Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Oh, Sigourney...

I don't remember when I first became aware of Sigourney Weaver. You might expect it had something to do with the Alien series but somehow I don't think that's right- by the time I saw Alien I was already febrile about the prospect of seeing Sigourney kick the ass of that silvery metal monster. I believe I'd already witnessed her extraordinary work in Death and the Maiden (seriously- it'd probably be in my top ten performances by a lead actress, if I ever made that list) and fallen in love with her passionate movements, her bushy hair and her strange grimace of a smile. Feel for me when I say that the first thing I have a conscious memory of seeing Sigourney in is the mother-daughter (with, of all people, Jennifer Love Hewitt) con movie Heartbreakers- oh, I know I'd seen Holes before that, but I doubt I knew who Sigourney was and probably wasn't particularly enticed by her hard-ass Warden in that strange, Shia LaBoeuf platform of a movie. Oddly, I think Heartbreakers was what made me fall for her in the first place- it may not be much of a movie but it did give Sigourney the chance to play probably the most glamourous part she's ever been offered, and it's not hard to believe why Gene Hackman is so ready to swallow every false word she feeds him.

Anyway. Not only is Sigourney still sex-on-legs at the grand old age of 58, she's also proven herself to be a great actress. So shame be it that her three Oscar nominations- all three back in the 1980s, for shame- were for movies that don't take anywhere near full advantage of her considerable talents. Dare I say it, but Aliens is perhaps the movie in the series that demands the least of the woman- except maybe Alien³- given that James Cameron is more concerned with setting things on fire than actually creating tension. She's still strong, though, and it's the double-whammy of nominations from 1988 that concerns me most here. Her bitch of a boss in Working Girl, while looking super next to Melanie Griffith, is straightforwardly played and decidedly unadventurous (much like the whole movie).

But the only reason I can think that Sigourney was nominated for Gorillas in the Mist (oh, sorry: The Story of Dian Fossey) is that it's an early case of what's now the alarming 'biopic' trend. The film hardly does her any favours- what could be an interesting story is pushed to one side to make way for a pointless love story that's dwelled on far too much, not to mention the vague politics of the thing and some- understandably, given the time- terrible animatronics- but sadly, Sigourney never works to carve a character outside of the script, instead going with all the flat characterising moments. Dian is either a passionate, loving studier of gorillas, or a complete nutjob, the moments exemplifying the latter even more perplexing when you discover they're completely fictional. (I could go into a long tirade about why biographical portraits of people feel the need to fictionalize events when surely reality is just as interesting, but I won't- here it's just grating because it completely changes the character of Dian into something else.) Weaver plays it completely as you would expect- sudden, angry jolts of movement as she discovers a new horror, mad rolling of the eyes when she goes completely over the edge with some captured poachers, histrionic crying when her adopted baby of a gorilla is taken away from her. It's not terrible work, just mediocre.

And it's completely bizarre when you see that the Academy has ignored Sigourney ever since- not only for her outstanding performance in Death and the Maiden, but for her melting ice-queen in The Ice Storm, and her strong work as an autistic woman in Snow Cake. Most exciting on the horizon is her reunion with Aliens-director James Cameron in Avatar (also a return to space), but Oscar might loom with a role as gay-rights crusader Mary Griffith in Prayers for Bobby. Both are due next year, and hopefully Sigourney with re-take her place alongside Meryl Streep, fellow queen of 80's cinema (all they need is Kathleen Turner and they'll be all set!).

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