Saturday, August 20, 2005

Saint Joan

The birthdays this week are just totally out of control: first Madonna, then Sean Penn, and now Joan Allen, quite possibly the best actress in Hollywood, give or take Julianne Moore, and quite possibly the sexiest actress in Hollywood, even if no one else agrees with me. And no, not because she is rail thin, which actually makes me worry, but because talent. is. sexy. (See also Penn, Sean; Crowe, Russell; Lange, Jessica; Elliott, Missy.)

If Joan Allen has ever given a bad performance, I haven't seen it. She's just a sublime presence; along with Moore and Tilda Swinton, and with Streep and Blanchett in their best moments, she has the gift of making not just her feelings but her thoughts almost uncomfortably lucid. It's like there's acting going on in her pupils, in her pores. Certainly there is acting going on in her neck and her limbs. That rail-thin body that can be such a challenge for awards-show gowns is impeccably expressive, swan-like, on screen. Allen is one of those actresses who make you realize that acting is supposed to be work as well as pleasurable as well as delicious. You can tell how subtly prepared she is, but she doesn't stand in the way of our acquaintance, our absorption in the character. I do not know how she does it.

If you're not a convert, a rough chronology of hits could begin with Manhunter, where she defies her future typecasting as the blind lab assistant turned on by a serial killer (the role Emily Watson inherited in Red Dragon). Next off the shelf could be Searching for Bobby Fischer, Steven Zaillian's gorgeously observed drama about a chess-playing child prodigy, with Allen immersed in a sea of gifted performers. Then the consecutive Oscar nods for Nixon and The Crucible; she is staggering in both, and deserved the Oscar for either one, though Mare Winningham, Kate Winslet, Barbara Hershey, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste were all her equals in exceptionally good years for that category.

In 1997, Allen was the best thing about Ang Lee's overrated Ice Storm, a film that is much stronger in its female characterizations even though the book was imbalanced in the other direction. In the same year, she nailed a supporting turn in the terrifically deranged crowd-pleaser Face/Off, which is basically where I decided she could do anything. Finally, she has great moments in Pleasantville, When the Sky Falls, and The Contender, but you could also slide forward to her bristling Pamela Landy in last year's The Bourne Supremacy; somehow, when she goes mainstream, Allen always seems to wind up in the summer's best blockbuster. And this year she's been everywhere, stunning and flexible in The Upside of Anger, frank and seductive in the treasurable Off the Map (just out on DVD), and apparently quite a hot dish in Sally Potter's Yes, which keeps eluding me in town after town... The worst part about moving is that it really screws with your moviegoing itinerary.

Anyway, happy 49th, Joan, and seriously, don't be bashful about calling or writing. You always have a place to stay in Hartford, CT.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heart Joan. Thanks for the tribute. She's staggeringly gorgeous and brilliant in Yes.

4:53 PM, August 20, 2005  
Blogger Calum Reed said...


She looks great for 49.

2:27 PM, August 21, 2005  
Blogger Dr. S said...

But I am glad you pointed out how skinny she's gotten. It's frightening--and it puts many years on her. Hope it's temporary.

5:27 PM, August 21, 2005  

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