Friday, November 18, 2016

A Katherine Waterston Appreciation Piece

Scene from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
This weekend marks the release of the latest movie from J.K. Rowling’s magical world: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Featuring the talents of returning director David Yates, the series serves as a prequel to the story we all know. With Eddie Redmayne as protagonist Newt Scamander, the journey looks to introduce a whole heap of new magical characters and lingo that will make fans happy. However, I would like to dedicate this entry not to the wonderful world of Rowling, but to the co-star that has had a phenomenal run over the past few years: Katherine Waterston.

To most of the population, Waterston’s name is likely one of question. To fans of independent cinema, she has quickly become a favorite thanks to her lengthy work that has gotten her the chance to work with everyone from Alex Ross Perry to Danny Boyle to Paul Thomas Anderson. She may not have the most extensive resume, but one can see her talent exude in her supporting roles. She brings a charisma that will hopefully shine through in Fantastic Beasts. Time will only tell, especially as she’s likely to appear in the lengthy franchise for years to come.

For the sake of argument, I will focus on the three films where she has shined best. While she was good in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, it was her other work that made her a household name. I will start with Anderson’s Inherent Vice: a book adapted from the stoner noir comedy book by Thomas Pynchon. In the film, Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc Sportello as he journeys through 1960’s Los Angeles to solve various cases. To a large extent, the “inherent vice” that the title refers to is for Waterston’s Shasta Fay, or Doc’s “ex-old lady” who comes to visit him at the start of the film. She has the illustrious hippie look that most characters in the film share. She disappears for a long stretch before returning late in the second act.

Even underneath the earthy look, she is radiant; able to make every line of dialogue pop with a class that is as cool as Pynchon’s prose. She may come across as more of an object for Doc to win back, but she inevitably creates the most profound twist in the film as the credits roll. Should Doc even be with her? They seem incompatible, but still manage to bond over their need for each other. After all, they have gone this far together. Anderson leaves it cryptic. While Phoenix received most of the praise for the film, Waterston’s brief moments on screen in a very strong ensemble isn’t something to scoff at. She makes the most of it and announces her presence as a star.

Up next is Perry’s Queen of Earth: a smaller and more nuanced film that again shows her co-stars getting the meatier scenes. Considering that Perry has more of an art house sensibility, the story of two sisters spending the weekend together in seclusion builds to a triumphant, disturbing conclusion. Elisabeth Moss plays the other sister, whose sole wish is to be left alone. Considering that Moss has also found a plethora of great roles post-Mad Men (see also: Top of the Lake), she manages to shine by playing sadistic and quiet to Waterston’s translucent and positive character. Perry’s writing never overstates deeper intentions, instead letting the performances do most of the talking. 

Again, this is mostly another vehicle that shows the rising potential of Moss as an indie film darling. However, Waterston is excellent at playing a concerned bystander to Moss’ mental breakdown. She has a concern in her tone that wavers as the moment calls for it. She clearly is concerned, but is restrained with the understanding that Moss will work through her problem. Compared to the other films, Waterston has a meatier role that is at times tough to work with. However, she manages to bring out a deeper core in her character that elevates the artful, demented drama to something splendid.

Boyle’s Steve Jobs should’ve been that breakout moment for Waterston. She starred alongside Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet: both of whom received Oscar nominations for their work. However, the film was immediately met with an unfortunate status as a “box office bomb.” It failed to open big and its Oscar chances were slashed. It also didn’t help that the low audience turnout resulted in any chance of anything about the film being associated with “breakout” to be a pretty humorous wish.

Yet for those who saw the film, there was something electric about Waterston. Yes, Fassbender deserved all of his acclaim. However, there is something admirable about acting alongside a talent of his magnitude. Playing the fallen wife of Steve Jobs, she delivers her Aaron Sorkin-penned lines with authority and depression in every line. She wants the best for her family, but has to face a stubborn selfishness in Jobs’ quest to launch products and create a brand. The creator is able to make products that connect everyone except him and his coworkers and family.

Waterston may be more of a plot device, leading to a more interesting father/daughter dynamic that builds to the film’s cathartic conclusion. However, the early scene where she discusses living in a hovel and being accused of various seedy allegations is a moment that is striking. It tears into Jobs’ identity while making her and her daughter more sympathetic. It is something that is brief, but says volumes about what this man stands for. She wants the best for family. He wants the best for his brand. The clash is something that comes through thanks to Waterston’s ability to handle Sorkin dialogue and elevate an otherwise one note character.

It may seem silly to suggest that an actress with three great films to her credit deserves a piece like this. However, I do think that she’s an impressive up and comer. She is also one of the central reasons why I’m excited to see Fantastic Beasts. I do predict that if nothing else, she will have a higher profile that she’s definitely earned over the past few years. Maybe greater things are to be found in her path. Whatever the case may be, she is someone to look out for. She’s earned every ounce of acclaim, and I hope that this takes her to the next level.

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