Sunday, September 27, 2015

1974: Ellen Burstyn for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

As the title character, Burstyn plays a housewife living in Socorro, New Mexico. When her husband dies, she decides to take her 11-year-old son to her hometown of Monterey, California so she can start a new life there as a singer. The only problem is, she doesn't have enough money to get there, but she is determined to overcome that and any other obstacles she may face.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this movie because I had a lot of trouble finding a way to watch it. The library didn't have it, I couldn't find a way to buy a copy for a reasonable price, and it wasn't on any of the usual streaming websites. Ultimately I ended up renting it on demand, which I really didn't want to do, but I am just as determined to watch all the Best Actress winners in order as Alice was to get to Monterey, so I had to cave in and pay the $3.99. After watching it, I'm sad this movie isn't more readily available because it's actually quite good, and I think other people would like it if they had an easier way to watch it.

Burstyn's performance overall is wonderful. My main criticism would be that her singing isn't really that great for someone who's only ever made her living as a singer, but I think that enhances the character. It makes her situation seem more desperate and hopeless that her only job experience is at something she's not even very good at to begin with. By far the best aspect of her performance is her interaction with the kid who played her son. They have one of the most believable mother-son dynamics I've ever seen portrayed on screen, although maybe I just think that because pieces of it reminded me of the way my mom and my brother interact. The way they jokingly tease each other and share fun moments that no one else would really understand: I've seen that in real life a lot, but I hardly ever see it on the screen. So that was my favorite part.

In addition to her relationship with her son, I found most other aspects of her character very believable because she embodies them so well: the frustrated but still devoted wife, the wannabe singer, the disappointed waitress. The only thing I didn't find believable was her relationship with Kris Kristofferson's character. They keep saying they're in love, but they don't really act like it. It's not even that they have a dysfunctional relationship that they've mistaken for love; it's more like they have no relationship. He just kind of appears out of nowhere and suddenly they're sort of involved, but we don't really see them interact that much, and they don't have very good chemistry. I don't think he should be billed as her co-star; the story's mostly about Alice and her son, not Alice and random sort-of-lover-boy. But other than that, it's a moving performance in an engaging story, and I'm very glad I found a way to watch it.

Ellen Burstyn has been nominated for six Academy Awards: five Best Actress and one Best Supporting Actress. She was first nominated for her supporting role in 1971's The Last Picture Show. She was then nominated for 1973's The Exorcist before winning for this movie. After this she was nominated for 1978's Same Time, Next Year, 1980's Resurrection, and 2000's Requiem for a Dream. Burstyn is now in her 80s, but she's still working, so it's possible she'll receive another nomination, or even another win, at some point. We'll have to wait and see.

Next up: Louise Fletcher, in the fifth Best Picture Winner to feature a Best Actress winning performance, and the first in 33 years.

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