Friday, January 29, 2016

2005: Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line

Witherspoon plays June Carter, a country singer who finds herself falling for messed up, drug addicted, already married Johnny Cash in spite of herself.

A lot of people don't think Witherspoon deserved this award, and I can understand why. The movie's way more about Johnny Cash than June Carter, and Joaquin Phoenix did such a tremendous job as the lead that it doesn't really make sense that she won the film's only Oscar. That's my biggest objection to her win. Other complaints I can't speak to with much authority, even though I can believe that they're valid. I don't know very much at all about the actual June Carter, but people complain that Witherspoon doesn't channel her very well. And a lot of people seem to think that other nominated performances were more worthy, but I haven't seen any of them except Keira Knightley's in Pride & Prejudice, and I've seen way better portrayals of Elizabeth Bennet than hers, so I don't think she deserved to win. Anyway, I get it, this isn't the best Oscar-winning performance ever. But partly because I love Reese Witherspoon, and partly because watching the movie specifically for her performance gave me more of an appreciation for it than I had before, I'm going to talk about why this is a more deserving performance than everyone seems to think.

First of all, Reese Witherspoon is not known for her singing talents, yet here she is, consistently killing it with every song. Of course, the same can be said of Joaquin Phoenix, and I still really don't understand why he didn't win an Oscar, too, but I digress. Her unexpectedly amazing singing was probably a big factor in her win, but I don't think it was the only one. Because despite the fact that June is not the main character, she's still a very complex person whom Witherspoon portrays very believably. She may not act like the real June Carter, but she does act like a real person who has been in the spotlight her whole life, has experienced very public heartbreak, and is still trying to maintain a positive attitude. Her explanation of how she "learned to be funny" because her sister was always seen as the better singer is almost unnecessary because you can see it in her face when she's doing her schtick versus when she's singing. She looks at home while she's singing, like this is what she wants to do, but she looks more confident when doing comedy, like she's thinking that at least she's the best in the family at something. As for the love story aspect, for most of the movie June doesn't really have anyone to talk to about her feelings, but we don't need that because we can see it all clearly written on her face. She cares about him a lot, but she doesn't want to, at first because they're both married to someone else, then because of his drug addiction. This struggle is readily apparent to the audience, despite her attempts to hide it from other characters. And she and Phoenix have such interesting chemistry that we're rooting for them to end up together even when he's going through one of his psychotic spells.

To summarize, although Phoenix overshadows her and she doesn't have that much screen time, I think Witherspoon gives the best possible performance given these limitations. It's nowhere near the best performance to ever win this award, but it's better than it's given credit for. I just think you need to watch it a few times before you can move past Joaquin Phoenix's captivating performance and appreciate hers. Seriously, how in the world did he not win an Oscar?

This was Reese Witherspoon's first Oscar nomination. Personally I think she was more worthy in 2001's Legally Blonde, but that's not really an Oscar-type movie, so it's not too surprising that she wasn't nominated. Anyway, she's only been nominated once more since this, for 2014's Wild. According to IMDb she's got about a zillion projects in development right now, so we'll have to see how those turn out.

Up next: Helen Mirren

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