Colin Vanden Berg
Associate Arts & Culture Editer
Mickayla: This was a great year for women in film. It was honestly very refreshing to see women at the forefront, rather than them simply being young side-pieces for the older men they often accompany. Many of the Academy Award-nominated movies were female-led, and there was not a single lackluster title in the group. While it was hard to ultimately come up with my final decision, I think that this is Frances McDormand’s year. Her performance in “Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri” showcased a woman going through an immense deal of grief and dealing with it in the best way she knew how: anger.
Colin: I agree that McDormand gave a standout performance in “Three Billboards,” but the most notable aspects of her performance were to do more with the writing and directing than what she personally brought to the role. Saoirse Ronan in “Lady Bird,” however, gave the best female performance of the year because she brought an immense level of realism to a role that required nothing less than absolute sincerity.
Mickayla: While Saoirse put forth an amazing effort, I found her performance to be lackluster. I was underwhelmed by “Lady Bird” in its entirety, but that’s a story for a different day. Saoirse was sincere, but her performance felt predictable. There were moments I adored from her, of course, like when she tried on the prom dresses, and her fascination with that beautiful blue house. But for me, there was a lack of emotion. Her performance didn’t make me feel anything. With Frances, she left me feeling like I was just punched in the stomach. Perhaps her character was written really well, but I’m not sure that anyone else would have had the same amount of fierce spirit. However, I decided that she was my favorite relatively haphazardly. Sally Hawkins and Margot Robbie both put on spectacular performances. In fact, my second choice would probably be Margot Robbie, just due to her ability to portray Tonya Harding in such a crude manner. I’m just so conflicted, however.
Colin: I think Ronan is being severely overlooked because her performance wasn’t especially showy like McDormand’s or Robbie’s. I enjoyed McDormand, but I felt that she benefited from the obvious complexity of the role she played. I think actors relish the opportunity to play roles that let them flex their proverbial acting muscles. Ronan’s performance felt safe because she played a character that was so close to reality that she didn’t need to have many what you may call stand-out moments. Ronan’s role was complex, but it was a different, more relatable kind of complex. Her struggles appeared mundane on the surface, but revealed a truth of the human condition. Her ability to bring depth to such a character demonstrated a caliber of performance that no female performer matched in 2017.
Mickayla: You’re right – the other performances are showy. I think we get different things out of the respective performances because we look for different things in movies. There are some movies that I enjoy the beautifully mundane role: Ellar Coltrane, from 2014 Best Picture nominee Boyhood, captured the role of growing up, showing his relationships varying from person to person. For me, I like seeing an actor going out of their comfort zone. While some actors have the ability to balance mundane and showy, Ronan arguably played it safe. I admittedly adored watching her journey of self discovery, but somehow felt underwhelmed. I think this was an instance of me liking the character, but not the actress – not that she was bad. I honestly felt the same way about Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird’s mother).
Colin: Metcalf nearly stole the movie from Ronan, and the fact that she didn’t is a credit to Ronan’s ability to play opposite Metcalf and still clearly command the screen. McDormand, however, was outshined in her own movie by Sam Rockwell. McDormand played a complex character, but her movie was such an ensemble piece that she needn’t work to hard to get the point of her character across. That’s my final point: that McDormand’s character was ultimately two-dimensional. She was an angry, revenge driven, guilt-ridden mother. I say that it was only two dimensions because I didn’t sense sense a lot of guilt from her performance that wasn’t in the script.
Mickayla: Although she was rebellious and did not adhere entirely to the feeling of the script, I think it adds to the charm. She’s dealing with grief, and she has no idea to handle this cloud that’s hanging over her head. Scenes flashback to when McDormand’s daughter was alive, showing her imperfections as a mother. She was often cold and said things she didn’t mean. I think her performance somewhat mirrors Metcalf’s, however. They were both nearly insufferable motherly figures who loved their children with all of their might, but there was something in the way of them being able to reach through to their daughters effectively. Regardless, this was a wonderful year for strong women in film, and I look forward to seeing women as equal (or even standout) beings, who can lead and carry a movie without just exclusively serving as a love interest.