Wednesday, September 22, 2004

In Defense of Gwyneth

Gwyneth Paltrow on the cover of the September 17,
2004 Entertainment Weekly

Gwyneth Paltrow is one of my favorite actresses, but, as Charles Taylor points out in this excellent essay, she inspires much loathing in her detractors. Usually she makes interesting films with talented filmmakers. HARD EIGHT (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997), EMMA (Douglas McGrath, 1996), SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (John Madden, 1998), THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (Anthony Minghella, 1999), and THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (Wes Anderson, 2001) made my top tens. POSSESSION (Neil LaBute, 2002) made my honorable mentions.

Paltrow has scored the most attention for EMMA, a delightful introduction that showcased her grace and ability to carry a film, and SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. She also turned in very good work in HARD EIGHT and POSSESSION. In general, though, those films have good critical reputations. I thought she turned in one of 2003's best lead performances by a female in SYLVIA, but the minefield crossed in depicting Sylvia Plath's life distracted from a good film and Paltrow's great acting. There are few actresses who could have pulled off the highwire act required in SHALLOW HAL. As Taylor's piece points out, this lovely performance and the film was largely overshadowed by those with political agendas creating a stir even though they missed the Farrelly brothers' point. Although she plays a minor role in THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY, Paltrow is very funny as a ditzy actress. I was glad to see Taylor support her work in Alfonso Cuaron's GREAT EXPECTATIONS, a remake that works very well in capturing the spirit of the Dickens novel while updating the setting. (At the time I recall reading negative reviews complaining about the film not succeeding as a love story. Of course, this overlooks the fact that it's a coming of age film, not a romance.) I was also pleased that he points out SLIDING DOORS, a wonderful film which I suspect has built a respectable fanbase on home video.

Of her films since 1996, I'd go to bat for all of them except HUSH (Jonathan Darby, 1998), DUETS (Bruce Paltrow, 2000), and VIEW FROM THE TOP (Bruno Barreto, 2003). HUSH is easily the worst of the bunch and possibly the worst of her career. (I haven't seen most of her pre-HARD EIGHT films, going by the order in her Internet Movie Database filmography.) I remember little about the film other than being thankful that it was bad but hilarious. DUETS didn't strike me as the disaster that most were expecting and proclaiming at the time of its release. VIEW FROM THE TOP'S problems are directorial. The film is indecisive about whether it's kitsch or not, although it's almost amusing enough to pull it off.

Currently Paltrow is in SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW. Her performance won't garner awards consideration. It shouldn't, not because she's bad--she's perfect for the part and good in it--but because it isn't that sort of thing. She reteams with Madden for PROOF. I've heard nothing but great things about the David Auburn play on which it is based. I look forward to what could be another great performance in an accomplished body of work. The naysayers will just have to deal with it.

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