Sunday, January 04, 2009

EVE as "EVE" in WALL•E (Supporting Actress Blog-a-Thon)

This post is part of the 3rd Annual Supporting Actress Blog-a-Thon hosted by my friend and fellow promoter of the gospel of screen actressing, StinkyLulu.

In three short weeks when the names of the nominees for Best Supporting Actress are read aloud, you won't hear her name. But one hundred years from now, when Oscar pundits are arguing about who might be nominated @ the 181st Academy Awards, I am quite certain her name will ring more of a bell with the 22nd century pundits than "Maria Elena", "Cassidy", "Mrs. Muller", "Queenie", "Sister James" or anyone other character that ends up represented in this year's Supporting Actress Nominations.

I'm thinking of....

EVE in WALL•E (2008)
approximately 41 minutes
12 scenes
roughly 42% of the running time *

While her name is instantly iconic, this beauty doesn't live in a garden. In fact, a garden would immediately shut her down, leaving only a pulsing green light as indication that she still functions at all. No, this EVE lives aboard the Axiom in Pixar's latest classic.

But "stop!" I hear you objecting. EVE is totally a LEAD actress, not a supporting player. Maybe so... but since she spends a good chunk of the movie in a directive induced coma (*her screen time above doesn't include that half hour), I'm cutting her a break to name her "supporting". Nobody claimed Glenn Close was the lead of Reversal of Fortune (1990) ... she just kept lying there silently in that bed.

Insulin / Directive = coma for Sunny / EVE

Well not so silently. She was narrating. But here's another mark in EVE's favor. Think how much this unknown actress conveys with a vocabulary that consists of just 7 words: "Earth" "EVE" "No" "WALL•E" "Directive" "Classified" and "Plant"? I mean apart from a lucky round of MadLibs, how much could you convey with only 7 words. (It's too bad she isn't just mute because than she'd win the Oscar for sure. They love the silent ones)

EVE enters the movie at the 16 minute mark and she's all business. Any interruptions to her routine will have her cocking her gun with as much fierceness as Linda Hamilton mustered in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (another Supporting Actress wonder snubbed due to genre prejudices). A lesser 'actress' might have kept hitting this one note of 'uptight career woman' (the script certainly calls for it) but EVE starts shading her routine duties with everything from indifferent shrugs to attempts to refocus after distractions to hints of joy whenever her job allows her a moment to fly. (This actressy instinct pays off later in a major way during an outer space "dance" sequence that's too beautiful for words. So there aren't any)

Eve & Sarah Connor ~ totally bad-ass sci-fi heroines

Though EVE makes the right decision to never show "EVE"s fatigue (she's too hardcore for that), she does reveal chinks in the facade. Only five minutes into the performance and she's registering frustration and barely contained fury that, for all her efforts, she isn't quite cutting it at her job.

Writer/director Andrew Stanton opts to shoot EVE out of focus or in long shot quite often but even in these moments, her performance is filled with emotional clarity. You always know just what she's feeling and without dialogue she relies on her whole body (pod-y?) and especially her eyes to maximize the effect. It's a surprise when she finally notices her awkward grubby suitor, a prince charming in frog's clothing, but thanks to the rangy expressiveness of her performance leading up the sweet name exchange, that first giggle doesn't read as incongruous to her earlier no-nonsense posing but as a natural unguarded off the job respite.

EVE thinks WALL•E is a funny little guy

Once her hair is down, so to speak, EVE even demonstrates remarkable flair for slapstick comedy in her tour guide's private lair. And just when we couldn't love her more and we're as wrapped around her three fingers as WALL•E wishes to be, she shuts down... courtesy of the little guy's plant gift. It's twenty-five agonizing minutes for WALL•E before she's conscious again at which point EVE picks up the performance right where she left off (did they film out of sequence? If so, kudos!) as a woman who knows she kinda sorta likes a slightly embarrassing fella but...what to do, what to do with him? I mean she's still totally into her career.

