Toni Collette in The Sixth Sense (1999) - Supporting Actress Sundays

M. Night Shyamalan is one of those directors whose films I want to like more than I do. And while that, in and of itself, is pretty conventional so far as critical reactions to M. Night go, I feel my longing is of a slightly different nature: I wish M. Night's movies were better because I just love his taste in supporting actressness. (Anybody who thinks to put Sigourney Weaver, Cherry Jones, Judy Greer, Jayne Atkinson, and Celia Weston in the same movie definitely has my attention.) Alas, only one of M. Night's many worthy actresses at the edges has been able to parlay M. Night's fascination into an introduction to Oscar...

...Toni Collette in The Sixth Sense (1999)
approximately 18 minutes and 29 seconds
13 scenes
roughly 17% of film's total running time
Toni Collette plays Lynn Sears, a hard-working single mom in Philadelphia who's completely devoted to her young son even as she's utterly flummoxed by his strange behavior.
The role of Lynn is ripe for cliché. She's yet another regular mom terrified by the mystery of her child's supernatural encounters. But Collette puts a distinctive stamp on the the stock character by emphasizing what is most simple and most true about the character: Collette's Lynn loves her son Cole (Haley Joel Osement in a memorably vivid performance) with an equal mix of ferocity and vulnerability.
From the first scene, there's no doubt that she will do anything within her power to keep her weird little son safe and secure, at least in the knowledge that he is loved, that they are in this life thing together.
Yet for all her devotion, Cole remains a mystery to Lynn, a mystery that frightens Collette's Lynn on a daily basis.
Lynn's character arc charts the shifts in this mother's fear -- her fears for her son,
...her fears of her son,
...and, most terrifyingly, her fears that her son is beyond her protection.
Collette's Lynn has a ritual that she enacts with her son every time he wonders aloud that she might think him a freak. "Look at my face," she commands before affirming -- to herself as much as to her young son -- that she will always love him, and stand by him. It's the way Collette's Lynn rights herself when she gets a little off course, and it's what lays the foundation for what becomes the film's most emotionally substantial scene: the revelation in the car.
In this scene between Collette and Osment (their final scene in the film), Osment's Cole decides to finally "come out" to his mother about his secrets.
Collette's Lynn has been begging Cole to open up to her for the entire time we've known her, yet, when he begins to do so, she's wary -- skeptical -- unsure.
Until little Cole drops a big bombshell, which rocks his mother to her emotional foundation, permitting the two to embrace with a renewed trust that helps assure the audience that, together at last, this mother and son will find a way to maneuver Cole's mysterious path through life.
Collette's work in the role is beyond merely effective. She layers complexity and compassion into Lynn's every gesture, providing the emotional anchor for a film that threatens in every other scene to float away into genre-study abstraction. Collette is funny, formidable and fundamental to the film's success. And while the nomination likely came because of the haunting veracity of her scene in the car (it's always good for a possible Supporting Actress nominee to have an extended heartrending scene toward the end of the picture), Collette's nomination is worthy recognition of an actress who has proven to be one of the most delightful practitioners of Supporting Actressness in her generation.


Rural Juror said...

I LOVE her in that movie. I really do. Easily the best of the nominees

jakey said...

I always remember Oscar clips more than I remember actual performances if it's a movie I've only seen once. It really says something that almost ten years later I can still remember what they showed for both her and Jolie.

. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anna said...

Thanks for a well-done analysis that credits this actress with fleshing out the depths of what could so easily have been what is often a throw away type - "the understanding blah blah MOM." Mother characters struggle so hard so often to be more than nurturing-on-cue, bleeding hearts.

Thanks much!

whip-smart said...

Hated the film, loved this performance.

Jakey - I know what you mean. I can still remember most of the clips 2002 +.

Queen Latifah - "When You're Good to Mama" intro

Patricia Clarkson - "be prepared"

Holly Hunter - breaking up her son and daughter's fighting with the hockey sticks

Marcia Gay Harden - crying on the steps

Cate Blanchett (04) - golfing

Virginia Madsen - wine monologue

Sophie Okonedo - screaming out the back of the truck

Laura Linney - talking about the wasps

Natalie Portman - screaming and then slamming a door

Rachel Weisz - "take me to Africa with you"

Michelle Williams - crying in the kitchen

Amy Adams - "you did not!"

Catherine Keener - "you paid him to say that"

Frances McDormand - driving the truck

Abigail Breslin - finding out she's been accepted

Rinko Kikuchi - "they look at us like we're monsters"

Saoirse Ronan - "I saw him"

Amy Ryan - "it's real hard being a mother"

Cate Blanchett - monologue in the car

Ruby Dee - "I'll leave you"

Tilda Swinton - in the restaurant w/ Clayton

Dame James Henry said...

While I'm fond of Collette in general and this performance, I must say that I never got the big hoop-la over it. Sure, that final scene is a wowza, but I never found anything particularly noteworthy in the first part. I find it a shame that Collette was finally nominated for, in my opinion, one of her weakest performances after giving Oscar-worthy ones in both Muriel's Wedding and the previous years' Velvet Goldmine.

StinkyLulu said...

I'm inclined to think that Collette was a "coaster" in 1999 - the kind of supporting actress performance that would have likely never received much Oscar attention had the film not gathered such nomination momentum...

Michael Parsons said...

The main problem Collette faces as an actress is the fact that she is so good at becoming these characters that you do not see the acting.

I always thought she should have won for this role, and been nominated since then. So glad you felt the same.
And I do agree that her nomination was a surprise, but a most plesent one


i love her so much in this film and in others but the problem is consistency yes. She's so dependable and in such minor roles (often) that look deceptively easy even though she adds way more than the film requires or as much asit really goes require while remaining thankless

she's awesome. and easily one of the 20 most essential actresses working I think... good in everything and in so many films too.

JS said...

First time to ever see this movie today.

I so love it that her character was trying to fit their problems into the family genre. She was oblivious but willing to trek through the drama.

I can't decide now whether who gets my loyalty for 1999: Keener or Colette. :(

Gustavo H.R. said...

This is one of those important supporting performances that shows how great and crucial to a film's dramatic effectiveness an actress can be. I know nothing about acting, but as a viewer, I can say that Collette really exceeded in excellence here.

whip-smart said...

Toni Collette should have been nominated and won for 'Muriel's Wedding' - her performance easily trumps all those actresses nominated in the lead category in 1995.

If I had my way, Bill Hunter and ESPECIALLY Jeanie Drynan would also have been nominated in the supporting categories.

J.J. said...

The statuette should've been hers. (Also, I will never understand why people go ga-ga for Keener in Malkovich.)

robbie said...

Glad you liked Collette's performance. She is absolutely magical in a performance that tends to go right over people's heads.

Stock part, yes, but Collette puts in EVERYTHING that she has to give Lynn Sear a compelling, emotional reality. Heartbreaking and brilliant.

Brooke Cloudbuster said...

I'm really not a big fan of this movie and I didn't go ga-ga over this performance. It's good, and I love Collette, but I felt she did more with her cameo in The Hours than she did here.

Where's the love for Olivia Williams, though?

StinkyLulu said...

Where's the love for Olivia Williams, though?

Oh my.


You're not going to find any over here...

The Squirrel said...

There is one more thing that is remarkable about Toni Collette in this motion picture. Speaking as a native Philadelphian, and keeping in mind the picture was set in Philadelphia, I can tell you it's quite remarkable how Collette captured the speech and mannerisms of blue-collar Philadelphia in her performance. That's even more remarkable considering she's from Australia, for goodness' sake! She is just the perfect Philadelphia mom in this picture.