It's been some time since StinkyLulu's screened a new movie that offered any especially exciting actressing at the edges. (Of course, the fact that Lulu's been an über-slacker in terms of moviegoing doesn't help matters much.) And now that Nathaniel's got a new batch of Supporting Actress predictions up, not to mention a big discussion roiling, StinkyLulu'd started feeling a little left out of the vamping for this year's Supporting Actressness. But lo. Behold. In what is certainly the most blatantly incoherent gourmet flahooley of 2006, the Stinkys got an unexpected goose from a thrilling, hilarious and garish performance...
Among the most glaring inconsistencies -- of which there are many -- in Brian DePalma’s generally incoherent The Black Dahlia is the casting. And it’s not that some actors are extraordinarily good, while others are exceptionally bad. It's not even that it stars not one but two of StinkyLulu's least loved critical darlings (recast the Dahlia with Jennifer Connelly and it'd be a perfect trifecta of overratedness). No – it’s more a style thing. About half the cast tend toward cinematic naturalism while the other half lapse toward high theatrics. A matter of pitch as much as it is a matter of scale, the styles just don’t blend. The clash jars most in the discordance between Johanssen and Eckhart: she’s all smoking 40s glamourgal; he’s all rumply Gap everydude. Notably, Josh Hartnett's casting as the film's centerpiece character is nearly perfect: he’s a blank slate, a self-camouflaging chameleon, a cipher who adjusts to the needs of his scene partner. Unfortunately, in Dahlia, Hartnett has about 8000 scene partners, so the whole thing gets a tad confused after a while.
But then there’s Fiona Shaw. Shaw plays Ramona Linscott, the California society matron and mother to Hilary Swank's Madeleine (with whom Hartnett's character has an odd dalliance). It's finally in the scenes amongst the Linscott family that the film really dips into the grand guignol grotesquerie of the story. Daddy Linscott's a robber baron who literally built his fortune on rotting lumber. Maddy Linscott's a bisexual nymphomaniac with a taste for trash. Little sister Linscott does pornographic line drawings. And Momma Linscott -- basically, Shaw's Ramona is an utter loon, psychically ravaged by her family's misdeeds and heavily medicated besides. Shaw's Ramona is nearly bursting at the seams of social propriety in her first scene, her contorted twist of a smile snarling to a desperate grimace by the scene's end. And, then, in her surprise of a second scene, Shaw's Ramona becomes completely unmoored. Loopy, over-the-top and completely deranged – she's like a cabaret singer with a machine gun. And yet, Fiona Shaw’s Ramona Linscott emerges as the single character (around that dinner table or in the entire film) who seemed to be experiencing a plausible emotional reality. Simply put, Shaw performance is beyond brilliant. (Plus, she offers two of the kuh-raziest arias screen-acting has seen in some time. Kuh-razy like Dean Stockwell in Blue Velvet kuh-razy.)
And, to be clear, StinkyLulu's not suggesting that Fiona should clear her 2007 schedule for all those late-winter awards shows. Not hardly. Shaw's Ramona Linscott's waaaaaaay to crazy for award show voters these days... But, golly, if t'ain't some of the most exhilarating Supporting Actress work that Lulu's seen in some time, an easy contender for StinkyLulu's short list of Favorite Actressing at the Edges-2006.