Joan Cusack in Working Girl (1988) - Supporting Actress Sundays

In its preference for divas, dames and sweet young things, the category of Supporting Actress doesn't have a great track record for noting the broadly stroked sublimity of unapologetically comedic performances -- especially those submitted by performers who were both beyond puberty and pre-menopausal. Indeed, Oscar has tipped his hat to comparatively few funny younger women. Lucky for Lulu, one of the exceptions proving the rule arrives in the form of...

...Joan Cusack in Working Girl (1988).
approximately 8 minutes and 50 seconds
10 scenes
roughly 8% of film's total running time

Joan Cusack plays Cyn, the loyal and protective best friend to the protagonist of Mike Nichol's astonishingly effective romantic fantasy, Working Girl. (That this playful Big80s confection works better 20 years later is yet another testament to Nichols's particular genius.)

Cusack's Cyn is salt of the earth. The only thing bigger than Cyn's heart is her hair, and she has the accent, earrings and shoulder pads to match. (And as MrStinky's a Staten Island native, Lu's come to appreciate some of the nuances of Staten Island-ese -- at least a few of which Cusack captures pre-cise-ly, mining the vocal dimensions for both humor and empathy.)

Cusack's Cyn is not infrequently just hilarious, tossing in line readings ("And it's not even leath-uh!") and facial expressions that reverberate through the picture. (Click each image below to enlarge.)

Cusack's Cyn is an architectural marvel of visual artifice, but Cusack wears it well, allowing us to see Cyn's own conflict upon witnessing her friend Tess's transformation. Cusack ably conveys Cyn's escalating anxiety that, as Tess experiments with a new life, she may also leave Cyn behind. It's a simple elegant character arc festooned with heart-stopping eyeshadow.

And while Cusack's might seem a surprising nomination, it's not at all unearned. Cusack's Cyn -- more than any other character in the film -- anchors the narrative. Emotionally essential to the film's opening and concluding scenes, Cusack's Cyn provides the moral and emotional compass for the piece, while also goosing things every now and again with a blast of broad comedy that helps keep the tone this genre-swirl of a piece on pitch. Any number of actresses could have made the role absolutely funny, but the part requires a comedic actress of uncommon charisma and humanity. Cusack delivers these intangibles with preternatural ease, thus investing Cyn with a texture and significance well beyond the occasional guffaw. (Note that it's Cusack's Cyn to whom Nichols turns to confirm the narrative's moment of transcendent triumph.)

Cusack gives a brilliantly funny performance that's radiantly human besides. It's the brand of actressing at the edges that StinkyLulu loves best: delightful work that's easy to glide past without noticing just how essential it is to the success of the film.

But, then again, who can really glide past Cusack's Cyn...


Michael Parsons said...

The fact that her eye shadow and earings match in the last pic are worth an Oscar in itself.

RBurton said...

It's been a while since I've seen this, but I remember hating her and thinking it was the most undeserved Oscar nomination ever.

However, I remember Weaver being awesome.

mrweaver said...

yes a funny performance but come on what about maria aitken in a fish called wanda,diane venora in bird,kathleen turner in the accidental tourist,sonia braga in moon over parador,valeria golina in rainman,marth plimpton in running on empty,geneveive bujold in dead ringers all more deserving plus she siphoned votes away from the utterly fabulous best supporting perf of the 80's imo by sigourney weaver - robbed robbed robbed.

Raybee said...

Hey! You have screencaps from Cusack's funniest scene:

"Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea? Me?"