Monday, January 6, 2014

Geraldine Page in You're a Big Boy Now

Geraldine Page received her fourth Oscar nomination (second in the supporting category) for her performance as Margery Chanticleer in Francis Ford Coppola's You're a Big Boy Now. Geraldine Page (along with someone like Greer Garson) is quite possibly the most forgotten of all Oscar's favorites, considering she sits in the same category as people like Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Peter O'Toole, and Jack Lemmon with an astounding 8 nominations. Unfortunately, it's nominations like this one that probably make her one of the more forgettable (at least to the general public) Oscar pets. Coppola's film is an undeniably sixties coming of age story about Bernard Chanticleer, a young man trying to find his own way in life, as he is jostled around and controlled by the various adults that surround him. The film is zany and joyously drug-filled, featuring lots of great music and plenty of scenes of Bernard ogling women and rolling his eyes at all the silly adults. It's one of those types of movies.

Geraldine Page plays the most culpable silly adult, Bernard's overprotective mother, Margery. When you think of the stereotypical portrayal of the overprotective mother, Geraldine Page's performance basically epitomizes each and every aspect of that stereotype. She shrieks shrilly. She pouts pitiably. She frets constantly. She nags incessantly. She wipes her son's nose, pesters him for not wearing his contacts, and even sends him locks of her hair in the mail as a keepsake (no, really). She hates each and every girl that shows the slightest bit of interest in her son ("whores" and "sluts" all of them). It's an absolutely paper thin character filled with every cliche you could possibly think of. One would hope that an actress of Geraldine Page's caliber would be able to find something interesting to do with this character to add a bit of humanity or roundness or hilarity to her shrill exterior.

Unfortunately, Page seems determined to do almost the exact opposite and plays into all of the worst impulses a character like this breeds. From her first moment on screen she makes Margery an unbearably ghastly presence, shrieking and carping her way through scene after scene. It's clear that Coppola is not even remotely interested in giving this woman any kind of humanity, and he obviously strands Page with an awful character. But, Page is also to blame at making her character neither entertaining or funny and instead shooting for the rafters. She's an actress with some knowledge of comedic timing, but none of her jokes or antics hit the mark. She's so deeply invested in the awfulness of this woman that she doesn't allow any room for the jokes to breathe or feel funny, and instead all of her fawning isn't amusing or pathetic it's just revolting. Page just remains on the same hysterical note throughout, and unfortunately it's not the funny kind of hysterical. I kept hoping that Page would offer us a glimpse into the deeper reasoning behind Margery's fawning, but instead she kept her doting on the surface level with no hint of a real women buried underneath.

There is exactly one decent moment where I felt a small, faint wisp of a laugh brewing in my throat, and that was when Geraldine Page confronts Karen Black's innocent Amy Partlett and questions her on the whereabouts of her son. Margery circles the girl like a lion sizing up it's prey, shooting daggers at her and using her frame to intimidate her. But one over the top scream later, she's back into god-awful territory. It's simply sad when one's only half-alright moment lasts all of four seconds. But hey, this was my attempt at positivity towards this performance.

Geraldine Page is an actress I truly admire. I love all three of her Oscar-nominated performances I've seen (Hondo, Sweet Bird of Youth, and The Trip to Bountiful), so I came into this film optimistic despite the bad buzz that surrounds this performance. Unfortunately, Geraldine Page delivers one of the worst Oscar-nominated performances I've ever seen. There is simply nothing of value to this performance, which is so deeply marred in unpleasantness without dimension that it can't pull off anything else. This film ends with all of the adult characters chasing after Bernard, with Page's Margery dragging miles behind everyone else. It's truly a perfect metaphor for her how stranded and lost she is in this film, both at the hands of Coppola and sadly, her own instincts. 1/5 Thelmas.


Allen said...

Interesting. I haven't seen any of Page's nominated performances, but I look forward to them as she's always seemed like an intriguing actress.

Funnily enough, I've just watched what I feel is the worst Oscar-nominated performances too!

Derek Bowman said...

Like I said, she is indeed a very interesting actress. Her Oscar win is among my favoritesm and I'm hoping this is an anomaly and not a sign of what's to come for her other Oscar nominations in this category.

Is yours Leslie Howard? Or someone new? )

Fritz said...

I haven't seen this performance yet but I can easily imagine that Geraldine Page can be awful with a character like this. Her talent really needed very careful characters or it destroyed everything...

Alex in Movieland said...

I've seen this long time ago, so excited I had finally found it. :)

I might've been more generous with the rating, from what I can remember, but indeed: nothing Oscar-worthy about it.

If this is your reaction, I think you're definitely going to dislike her in Pete'n'Tillie also :D

Derek Bowman said...

Fritz: I agree. Her theatrical style is definitely more hit or miss on the screen. Should be delicately used.

Alex: I've heard that this and Pete n' Tillie are in the same boat. It's a shame because I was so excited about those two. I love comedy noms in general.