Cher received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Dolly Pelliker in Mike Nichol's Silkwood. The film is about the a worker at a plutonium plant named Karen Silkwood (played wonderfully as always by Meryl Streep) who discovers wrongdoing and deceit going on in the company and chronicles her quest to make change happen. It's a type of film that any Oscar watcher has seen millions of times with different variations (North Country, Norma Rae, etc.), yet Mike Nichols does a good job at making it different enough to keep you engaged and making it a character study about Karen more so than about the politics. Cher has a tough role only because the character of Dolly, Karen's lesbian housemate gets very little to do plot-wise, and to be honest the film would still work without her being in the film. However, it's a testament to Cher's performance that she made Dolly so memorable and linked with the film in my mind.
Whenever I had heard about this performance in the past the most common thread that shows up is how 'de-glammed' Cher got for the part, which is impressive considering the larger than life, glamorous persona she has developed for herself. But I can't really give her too much credit in that department, only because I feel it's unfair to the other nominees. I'm sure that Alfre Woodard, Linda Hunt, and Amy Irving all have significant differences from their characters (well, Hunt has some pretty obvious ones), but because I'm more unfamiliar with them those differences are not nearly as clear. So the physical aspects of the role (Dolly is always very butch, unkempt, and plain) aren't weighing all that heavy on my mind.
What Cher does so well to make this performance an amazing one is convey the emotions of Dolly in such a subtle yet effective manner. From the very beginning you can tell that Dolly is a sad person, and that is because of every single move and expression on Cher's face. Even when she's joking around with Karen you sense the pain in the performance. This is because Cher is a good enough actress to realize that she doesn't need to be over the top and that simplicity is so much more relatable and heartbreaking. For much of the film Dolly is just kind of there in the background, and even after she gets a girlfriend you never really sense any sort of emotions of happiness and her depression is still blatantly obvious. I found myself always drawn to what she was doing in the background, and searching for a break in character that didn't come.
Her relationships with both Karen and Drew (Karen's boyfriend and the third roommate) are both interesting, because in many ways she is both the third wheel and a potential love interest for Karen. The two have a complex friendship, and although it's clear for most of the film that the relationship is platonic, but two brief scenes in particular hint at something more and you can almost see it working out between the two in a strange sort of way. Her and Drew seem to never really talk throughout the film and have an almost quietly antagonistic relationship, which make a particular scene in which she 'misses' Drew bizarre and almost out of place. Cher makes both relationships work well, and the scenes where her and Drew have those intense moments are cold and very combative yet not obvious at all.
A performance of utter devastation that thrives off the fact that she doesn't have much to do, Cher does very little wrong. Yeah, the accent sort of waxes and wanes, but I've been the type to judge too harshly based on accents, and her voice is probably not the easiest to speak in accents. Her simplicity is her biggest strength, and by keeping the herself subdued and sullen, this background part takes a step firmly into the spotlight. Perhaps the most emotionally powerful performance reviewed on this blog so far (only Claire Trevor comes close). 4.5/5 Thelmas.