This post is a part of the 2009 Stinkylulu Supporting Actress Blogathon. Click here to check out the other selections!
I may have liked other supporting actress performances from 2009, but one that continues to linger with me is Marcia Gay Harden's work in Whip It. Now, to be fair, Drew Barrymore's directorial debut may not have been the most amazing thing to hit theaters last year, but it was a nice fun time at the movies. What's not to like? The ladies of the film all look to be having a grand old time and the film's message, while not perfect, is a positive one.
What makes Harden stand out above all the other women in the film is how she was able to take a role as flimsy as the put-upon mother of a rebelling teenager and make us want to know more about her life (although Kristen Wiig and Juliette Lewis are also fabulous in the film as well). Harden's Brooke is a mom who wants her daughter to participate in beauty pageants (she's a former winner herself) rather than roller derby. You can tell that Brooke wants a more glamorous life than she currently holds (she works a postal carrier), but in reality it's that she wants her daughter Bliss (Ellen Page) to be successful in her own life than she ever was at her own. Of course, what mom thinks as "successful" is different than what her offspring thinks as "successful."
There is a quiet scene in the film, where we saw Harden's character apply lotions and moisturizing cream to her hands. Although she feels much younger than her hands give away, you can tell she is desperate to match her physical age with her emotional age. It's a scene that reminds many of us of our mothers, moms who want the best for us, even though they cannot seem to comprehend why our current endeavors would be considered "the best" by any standard.
Marcia Gay Harden might be one of my favorite actresses of all time. Although looking over her IMDB filmography it appears I may have seen her in earlier films, but really it was her performance in Pollock that made me take notice (as did the Academy). It's rare for a character actress to hit her stride in her 40s, but Harden did that in this decade.
Besides her Oscar-winning role in Pollock, Harden has delivered honest portrayals of women in Case de los Babys, P.S., Mystic River (another Oscar nominated role), Into the Wild and most recently on television's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Damages. In addition, Harden had just finished a Tony-winning run on Broadway in Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage. I don't see Whip It getting her a third Oscar nomination, but it's a performance that should be remembered with her best ones too.