Monday, June 4, 2012

Meg Tilly in Agnes of God

Meg Tilly received her first and only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Sister Agnes in Norman Jewison's Agnes of God. Tilly plays a novice nun who gives birth and claims the dead child was a result of a virgin conception. Jane Fonda and Anne Bancroft play a psychiatrist and mother superior respectively who butt heads in the resulting police investigation. The film itself is an exceedingly dull experience, with the two female leads giving weak, directionless performances that only highlight the stagey blandness of the material. Through the overall strange nature of her role, Tilly is immune to the banality of her film by being the only performer who holds your attention. Sister Agnes has to be one of the most unique and just plain strange characters to be nominated for this award, which makes Meg Tilly's performance a really hard one to review, much less to give a rating. The character is just on a whole other wavelength from most Oscar-nominated characters.

Sister Agnes isn't just a naive girl, she's a young woman who has spent the entirety of her life away from the rest of civilization under the sole care of an abusive mother who never taught her anything in the ways of sexuality or even just much general education. She's uncommonly confident in her skewed opinions and views, and sticks to the things her mother taught her despite everyone around her saying otherwise. Meg Tilly plays this bizarre (almost cult-like) dedication and naivety with various layers of sweetness. She has some obvious physical advantages, with her childlike face and baby voice (which is as grating as her sister's, albeit in a completely different way) allowing her immediate sympathy. Each scene seems to reveal an additional layer of Sister Agnes, and she gets progressively more unsettling, crazy, and otherworldly as the film progresses.

One thing Meg Tilly is not during this course of Agnes of God is subtle, but in this case that's probably a good thing. A character as unstable (and frankly, unrealistic) as Agnes isn't one that an actress needs to ground or base in reality because she's by design a unique, strange creation. Were Tilly playing Fonda or Bancroft's character her unsettling and glazed over delivery would be out of place, but it fits the role of Sister Agnes snugly. Tilly isn't afraid to dive into the outlandishness of her character, and she succeeds in making her the most interesting aspect of the film through pure watchability. It's a bold performance in which Tilly fully understands the absurdity of her character and embraces it wholeheartedly.

This performance is surely not to be for everyone, and I'd venture to guess that many probably even despise it. I'll admit that this was among the toughest performances for me to write about, much less rate. She just has a puzzling effect that changes from scene to scene. It's just so out there and it's own type of acting that comparing this to other performances of a completely different nature (sort of like Patty Duke's Oscar winning performance) is near impossible. Meg Tilly's presence is always felt in the film, and she does well in making Agnes memorable but never quite likeable. That's not to say Agnes needs to be likeable in the film, but makes it more difficult to rate. It's just a unique accomplishment that I feel will take me awhile to fully describe my thoughts on coherently. For now, I settled on 4/5 Fancy Funerals. That's just the rating that feels right to me.


Nues20 said...

Great review I don't know who's gonna get it.
Winfrey or Huston are my choices.

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Anonymous said...

Really interesting analysis, I did a review of the film on my blog you should check it out if you get the chance.