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Jane Alexander Kramer Vs. Kramer
My Take: At a time when people quote the divorce rate at 50% (everyone knows someone who's divorced), it's almost quaint now to think about how this film was tackling a subject that hadn't been really discussed before. And while the story might center on Kramer Vs. Kramer, it's Alexander's single divorced mother that becomes the face of the issue. Talking honestly about how she feels, stating that she'll never remarry, and confessing that taking the vow "till death do us part" means something, Alexander's "liberated" woman feels just as alone in her new life as she did in her marriage. She's the person Hoffman's character can talk openly about how he's feeling and what Alexander does beautifully in all her scenes with him is actively listen. With a lesser actress, the role could very easily feel like a stock friend or a stand-in for the film's topics, but Alexander manages to make Margaret feel like a woman that has a life outside of the film's narrative, making her feel like a real person. ♥♥♥♥
Barbara Barrie Breaking Away
The Role: Billed as "Mom", veteran actress Barrie plays Evelyn Stoller the mother of a young man in Indiana that dreams of bigger things as a competitive cyclist.
My Take: Sometimes the goodwill for a Best Picture nominee in a crowd-pleasing film allows actors to ride the momentum and score nominations. Such is the case for Barrie, a perfectly lovely actress that is given next to nothing to do in this film. In the Academy's wheelhouse of Supporting Actress types, Barrie's supportive mother is all heart and motherly encouragement to her Italian-loving cyclist son. Barrie brings an easy warmth to her scenes with Dennis Christopher as her son. And delivers her lines in that off-handed actressy way meant to convey natural realism, but always kinda seems too calculated in its execution to ever feel completely genuine. Especially her "business" with her passport in the only scene close to allowing us any insight to her character's life. But the film isn't really interested in allowing her to be anything other than mother and wife, unwavering in her devotion. ♥♥
Candice Bergen Starting Over
The Role: Jessica Potter, an aspiring singer/songwriter recently separated from her husband (Burt Reynolds).
My Take: Anyone that grew up with Bergen as Murphy Brown knows that she has a gift for comedy (with 5 Emmys for the role to prove it). But at the time Bergen scored her sole Oscar nomination for this romantic comedy, she had been known mostly for dramatic roles. It seems the Academy wanted to reward her for showing versatility, but in this strained performance Bergen still seems to be trying to find her comedic rhythm without succeeding as hard as she's trying. And boy is she trying. It doesn't help that her character is written as a clueless basket case with absolutely no self-awareness. And Bergen, with her air of sophistication and intelligence, is too smart an actress to believably play such an oblivious woman. Particularly in the scenes where she talks about her budding music career. Bergen, the actress, knows how bad a singer she is and seems to be silently laughing at the ridiculousness of Jessica's delusional aspirations. The role calls for light and ditzy. But Bergen plays everything unnecessarily serious and her comedic skills set tends to play better with witty and dry banter. ♥♥
Mariel Hemingway Manhattan
The Role: The young actress plays the 17-year-old lover to Woody Allen's 42-year-old television writer, Isaac Davis.
Meryl Streep Kramer Vs. Kramer
The Role: The second of back-to-back supporting actress nominations (out of a career total of 19 acting nominations and counting), Streep won for playing Joanna Kramer, a mother and wife unhappy in her marriage, seeking a divorce.
* * *Just like the Academy, I couldn't resist Streep's performance. A worthy winner that blows the competition out of the water. Be sure to read the panel's choice (I think you know who) here!