1.04.2009

Kristen Davis in Sex and the City (2008) - Supporting Actress Blogathon - Supporting Actress Sunday

This post marks my contribution to "The Class of 2008 - Supporting Actress Blogathon" instigated by -- well -- ME. Click here to see the broad accumulation of posts celebrating the delights and surprises of the many wonderful actresses at the edges of 2008.


One of my most favorite performances by an actress at the edges in 2008 came, surprisingly enough, from a familiar performer essaying a well-established character. ...

...Kristen Davis in Sex and the City (2008)
approximately 26 minutes and 10 seconds
46 scenes
roughly 18% of film's total running time
Kristen Davis plays Charlotte York Goldenblatt, one member of the Sex and the City franchise's defining foursome of women. In the series, Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte individually maneuver the (by turns) hilarious, horrifying and exhilarating pitfalls of contemporary romance as they also collectively nurture one another through the sustaining power of loving friendship.
Where Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie is the narrative's journeying every(wo)man (with Cynthia Nixon's Miranda as the cynical pragmatist and Kim Cattrall's Samantha as the unrepentant hedonist), Davis's Charlotte remains romantic idealist, the one who yet clings to often childlike ideals of true love, pure romance, and happily ever after.
The film basically compresses a set of story arcs that might have spanned an entire season of the television series into one marathon jolt. And this extended "episode" of the narrative finds Davis's Charlotte securely ensconced in her own "happily ever after" -- married to her unlikely prince charming, Harry (the winning Evan Handler) and mother to daughter Lily. As such, Charlotte might seem to have the least conspicuously dramatic story arc. While Samantha, Miranda and Carrie are each compelled, in varyingly dramatic measure, to assess the long-term sustainability of their primary relationship, Davis's Charlotte is the sole figure to remain contentedly committed throughout the film.
Yet, and perhaps as a result, the film depends on Davis for different things.
Indeed, in ways I find quite admirable, Kristen Davis's performance -- equal parts broad comedy and sentimental emotion -- maintains the curious tone required by the Sex and the City conceit.
Throughout the franchise, the character of Charlotte challenges the other characters, as well as the audience, to continue believing in their romantic dreams. Davis's accomplishment in the role is that she does so with simplicity, silliness and sincerity, while also allowing the wisdom earned through the character's more painful life lessons to leaven her integral sweetness.
Here, Davis is called upon to deliver some of the film's most broadly comic scenes...
as when Charlotte "poughkeepsies" her pants while on vacation in Mexico,
in addition to some of the film's most vulnerable moments, as when Charlotte expresses her deep fear that disaster must await her happiness.
Yet no scene demonstrates Davis's ability to play the most serious and most silly aspects of her character more efficiently than the jilting sequence, in which Big (Chris Noth) refuses to meet Carrie at the altar.
In this scene, just after Parker's Carrie has exploded with the rage of her humiliation, she finds protection in the arms of Davis's Charlotte. And as Noth's Big moves toward the broken bride-to-be, Davis's Charlotte stops him with a galvanic, shriek of "No!"
Watching Davis's Charlotte become the raging Mama Bear in this moment is a fundamental thrill. Time seems to slow within her shriek, as if the forces guiding the universe momentarily realign to make space for this formidably raging woman.
Yet the bit that takes this exhilarating moment into the realm of the brilliant comes next, as Charlotte must then move around the back of the limo to get in the car. The combination of the dress, the shoes, the street surface and the actress causes something marvelous to manifest here: as Davis scurries on her tippytoes, she looks ridiculous and Davis's Charlotte knows it. With this simplest cross, Davis somehow manages to infuse a precisely correct measure of goofball comedy, elevating the poignancy of the preceding episode with a startling effervescence.
This electrifyingly emotional sequence of moments in the film distills what I so admire about Davis's inhabitation of the supersweet character of Charlotte.
Throughout the film, Davis calibrates Charlotte's bathos (the burlesque on the princess archetype) and Charlotte's pathos (the persuasive empathy for the romantic idealist) with an artistry that's all too easy to overlook. And, in essential ways, Kristen Davis's seemingly effortless blend of broad comedy and vulnerable sincerity holds the central note for this, at times, chaotic collection of competing voices.
Kristen Davis's work as Charlotte in Sex and the City is not the kind of actressing that typically garners much attention from critics or other awards bodies. But, for me, as one who fancies himself something of an aficionado of actressing at the edges, Davis's work stood out as one of the most instrumentally clarifying performances in any film I saw this year, the kind of performance that made the whole movie make sense if only for the moments her character was on screen. Only two other performances did the same thing for me this year: Dianne Wiest in Synecdoche, New York and Hannah Schygulla in The Edge of Heaven.
And whenever I consider any performer in the same supporting actress zone as Schygulla and Wiest, well -- that's a reminder, if only to myself, that Kristen Davis really was doing something special in Sex and the City.

7 comments:

Emma said...

Good pick! Kristen Davis was so sweet and cute as Charlotte. I totally agree about what you said about her moments of vulnerability.

Matt said...

she certainly played a slew of roles for this character, such as your pictures illustrate

Cal said...

She definitely did well, especially since I don't think she has a lot to work with.

I remember her taking me by surprise with her fierce reaction to Big on the wedding day. And yeah, it's as much a defence of her renowned romanticism as it is a woman standing by one of her best friends.

NATHANIEL R said...

i really love that you've been such a champion for this performance because even though I don't necessarily agree as to the extent of her accomplishment you really made me look at the performance in a new way (which is the best part of these profiles) AND I really appreciate that you have such a firm understanding of "style" in performance.

it's really so underdiscussed. Not every performance is meant to be method, or naturalistic or literally stylized. But every performance should have a style that suits or enhances or adds some texture to the material, particularly in tonally tricky material which S&tC certainly is because it's both fantasy and comedy and brand.

it's tricky stuff and actors who can navigate these things are almost never recognized for it.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Davis was my favourite part of the film too. That scene with the big "No!" is indeed very good and I think is an example of was the series did so well - showed the lengths that these womens' bond goes to.

jakey said...

I love your comment about how Charlotte has the least conpiscously dramatic arc -- it's true, yet when she does get her big confessional scene (and in a movie chock full of them), Davis nails it. I also thought her shriek when Carrie announces her engagement was the biggest laugh of the film.

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