By this point in the movie, confident that she's gotten her character across, EVE is even generous enough to hand over complete scenes to the other players like the emerging third tier hero in the Captain of the Axiom. From the background or in her action scenes she keeps on amplifying her emotional connection to WALL•E.

EVE plays dead again to avoid capture. She's a sly one.

I know there are a lot of killjoys out there that don't want to see this movie in the Oscar running for Best Picture. These same stingy types are probably barking mad that I'm recognizing EVE here today. I can hear them now "She's only a computer. She has no business competing with flesh and blood women who have brains and not 'directives'. She's a glorified iPod with a raygun!" These naysayers clearly have never owned an iPod. Those things have a mind of their own.

And EVE... she's got the brains and the heart. And boy does she let you feel it when she finally realizes how much that little guy loves her.

He's virtually impossible not to love. So's she.

*read more entries @ Stinky Lulu's blog-a-thon
previous years:
my 2007 entry: Marisa Tomei ~Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
my 2006 entry: Meryl Streep ~ A Prairie Home Companion


Michael B. said...

According to Tom O'Neil, Eve got a vote for Best Acting at the NSFC.

And that was a great read.

Anonymous said...

Amazing choice and fantastic article ;) It made me laugh at first but actually what you write is 100% true. And that's a proof that these Pixar guys are genius.

Nevertheless, I think it is a category fraud. Romantic stories like this one have two leads ;P

Anonymous said...

Be brave and replace "Frost/Nixon" with "WALL.E" in your oscar predictions ;)

Peter Chan said...

This article brought a huge smile to my face. It was as cute, sleek and entertaining as the subject herself.

adam k. said...

I wish WALL•E had won best picture at NSFC. Apparently it was leading after the first round. That really would've solidified its buzz as a genuine best pic contender.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic choice. Who doesn't enjoy Eve in WALL-E? I think it's hard for some awards maniacs to accept Eve as a performance because of the film being animated. I never thought of Eve giving a performance until now. She's definitely a lead, but go with whatever sways you.

Now, I'm very curious about who were the other actresses you were considering to write about.

E Dot said...

So does Mo from Wall-E get snubbed in the supporting actor category?

Bernardo said...


Anonymous said...

I still think she's a lead role, but to each his own. Great choice nonetheless and an impressive article.


oh she's a LEAD... don't get me wrong.
it's part of the joke... the excuses people make ;)

J.J. said...

no mention of the woman who provided the voice? from the imdb bio of elissa knight:

"Works at Pixar as an assistant producer. Often does 'scratch voices' for works in production until a big-name star is brought in to finish the voice work. Her voice work on Wall-E was originally intended as a 'scratch track' to help the animators during production before a well-known actor recorded the dialogue. Andrew Stanton liked her performance so much he decided to use it in the finished film."

obviously stanton and his animators were the architects of the visual performance (and a lot of the audio performance, too) but there's a great baseline quality -- a plaintiveness -- to knight's voice. very memorable.

Anonymous said...

I always think it's odd when a film is named after one of the characters, but a performance that isn't the title role is nominated as a lead. Surely if the film is named after a certain character, they are the ONLY lead. In conclusion, EVE is a supporting role.

Unknown said...

Nat, seriously, how much more interesting would have Wall·E been, have their asexual robots been asexual and in love? The main thing that bothered me in this masterpiece is WHY THE F*CK THE ROBOTS - ONLY THESE TWO - HAVE SEXUALITY? Sigh. I'd encourage you to write an article about the irony that two robots were given sexuality to appeal to mainstream audiences, and the same year, one of the Oscar biggest offerings restrained the sexuality that much as in Milk to portrait an idealized San Francisco of the 70's... so Milk almost become asexual! Lol (yeah, getting a bit over the top, but you get the point)

mB said...

Great post!

