Patricia Clarkson is one the best supporting actresses alive. But the truth is, she's not always that supportive. While she's busy outshining whoever's in the lead spotlight, Patricia's characters are playing on the sidelines to their own cinematic agendas. She drifts into the background, glowing of warmth, wit and maturity. Much like a cinematic confidant, Patricia Clarkson's reliably brilliant even in her most minuscule moments. But to rely on Patricia Clarkson is to fall into the same trusting trap as her on-screen counterparts. She builds you up, holds you close and then pulls the rug out from under you.
Adam of Club Silencio here with another look at my favorite actresses and their distinguishing claims to fame.
Take Far From Heaven's vivacious socialite, Eleanor Fine, who teases the conflicted Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) about her reputation for "kindness to negroes." They share plenty of tawdry laughs and idle gossip, but when Cathy finds herself at its center and falling in love with her gardener, Eleanor is the first to show how quickly a warm shoulder goes cold. Patricia works her way into the film as Cathy's one common voice -- a woman seemingly open to progress. As the film progresses, its clear it was all vicious set up for some judgmental glares and the juiciest gossip yet.
Building on that twist is Patricia's turn as Vera in Dogville. Vera's character is the first to admit, "I cry too easily." She comes across as a woman timid and reserved, who's married to a cold lout but who passionately loves her children and isolating small town. She soon warms to the mysterious Grace Mulligan (Nicole Kidman) once she's cared for her children and taught them lessons of Ovid. Soon they're laughing together, sharing favorite prose, and Grace is welcome in Vera's home anytime... for the next hour or so. Just as quickly as rumors of a philandering tryst spread back to Vera, we see this woman once prone to sadness become relentless in her pursuit of pain. She takes Grace's hard-earned collectibles and shatters them one by one, urging Grace's stoicism while begging for her tears. Patricia Clarkson again undermines her own sweet stoicism with a sour mistrust that goes far beyond the film's calculations. She'll smash your spirits and your Hummel figurines.
Of course Patricia's characters aren't all so savagely constructed. Often enough her characters are genuinely of good will, with reasonable motivations. Take her scant role Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a part that would probably have gone unnoticed in the hands of most actresses. Patricia manages to use her few scenes to work her way right into Vicky's trust and somehow gain pull on her relationships. In mere moments her character, Judy, begrudging of her own vapid vows, pushes Vicky into a radical and unlikely affair. Even when Patricia means well, in the end somebody still winds up getting shot.
Patricia Clarkson's career is High Art. In terms of screentime it probably adds up to so much less than the effect her scenes eventually have. Even if we should never depend on her characters, we can always depend on Patricia's one-of-a-kind radiance and sly "supporting" touch.
So what's your favorite Patricia Clarkson performance? More importantly: which stellar actress should she compliment and undermine next?