Please visit StinkyLulu's 5th annual Supporting Actress Blog-a-thon for more supporting actress write-ups!
Melissa Leo isn't the world's most subtle actress. If you look back at some of her recent filmography (including her Oscar-nominated role in Courtney Hunt's Frozen River), you'll find many scenery that's gone missing. But sometimes, the scenery has to be chewed.
In her most current work, Melissa Leo plays big-haired matriarch, Alice Ward, in David O. Russell's The Fighter. She does so, with plenty of gusto and relish, that some viewers have seen her performance as a bit off-putting. The beauty of it all, as many reports have been made, is that the real Alice Ward is nothing like the one on screen...she's even more loud and vibrant. Which means that Leo did have to turn it down a notch.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
What also makes Melissa Leo's performance so great is how well she plays off of the other characters in the film (something that she does so naturally in many of her previous work, including HBO's Treme). You totally buy that she loves her husband (where's all the critic's attention for the wonderful Jack McGee?) and that she's a dedicate mom to her sons and daughters (oh my, the daughters! That's another post that needs to be written separately). And when Amy Adams' character, Charlene, shows up, we totally buy that Alice..Does. Not. Like. Her. At. All.
Don't forget Leo's entrance. She comes into the film, like a woman on a mission. What is that mission? To get the best for her boy. No, not Mickey (Mark Wahlberg), but Dickie (Christian Bale). In fact, the majority of her time in the film, Alice dedicates her time and effort to push Dickey back into the limelight. She doesn't even realize the true reason why those cameras are following their family. As long as it leads to some sort of comeback for Dickey, it doesn't matter. Until everyone watches what the cameras caught on film.
Then we get to Alice's relationship with Dickie. When she is told that Dickie is once again out getting his fix, she hops into her car to find him. Again, she tries to pretend that it's not happening. And we ask ourselves, why? Well, we might not be sure why, but the car scene between Leo and Bale is masterful. Dickie starts to sing "I Started a Joke" (the Bee Gees people!) which hits Alice so hard, she's in tears and begins to sing along with him. It's such a beautiful mother-son moment, that it almost feels uncomfortable looking into this deeply personal moment. Bale is looking very strong to take the Supporting Actor Oscar, but in a clouded field like Supporting Actress, this scene will be the reason Melissa Leo might just become a frontrunner in that category.