On a possibly (un)related note: Have you noticed that all the frontrunners for the Best Actress Oscar are playing fictional women (only Angie is playing a "real life person" and Mrs Collins' ain't even famous) which means, we're probably looking at adding another name to the list of few names that populate the non-biopic Best Actress wins!


the jack i don't think EVE is supporting. it's kind of a joke of categorization... anyway...

the title character thing can be misleading. Title characters who are not leads:
HENRY & JUNE (june isn't a lead... though henry is)
GEORGIA (i suppose this one is arguable)


jesus... wow. i just can't get that gay political about WALL*E. I mean part of the thing of wall-e and of eve is the creation metaphor (eve gets the seed and earth will be repopulated thing). i don't see how it can avoid being sexualized.

but maybe that's just me.

Anonymous said...

Nat, I'm thinking about things like "Jerry Maguire", where I believe Renee Zellweger was (at some point in the season) pushed as lead. Having a lead actress in a film named after the male lead character would have seemed odd to me. I also think that's one reason why she wasn't nominated. The same with Reese Witherspoon in 2005 - had "Walk The Line" been called "Johnny Cash", she wouldn't have been nominated in lead (she only really just had enough screen time to be lead anyway). If "WALL-E" was live-action film, I would say that EVE was a supporting actress. And I'm against category fraud as much as the next man. Maybe I'll have to watch it again though to make sure.

JESUS ALONSO: "one of the Oscar biggest offerings restrained the sexuality that much as in Milk to portrait an idealized San Francisco of the 70's... so Milk almost become asexual!"

You thought the sexuality in "Milk" was restrained? That's the first time I've heard that. I thought the sexuality in it was much more up-front than "Brokeback Mountain" (to use an insultingly obvious comparison).

Middento said...

I'm sold. Give her the Oscar!

Anonymous said...

Add me to the (admittedly very small) pile of people who thought the sexuality in Milk was quite restrained.

Anonymous said...

Wait, so your entry wasn't for Elissa Knight, the voice-over actor of EVE in "Wall-E", but the character itself? Is that a goof, or are you being serious? I thought that the purpose of the blog-a-thon was to highlight the unsung actresses of the year, not their characters (like instead of citing Penelope Cruz, you'd cite "Maria Elena" instead). I saw the Envelope entry about the NSFC vote for EVE too. That's all kinda silly, especially when that attention could be better focused on the voice-over actor that needs the attention more instead of the inanimate character. The year in acting was not that bad to resort to silliness like that.

James Hansen said...

If EVE was nominated, it would almost make up for GLADIATOR winning Best Picture.

Also, I'll gladly take up the task of writing on sexuality in Wall-E. Yes, please!

Emma said...

I love Eve. She's adorable.

Unknown said...

The Jack: I'm European. We have sex sequences like the ones in "Tie me up, tie me down", "Bear Cub", "9 songs", "Lovers" and so on. "Milk"'s ones are disneyfied in comparison, and frankly, there're better done sex sequences in american cinema than that. OK, van Sant just peeks into Milk's private life, but the limit he sets is a bit... ridiculous in my opinion. At least he could have included more sex talk which would have more properly described the gay life of the time.

Nat: Wall·E, well I think you forget it's always more interesting to suggest rather than to chew things for you... I think that with the same designs, it would have been more interesting to give neutral voices and names - let's say, "Sam" which stands for Samantha and Samuel - to both robots and let the audience decide the sexuality of each character or if it even do they have a sexuality at all - love breaking all kind of barriers. I think it would have launched the movie through yet another roof and become even more remarkable... but I also can imagine the horror of Disney executives if they saw that possible interpretation plus the possible boycott of some groups, lol.

Unknown said...

Plus, one advice - I don't know if you know about this yet -:

You NEED to see British miniseries "Dead Set".

Big Brother. Zombies. Awesome. You won't believe this was shot for and aired on TV.


jesus --i get why a gender neutral thing would have been appealing to gay or lesbian viewers but i personally think EVE was too good of a reference (garden/vegetation/creation) to ignore.

Matt Kilgore said...

yes! very good choice. I thought of picking eve as well. i mean wall-e is undeniable, but then there's eve, who is simply marvelous. I am just about %100 confident wall-e will get a best picture nomination and might even win the damn thing.