Friday, January 10, 2014

Jocelyne LaGarde in Hawaii

Jocelyne LaGarde received her first and only Oscar nomination for her performance as Queen Malama in George Roy Hill's Hawaii. For a three hour epic blockbuster Hawaii is a surprisingly tame film, focusing on the ramifications of colonization and the attempted Christianization of the Hawaii people as opposed to giant set pieces. Unfortunately, it makes for a very, very dry film with the occasional snippet of intrigue, and the film suffers from a lack of nuanced characters and the proliferation of one-note performances that make up the central cast. The real lead of the film is not Julie Andrews' saint-like Jerusha but rather her husband Reverand Hale (Max von Sydow), an overly zealous preacher. Von Sydow plows through the film with condescension and forceful fanaticism, which may make for a decent supporting villain but hardly the type of person who you want to spend three hours with. Always more interesting than the colonizers are the native Hawaiians, who are generally kind, fun-loving, and intrigued by these new people. Jocelyne LaGarde plays Queen Malama, who is the Alii Nui (aka leader) of the tribe and effectively in charge of making the laws. This is LaGarde's only film credit, as she was a native Tahitian that spoke no English who was taught her lines phonetically. Considering she is a standout in this dreary film, it is no wonder the Academy recognized her, and as we all know (hi Barkhad Abdi!), they love a good back story behind their nominees.

Jocelyne LaGarde has quite possibly the most bizarre entrance into a film in the history of Oscar nominated performances, as her character is lifted up onto a boat using a pulley-type system as if she was a sack of potatoes while LaGarde sheepishly waves and smiles all the while. However, that entrance sets the light tone with which Malama will be portrayed for the remainder of the film, as it quickly becomes clear that Malama has almost a child-like innocence and warmth to her. LaGarde gives her an aura of positivity and love throughout the film that is nice and refreshing considering so many of the less warm characters that surround her. She's a woman who has lived her entire life getting everything she wants, as her birthright essentially makes her god-like, but who still tries to do right by her people. What is certain is that LaGarde has a wonderful presence and the right amount of charisma to pull off this character, who is dignified and larger than life but also sweet.

What is less certain is whether or not LaGarde's performance is really a conscious form of acting or simply a woman going through the emotions as coached by her director, translator, or whomever. Whenever asked to deliver dialogue or express an emotion or inner conflict it's clear that LaGarde is consciously thinking of each and every moment of this performance. She visibly is going through the emotions in her head, and it all scream of ACTING rather than inhabiting a character. She pulls it off somewhat because the character is supposed to be a little brash and impulsive, but most times it's clear that this is a very inexperienced actress going through the part in a very simplistic broad manner. Dialogue is the biggest hang up for her, and a pivotal scene where she reads off new laws for the town is simply incoherent, as she smiles at the wrong places and doesn't seem to be expressing the right emotions that go with that particular scene. Basically, she doesn't know what she's saying, she's just saying it.

However, there is one area in which LaGarde truly excels acting wise and that is in her relationship with her husband Kelolo (Ted Nobriga). There is a whole storyline about how she must stop living with her husband because they are brother and sister in order for Malama to fully convert to Christianity and be "saved". It's bizarre to say, but the relationship of genuine affection and love between Malama and Kelolo is the only truly convincing one in the film and that's because of the chemistry between LaGarde and Nobriga. LaGarde's final scene in which she turns him away on her deathbed in order to get into heaven is truly emotional and tangible, and it's all etched on her face and in her eyes. It's, in my opinion, the only real moment of acting that comes off as genuine and not a performance. It feels real. You have to give big props to her for making an incestuous relationship so easy to root for.

All in all, LaGarde's performance and nomination brings up a lot of questions on what is good acting, and how does one determine that. LaGarde's casting is perfect and she's a warm and welcome presence onscreen, but none of her acting choices feel effective or organic into the character. They feel like acting, bad acting. She's at her best when simply being, flashing a smile or letting out a laugh or hugging someone. I never disliked watching her onscreen, but I simply can't justify her getting an Oscar nomination for this performance. 2.5/5 Thelmas.

1 comment:

Allen said...

You've piqued my interest but I can't find any clips of her...and I don't know if I want to watch the film to actually see her :\ But I read that she won the Golden Globe that year....crazy!