Amy Madigan in Twice in a Lifetime (1985) - Supporting Actress Sundays

There are times when a Supporting Actress nomination seems to pop out of thin air. Out of nowhere, from a film that nobody's seen, or even really heard of. The performance/film nominated might be incredible, an overlooked gem...or it might be good or just ok or even bad. The nominee might an old reliable Supporting Actress nominee...or a complete newbie. And while nominations don't pop out of the blue every every year, or even every coupla years, when they do...it's always a bit of a WTF moment. As it is this week with...

approximately 25 minutes and 46 seconds
22 scenes
roughly 25% of film's total running time

Twice in a Lifetime tells the story of a midlife divorce, in which a regular working class guy meets a barmaid and leaves his 30 year marriage, thus causing emotional havoc in the lives of his devoted wife and adult children. (Think of it as "Archie Divorces Edith.")

@ 1985 seconds - VOICE ON TV: "The girls go cruising in Daddy's new convertible..."

Twice's twist? The film remains resolutely sympathetic to all the characters (the husband, the wife, the kids and the chippy) while also stubbornly avoiding any/all "resolution through reconciliation" tricks. It's also intransigently upbeat. No domestic tragedy here. Twice in a Lifetime instead spins this divorce story as an incongruously happy tale. Everyone gets a second chance to lead a happier, more fulfilling life.

Of course, not everyone wants a second chance. Some people are just happy with the way things were before someone f*cked everything up, thank you very much, now go to hell. And that's where Amy Madigan's Sunny comes in.

Madigan's Sunny is the bossy, busybody middle daughter. Married, two kids, struggling to make ends meet, with a decent husband who just can't seem to catch a break. When her father (Gene Hackman) dumps her mother (Ellen Burstyn) after thirty years of marriage, Sunny's foundation is rocked. To the core. And, boy, is Sunny pissed.

Madigan plays Sunny as a tightly coiled spring. In the film's early scenes, Madigan's Sunny tries to live up to her name, putting forward a hap-hap-happy face as cover for the economic strain weighing heavily on her basically good marriage. But when her father dumps her mother for a barmaid? The desperate fury that's been building inside Sunny finds a target, and Madigan tears it loose.

Twice's narrative seems to offer Sunny as the character who, having made all the "right" choices (marriage, work, kids), is frustrated that things haven't worked out so well. And when her parents' marriage crumbles, Sunny begins to wonder if everything she's ever believed in has now been revealed to be a lie. Unfortunately, Madigan skips over these existential aspects of the character and instead plays Sunny as a wounded animal, now cornered and biting back. Hard.

Madigan's Sunny -- like her self-administered haircut (she's too broke to go to the salon) -- is all blunt edges and jagged corners. Sunny was ostensibly born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, not Chicago, but you'd never know that just by listening to Madigan's incongruous midwestern vocal affect. The accent's flat nasality amplifies the bitterness of Sunny's rants and transforms each of the character's many chattering screeds into a dull, annoying buzz. Sure, Madigan's performance captures Sunny "in the moment" but her work in the role neglects the broader architecture of the character. Who was Sunny before her life started going to shit? Who might she be after? (The only glimpses we get of Sunny other than "blind fury" come as a side benefit of Ellen Burstyn's genuine performance as Kate, the jilted wife left to find a new identity as a single woman in her 50s. As Madigan's Sunny supports her mother by shopping and playing bingo and going to strip clubs, a few glimmers appear of what Sunny might be like when she's not living her life to prove a point and punish her father. That said, Burstyn would have been a much more worthy nomination than Madigan.)

At this point, StinkyLulu's inclined to think that Amy Madigan's nod for Twice in a Lifetime is one of those dreaded apology nominations. (Madigan's overlooked performance in the previous year's Places in the Heart was loads more nomination-worthy than her work here, possibly even deserving of the trophy.) As it is, Madigan's work in Twice in a Lifetime emerges as one of the most annoying and uninteresting components of this banal and deservedly neglected film.


JS said...

So is it her acting or how her character was written that is problematic?

StinkyLulu said...

I think Madigan has formidable ability as an actor, but here she makes a few choices that block her in.

When Sunny's parents split, it jeopardizes her faith in everything she has spent her life believing in. (Basically, that the struggle will be worth it.)

But Madigan makes a vocal choice (that flat accent) and an emotional choice (the idea of a scared animal/child lashing out) that limits her range in depicting Sunny. It's not a brilliantly written role by any means but, rather than rummaging inside it (ala Burstyn) for interesting things to do, Madigan runs all over it...