Sunday, September 26, 2010

Take Three: Amanda Plummer

Craig back with a new Take Three.


Amanda Plummer photograph from Jeannick Gravelines Photographe

Take One: No film without her

There are certain characters who, when they appear on screen and begin adding their particular slant, I know I'll want to see more of. Sometimes the filmmakers oblige with this. Sometimes they don't. Personally, I'm thinking Radha Mitchell in Finding Neverland (who I looked at here), Anna Faris in Lost in Translation, Jayne Eastwood in Dawn of the Dead (2004) and the like. We all have certain types we want more from.

More often than not, they're played by great supporting/character actors, doing what they do best: stealing the film... if actually given the chance. That's how I felt about Plummer as boiler-suited cleaner Laurie in Isabel Coixet's My Life Without Me (2003). This isn't to dismiss Sarah Polley's fine central performance as Ann, but something made me gravitate toward Plummer's character, her friend and co-worker, with far more curiosity.

A clean break: Plummer takes lunch sitting down in My Life without Me

There was a story there. Her whole life and all the possible dramas and woes it contained was hidden within the tiny flickers of unrest and resignation that Plummer spiritised Laurie with. She made real, solid sense; she's someone we've all surely met. Plummer's such a seasoned, versatile actress that she raised a fringe character beyond someone who merely pushed a mop around and assisted Ann with her laundry list of terminal woes. Plummer's also a generous actress -- too generous, maybe. She settled for the supporting role of the supportive friend here with neither fuss nor fanfare. Yet what she does with this most peripheral of roles is consistently engrossing. I find my eyes drawn to her awkwardly wonderful face whenever she's on screen. And I couldn't imagine My Life without Me without Amanda P.

Take Two: The meek shall inherit... Robin Williams' undying devotion

The Fisher King (1991), Terry Gilliam's paean to the homeless, marginalised denizens of New York, by way of the titular Arthurian legend, has a wonderful cast quartet. There's Williams as Parry, Jeff Bridges as shock-jock DJ Jack, Mercedes Ruehl as saucy broad Anne, and, last but not least, Plummer as mousy, lonely publishing accountant Lydia. With a strawberry bell-end bob under a beige beret and a sloppy, fusspot disposition, Lydia is courted (well, more like stalked) by tender tramp Parry. He's adored her from afar and with Jack's chummy coercion, snags a date with her. It's more meet-clumsy, than meet-cute.

Dinner not for schmucks: Plummer & Co. dine in style in The Fisher King

Lydia's as much the awkward, nervy oddball as the troubled Parry ("They were made for each other... scary, but true," says Anne at one point), and Plummer expertly plays up the quirkiness without any unnecessarily forced embellishments. Over the film's charming, easy-going middle section she proceeds to peel the kooky layers away to show us the vulnerable woman behind it all. This is especially visible straight after the funny, largely silent double-date sequence. Plummer's mini speech, where she recounts the tired process of a life's worth of bad dating experiences with gradual tears and a weary demeanour ("...and ever-so-slowly I'll turn into a piece of dirt"), is one of The Fisher King's most emotionally wrenching moments. But Plummer does also get to glide through the waltzing crowds in Grand Central Station when Gilliam turns it into a giant fantasy ballroom. Gilliam likes to celebrate the often unassuming, interesting types in his films; Plummer's the perfect character actress fit for his otherworldly cinema.

Take Three: The crowd control

Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer. Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. (Ringo and Yolanda, to be precise.) Two enterprising, pre-title wired diners who demanded more from breakfast service than most and wanted it bloody side up. They had the hipness of Bonnie and Clyde, the daffy scorn of Leonard Kastle's Honeymoon Killers and the light weaponry of Thelma & Louise. They had snappier dialogue than all of them put together.

