Sunday, March 23, 2014
Sylvia Miles in Farewell, My Lovely
But all of that is not to say that Miles doesn't at least attempt to pull together a good performance. For such a loud woman both in life and onscreen, she is surprising subdued and comfortable in her role here. Jessie Florian is something of a stereotype, the washed up wannabe actress who never quite realized her dreams and has become bitter in her old age. But Miles does well to imbue her character with a softness that is clear from the second she comes onto the screen. She is intrigued as this detective comes to her door, and it becomes clear that she is both an alcoholic and someone in desperate need for company. Miles plays it cool, expressing Jessie's want for connection mostly through looks and suggestive movements like opening her robe just a little too much. Her control on the character is truly admirable, and the way in which she subtly hints that there is more to Mrs. Florian then meets the eye is understated and effective. However, while her acting is certainly solid, it never really elevates into the next level that one expects of an Oscar nominated performance. It's capable supporting work in total service of the film, but at the expense of much impact.
The performance contains essentially two scenes, the first of which contains the most meat. It's in this scene that Miles establishes the emotional center of the performance, and the despair and poverty that Jessie's life has spiraled into. There are tons of little character moments, like when Miles performs a bit from her old show for a brief second, or when she swigs a sip of whiskey straight from the bottle before serving it to Marlowe. It's these little touches that make the performance always enjoyable and you can nearly feel Miles aching for more to do. Her second scene is almost entirely negligible, essentially rehashing many of the same beats as the first (dependency on alcoholism, casual flirting with Marlowe, etc). This scene more clearly shows the plot device that Mrs. Florian was designed to be, despite Miles's valiant attempts to do something, anything with this plot device character.
I'm quite baffled as to how Miles managed to secure a nomination for this specific performance. Unlike her performance in Midnight Cowboy, which was brief but incredibly loud and memorable this performance is smaller and subtler. Jessie Florian doesn't feel like too well defined of a character, and certainly not flashy enough to stand out above any of the other characters encountered throughout this story. None of this is Miles fault, and I can see her attempting to do something with this performance but in a film so unconcerned with her beyond the information she has to advance the plot, she can't really go anywhere with it. Never a bad performance, but nothing of note that makes it truly memorable or noteworthy. 2.5/5 Thelmas.