominated work that makes them noteworthy. The column will run whenever there is a birthday and will hopefully give a dense exploration of the finest performances and techniques applied to film. So please join me as we blow out the candles and dig into the delicious substance.

The Facts

Recipient: Sally Hawkins
Born: April 27, 1976 (38 years old)
Nomination: Best Supporting Actress - Blue Jasmine (nominated) as Ginger

The Take

In the grand scheme of things, Woody Allen films are mostly known for their characters more than their writing or direction. While Cate Blanchett deservedly won for her role in Blue Jasmine, there was an even more shocking nomination in the mix. While many would claim that the likes of Andrew "Dice" Clay and Bobby Cannavale were also deserving of nominations, the real shocker came when Sally Hawking received an acting nomination. This wasn't because the role was forgettable or the least bit awful. It was more that it felt like she had been intentionally ignored for years now after breaking out with Happy-Go-Lucky. In fact, it hardly seemed like she had any trajectory within the film to possibly win because she was so secondary to everyone else in the film.

However, she made the most of it and got the nomination. Of course, 2013 was full of oddball surprises in the nominations, specifically with Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), who hadn't attracted any buzz prior. Then there's Hawkins, who will always be overshadowed by Blanchett's marvelous performance as a woman going through a mental breakdown. Still, as the emotional core and rational thinker, Hawkins starred as Ginger and brought a confidence to her performance that grounds the movie. These characters may all have neurotic tendencies, as Allen has been known to do, but she is both one of the wittier and more realistic characters of the film. Even if her relationship with Clay is a little suspect, she is a confident woman that proves that there's great roles for women out there.

It could be the impossible task of having to be the voice of reason in front of Blanchett, but the real magic of her performance comes in the third act when the tables have reversed. Where Blanchett is beginning to accuse her of a bad lifestyle, Hawkins returns the favor by pointing out her conflicting relationship and even her mental state. There's a sense that they are still sisters, but the charm comes in how concerned that they are for each other. Blue Jasmine gets hailed for being one of Allen's darkest films in his entire filmography. If anything, it makes it harder to outright dismiss him as a noteworthy artist, especially as he turns his demons into heartbreaking plot points that unveil deeper points about the characters.

With the release of 12 Years a Slave, it didn't seem likely that Hawkins would win. However, that doesn't mean that the nomination itself was a triumph. For someone who has popped up randomly in films including Best Picture nominee An Education, the simple inclusion at least indicates that she has some fans in the Academy who want to see her succeed. It is unclear if she will ever be back and if so with what type of role. She brought a charismatic charm to an overshadowed charismatic performer. Everything about the performance feels typical Allen, but done to the best that it could. Even if she never comes back, it does feel nice to scratch her off of the list of people who should have been nominated.

The one great thing about Allen's work is that there's always an uncertainty of wheat will actually make it into the Oscars conversation. With his uneven track record, it allows each film to feel like its own event, even if they are clunkers. However, when he's on, he has been known to make great performances, especially for female performers. As evident here, he clearly knew how to emphasize what makes Hawkins such a charismatic performer and elevates her status to something unique. Sure, it doesn't excuse the absence of Happy-Go-Lucky as an Oscar nomination, but it does prove the fact that Allen, for all of his controversial private life moments, is someone who writes women that we care about. With Hawkins, he wrote one so subversive that we end up rooting for her despite a faulty start. It could be the writing or it could be the performance. You decide.

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