Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Un-Dwarfable Vera Farmiga

A thousand apologies for the extended absence. And I apologize in advance if you thought this would be a post on Up in the Air. I've seen it, and I'll talk about it, in conjunction with all the other year-end movies I've been seeing. I'm in the process of trying to marshall together any number of year-end and decade-end features, so the radio silence from here will hopefully yield something good in the next week and beyond.

ANYWAY, I'm just popping in here to mention that I took a break from catching up on the year's most essential films last night and instead watched Orphan. Which, in a way, made a case for itself as one of the year's most essential films anyway. It's not great cinema, it's maybe not a good movie, but it is cheerfully junky in its depiction of the standard creepy-little-girl plot, is not at all interested in making its Freudian obsessions subtle, and actually made me think, on more than one occasion, of a movie as excellent as Rosemary's Baby. (In particular, it made me think Peter Sarsgaard would be the ideal choice to play Guy in a Rosemary's remake. Not that I think that should ever happen.)

Which brings me to the cast. Sarsgaard is excellent and just opaque enough to make him a malevolent presence even when he might totally not be. And once again, Vera Farmiga gives a committed, surprising, totally dialed-in performance. It's one of my favorite things about an actress who is quickly rocketing up my list of favorite actresses: no matter the project, its genre, or its perceived worth to critics, Vera will deliver a performance with energy and brains behind it.

I've only seen her in seven movies now (though I confess I don't recall her from The Manchurian Candidate), but she's never been less than impressive:

in Iron-Jawed Angels as a hard-worked factory woman.

in Running Scared where she was not only given improbable material in the oft-throwaway role of The Wife -- she engages in a truly WTF subplot with Bruce Altman and Elizabeth Mitchell that not only totally turned me around on this underrated movie but gave her an unexpected Linda Hamilton-style lady-ass-kicker thread to play.

in Breaking and Entering where she was an unglamorous take on the kind-hearted hooker, but was nonetheless a scene-stealer.

in The Departed where she justly won raves and probably should've been Oscar-nominated despite a seriously under-written (when it wasn't being stupidly written) role.

in Nothing But the Truth, where she made a foul-mouthed sprint to a finish line that ended up being in the middle of the movie (it suffers once she's gone). She's the most electric presence on the screen at all times, but she manages to save room for her co-stars. Kate Beckinsale won a few "Wow, who knew?" raves for this movie, but she has Vera to thank for her best scenes.

in Orphan, where she has a firm grip on the kind of movie she's in, manages to deepen a somewhat cliched character, and knows when the movie needs her to get campy.

and in Up in the Air, where she engages in two straight hours of scorching chemistry with George Clooney, setting herself up in the Lady Clooney role in a way Julia Roberts keeps trying to do, to no avail (not to knock Julia -- she's good at other things).

I'm never sure how plain I make my actor/actress obsessions around here, but fair warning: Vera's one of mine, now. I'm already getting antsy wondering what I'm missing not having seen movies like Down to the Bone or Joshua or Never Forever. Time to find out!


sam said...

I've loved her since I saw her in a tv show that ran for like, 8 episodes, where she played the cop? FBI? partner of that guy from Burn Notice, who had returned to the "job" after being shot in the head. I seem to remember Bradley Cooper being in it as well.

For some reason I totally latched on to her as awesome, and always noticed when she was in other things. The NYT Magazine did a great profile of her last year as well, on her attempts to work on higher profile projects.

So glad she's getting recognition these days.

Kirk Hamilton said...

You know, I've only seen her in the Departed, but she really made an impression, and in what I agree was a weirdly-written, not as good as it could have been role.

But something about the way she played it, with that sort of inquisitive cautiousness... it was really cool. And when she and Leo finally got down, that shit was hot.

I'm looking forward to seeing her in Up in the Air!

mathan said...

I've got to say that I'm also a fan of Vera. I vaguely remember her from the tv show Touching Evil. But it was catching Down to the Bone late night on cable that made me a fan of hers.

Oh, she also slayed me when she was a guest on Conan's old gig. She was charming and funny.

Chip Chandler said...

Oh, definitely catch her in Joshua, one of my favorite horror films of the decade. She's fantastic in it.