Garrulous to a fault (it's Quentin Tarantino, so of course) and teetering on the edge of idiosyncrasy, they had odd sweetly grinning faces -- interesting faces, character actor faces, watchable faces -- to match their nicknames. Especially Amanda Plummer: there was a reason QT focused more on Honey Bunny, foregrounding Plummer in his pulpy prologue. She's a bona fide live wire, revelling in the dark ebullience of her mayhem: only a freeze-frame could put a stop to her antics. "I'm ready. Let's do it: right now, right here!"

Plummer & Roth strongly object to the 10% tipping policy in Pulp Fiction

She's Pulp Fiction's (1994) crazy gem, the one who got to hysterically deliver the line most folk remember first. Plummer was maniacally good with her own brand of Tourette's etiquette, barking "Any of you fuckin' pricks move, and I'll execute every-mother-fuckin'-last-one-of-you!" It's not the first thing you want to hear over your eggs and morning coffee, true, but a wake-up nonetheless. When Tarantino gets famed for the sureness of his dialogue it's outbursts like this, delivered by fearless, competent performers, that spring to mind more than the flip pop references. Plummer devotees will see Honey Bunny as a defining, quintessential bit-part in one of the bigger movies of her career. Casual movie-goers will remember her as That Mental-Lookin'-Gun-Waving Woman. But we do all remember Honey Bunny.

Three more key films for the taking: So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993), Needful Things (1993), Butterfly Kiss (1995)

11 comments:

NATHANIEL R said...

eeek. I love being surprised by who gets covered from week to week. Amanda Plummer is so underappreciated (underused). this is my favorite bit "only a freeze-frame could put a stop to her antics" ha. SO TRUE.

P.S. I absolutely believe that she deserved an Oscar nomination for The Fisher King. Too bad that Reuhl hogged all the glory.

Tedums the Precious said...

I hate to nitpick, but it's "fucking pricks" not "pigs".

Great article either way!

adri said...

I love this series.

Amanda Plummer is a gem, and she & Tim Roth are one of the most memorable screen couples. That's one of the things that I love about Quentin Tarantino - he's a genius at casting- he casts your favorite wildly artistic intelligent idiosyncratic actors, and gives them parts where they shine.

I wish Amanda Plummer got more work of the calibre she deserves. I've never seen her early movie "Cattle Annie and Little Britches" where she and Diane Lane are the Old West followers of Burt Lancaster, but I've read that it was a startling first role.

Mike said...

Amanda Plummer was one of the first character actors I really fell for with the Fisher King-Pulp Fiction one-two combo. I'd love to see more of her.

NATHANIEL R said...

adri -- that's so true. It's not just that he chooses interesting people, he chooses them to articulate something interesting about them through the character that other films haven't been able to see.

Mike -- yeah, they came in close enough succession to make her one of my early 90s favorites. I keep thinking with the resurgence of Christopher Plummer lately, why can't his daughter get more visible work?

chris na Taraja said...

Love her! Only wished I had seen her play broadway in AGNES OF GOD. Can you imagine what a treat that would have been.

It's pretty hard to steal the show in PULP FICTION, but then again, Quintin begins and ends with her. That would make her the Alpha and Omega of PULP FICTION. That sounds about right.

Sean said...

I loved her in "My Life Without Me". A depressing movie to say the least. Loved Deborah Harry in that one as well. That movie should have done more biz.

SoSueMe said...

Can't forget Freeway...and she was exceptional in this old Hallmark television movie with Kyra Sedgwick called Miss Rose White.

Jeffrey said...

Nice shout out to "My Life Without Me." It was one of those films that just blindsided me by absolutely slaying me emotionally. I had to stop watching it about three times due to the crying. And usually I'm one of those "dead inside" film viewers...

Jeffrey said...

Nice shout out to "My Life Without Me." It was one of those films that just blindsided me by absolutely slaying me emotionally. I had to stop watching it about three times due to the crying. And usually I'm one of those "dead inside" film viewers...

Craig Bloomfield said...

Tedums - You're right. I think Nathaniel edited it so it's correct. Cheers!

Adr - Plummer is indeed a gem - glad you are enjoying the series!

Jeffrey - Thanks. I think I had a similar response to AP in MLWM as you did!