Saturday, November 10, 2012

Anjelica Huston in Prizzi's Honor

Anjelica Huston won an Academy Award on her first nomination for her performance as Maerose Prizzi in John Huston's Prizzi's Honor. If I never have to watch Prizzi's Honor again in my life, I would be just fine. It's not that the film is awful by any means, but I really just don't find it to be funny or come together in any coherent or clear way. It's trying to be a crime drama, comedy, and romance all rolled into one and just messes up each of those aspects without having any discernible strengths. The film is about the unlikely romance between two hit man/woman/people, Charley Partanna (Nicholson) and Irene Walker (Turner) and the troubles they face balancing their love and the demands of the powerful Prizzi crime family that employs Charley. Kathleen Turner is so very drab and Jack Nicholson pushes too far into the realm of clownishness  I enjoy William Hickey's performance more than most because at least he is entertaining and consistent in his outlandish characterization. Huston plays Maerose Prizzi, who has been ostracized from the family due to some vague situation involving Charley, to whom she was engaged. Honestly, I watched this film two hours ago (for a second time) and already am unclear about the reasons behind Maerose's exile, that's how little this film has stuck with me.

Knowing the details of Maerose's exile isn't especially important, because Anjelica Huston makes you feel the emotional impact of the exile from her first second on screen. She's an actress who always makes a big impression by virtue of her striking looks, but decked out in some memorably garish outfits she makes an even more startling impact. Her first scenes in the film are her best. They take place at a wedding where Maerose's presence is unwanted by her father, and here Huston does a marvelous job at expressing just how wounded and hurt she is by the forced isolation from her family. Huston is known for her strong and forceful characters, but in these first few scenes she does an adept job at playing Maerose as a strong woman struggling to maintain her composure. She also has very good chemistry with Jack Nicholson (most likely because of their longtime real-life relationship), despite the fact that he seems content with just mugging to the camera, a trap she herself falls into on occasion.

After these initially bursts of stark vulnerability, Huston's performance devolves into amateurish but not altogether awful territory, unfortunately. The script plays Maerose as the mastermind behind many of the events in the film, placing Anjelica as a sensual seductress and devious schemer. The seduction scene just didn't work for me, as Anjelica seems determined not to show any emotion besides a steely ambivalence, and instead focuses on her dialogue and line readings (which are admittedly sometimes genius). She maintains this steely flatness for the remainder of her film, with all that vulnerability shown at the beginning of the film disappearing altogether. It's a puzzling approach to the character, and one that makes her character too uneven and unbelievable. I may sound a little back and forth on this performance, and that is because in every scene (after the wedding) I found something small to like and a lot of larger things that took me out of the performance. I think she was trying too much here, and lost control of the emotional reins of her character.

That being said, Maerose does play to many of Anjelica's strengths of an actress such as her skill for dialogue and an absolutely domineering screen presence. I'm not sure she was quite the right actress for the part, ultimately, so I can only assume her relationships with Nicholson and her father convinced them that she was the right choice. It's not an awful performance by any means, and those early scenes are exceptionally good if only she could pull it together throughout the rest of the film. 3/5 Fancy Funerals.

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