Amy Madigan received her only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Sunny Sobel in Bud Yorkin's Twice in a Lifetime. As far as marital dramas go, Twice in a Lifetime is a pretty standard and unspectacular film, starring Gene Hackman as a middle-aged steelworker who leaves his wife (an effective Ellen Burstyn) for a sultry barmaid (Ann-Margret). The film treats this central development as an inevitability and thus loses much real drama. It doesn't help that Hackman and Ann-Margret give such insufferable performances that I found myself easily giving my sympathies to Burstyn. Amy Madigan gives the most magnetic and lively performance in the film as Sunny, the couple's oldest daughter who finds herself going through some financial struggles, with the separation of her parents affecting her deeper than her parents might have thought.
Madigan is without a doubt an actress with some interesting qualities, lacking in conventional beauty and having a brusque vocal quality that she can't seem to downplay no matter the role. Dressed in a collection of frumpy soccer mom outfits and a tomboyish haircut she pummels through this film like a bulldog, vacillating between quiet lovability and manic rage. It makes for an interesting combination, as Sunny clearly has positioned herself as the person in the family that protects and watches out for everyone, and is not equipped to handle the situation that the separation has placed her in. After finding out about the affair that her father has undertook with a barmaid, you can feel that Sunny's furious reaction goes farther than pity for her mother and hurts her on a higher level. A key part of her storyline is the financial troubles she and her husband (who she loves) are going through, and Madigan makes it palpable that Sunny hates her father for messing up a life that she desperately wants to have. It's been done before-the children falling apart because of a change in their parent's relationship, which they have modeled their own lives on, but Madigan doesn't make it seem too overdone.
This personal rage culminates in an intense and wonderfully acted scene in which Madigan confronts Hackman at the bar where he is openly flirting with his new mistress. As Ellen Burstyn reacts with passivity and confusion, Madigan takes up the position of being angry for her and delivers as forceful confrontation that is somewhat ruined by Hackman's buffoonish performance. Madigan isn't afraid to overdo it and even though she dips a little too deeply into overacting she comes out on top with the pure force of the scene. After this confrontation towards the middle of the film Madigan is left to pick up the pieces of her now "broken" family, and handles herself with strength and composure for the rest of the film. She's not allowed very much more important scenes, but distinguishes herself adequately by being emotionally available and alert for the rest of the film. By picking up the pieces of the family and putting them back together, Madigan's character grows to become a strong and independent person separate from her parents more than she thought she could be.
I suppose the main detracting factor in the performance is that sometimes Madigan can be a little uneven, but that is something that seems built into her character. As the mediator and central figure in her family dynamics Madigan changes her approach from scene to scene, but remains a rough edge throughout. It's a consistently interesting performance that makes use of her natural talents as an actress and rises about the mediocre material.What I got out of Twice in a Lifetime may have been ever so slight, but Amy Madigan does her best to link together the pieces into something that sort of works. At the very least when she was off screen I always preferred her to the alternatives (Hackman, Ann-Margret, Sheedy). 4/5 Fancy Funerals.