Monday, June 17, 2019

TV: Ellen Page, this is why we're hard on you

Great acting nourishes the soul.  Jane Fonda in KLUTE, her first Academy Award winning performance, astounds after multiple viewings, grabs you regardless of the plot or storyline, leaves you a little stunned each time you watch.

But great acting of that kind does not come to us daily.  Good acting is something to be thrilled with as well.  Good acting has taken many films with pedestrian directors who seem to believe their only job is to yell "Action!" and a bit later "Cut!" and turned those films into classics.  That's especially true of a number of comedies.

Then there is bad acting.


Ellen Page is a child actress grown up -- at least grown up in terms of her body.  Most child actors will never cross over to success as they become adults.  The honest truth for most is that they aren't that good and they never were.  They're little wind up dolls who please adults by being little adults, by mimicking adults, and that passes for 'realism' and 'acting' at that age.

But all they've learned to do is indicate, not inhabit.

And that was fine when they were children.  Again, they weren't creating characters, they were just trying to talk and move like an adult.

As they become adults, if they don't work on their craft, they continue these shallow 'performances' and wonder what went wrong since what was considered amazing as a child is now seen as, honestly, embarrassing as an adult.

Ellen Page has time to change.  She has a raw ability that allows her to connect with viewers in highly emotional scenes (as we noted recently).  But she does not have the skill or technique to create a performance.  Working with a talented acting coach could allow her to turn the raw ability into something amazing.  Continuing to pretend she's in need of no serious training will mean that her one-note 'performances' grow more and more stale and, for the viewer, more and more irritating.

In other words, she could become Alyssa Milano.

Is there a worse actress working today?


LIFETIME put a little money (thankfully, Alyssa's quote isn't that high) into the film and maybe a little thought but what resulted in TEMPTING FATE is why LIFETIME scaled back their LIFETIME MOVIES to begin with.

A LIFETIME movie could -- and still can -- be something amazing.  Judith Light and Christina Ricci, for example, really delivered this year in ESCAPING THE MADHOUSE: THE NELLIE BLY STORY.  That was a TV movie that demonstrated just how powerful the format can be when everything works.  But not every television film has to be as hard hitting as that.  Yes, a Farrah Fawcett starring THE BURNING BED will always amaze us but a well done, escapist television movie like THE CARTIER AFFAIR starring Joan Collins have their deserved place as well.  That film is a caper and Joan Collins -- and the rest of the cast, Telly Savalas, David Hasselhoff -- blend into the material to make a convincing effort that more than succeeds.

But a LIFETIME movie can also be bad, really bad.  And, to be clear, we're not talking about a film that's so bad it's actually enjoyable to watch.  MOTHER MAY I SLEEP WITH DANGER (the original with Tori Spelling and Ivan Sergei) is a camp classic.  Bad movies like MY SISTER'S SHADOW (feeling left out and jealous, Nancy McKeon's character falls for his sister's stalker) or, honestly, take your pick of thousand others.  After all, there's a reason that Will once told Grace, "You are so Markie Post in every LIFETIME movie."  And, more to the point, there's a reason we all laughed at that line in "A New Lease On Life" (second episode of the original WILL & GRACE).

In TEMPTING FATE, Alyssa Milano plays . . .  Well, she poses throughout.  You can't call it a performance -- not even a bad performance -- because she's not even trying.  She thinks she is.  Which is probably the scariest part, that she thinks she is acting.  And, were she seven or twelve, some adult would probably be giving her a hug and telling her, "Well done, honey!"

But she's not a child, she's an adult staring down 50.  And she isn't even believable as a woman.

Ellen Page, if you think we're too hard on you (yes, we heard through the friend you asked to speak to us), this is why we are hard on you.

Study TEMPTING FATE.  Alyssa on camera, that stilted motion and waste of time?  That's what we're trying to save you from.

Like Alyssa, Ellen was a child actress.  Unlike Alyssa, Ellen has raw talent and can be so much more.

Alyssa can't.  As fifty looms (thee years and a few months), she's done nothing with her craft.  She's under the mistaken belief that because she was a good second banana on WHO'S THE BOSS playing a little kid, she's gifted.  As anyone who has seen her try to act on MELROSE PLACE or MISTRESSES can attest, she is not gifted and she's really not an actress.

Alyssa honestly believes that showing up on the set having memorized her lines demonstrates actual craft and actual work.  Just point the cameras at her and let her pose because she's ready!

No, she's not.

And she made that clear not only in TEMPTING FATE but in her promotion of the bad tele-movie.

Whether she's sharing that she never read the best selling book by Janet Greer or explaining that it was time to film a crying scene and, goodness, she just didn't feel like crying so the director had to take her aside and play a Lady Gaga song for her, Alyssa is not just over-sharing, she's screaming that she has no dedication to her craft.

She does none of the work required.  Read a book?  Hell, she's Alyssa Milano and that's more than enough, right!  Wrong.

She doesn't create a character, she does't know how to.  She learns her lines and shows up on the set with no idea what she's going to do.  She will 'become' Alyssa, she tells herself and that's why we suffer through her one note characterizations.

Some will counter, "Not everyone can be Meryl Streep."  To which we'd reply, "Nor should they."

Meryl works out accents and this and that for every performance.  These are externals but, as Pauline Kael so often noted of Meryl, many of her performances are nothing but externals.  SILKWOOD, for example, is a role that a Debra Winger or a Jane Fonda could have portrayed so much better.

Jane Fonda set the mark for acting in the 20th century with her Bree Daniels in KLUTE, yes.  And she gave a completely different performance in JULIA, and a completely different performance in THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY, and a completely different performance in her second Academy Award winning performance in COMING HOME and . . .

Point being, Jane burrowed into those characters and became them.  This was more than just shifting externals.  That is what actual acting is.  Jane can do it, Vanessa Redgrave can do it, many can.  For a faded celebrity like Alyssa to continue taking roles while never attempting to actually create a character begs the question why?

Why does anyone offer her anything at this late date?  She's alienated a great deal of the public with her stunts (sex strike!) and her bitchy ("Celebrity X insulted me and called me fat!  I'll have you know I'm a spokesperson for Atkins!  How dare he!").  Atkins walked away from her and that CW pilot she's been boasting of for years now isn't happening.  Even she's had to acknowledge in recent interviews "the baggage" that she brings to any role.

Her more recent actions -- specifically with regards to Georgia -- have alienated her from film communities outside of California and if there was a vote among crew  members tomorrow, Alyssa would win for least liked actress.  In fact, that's probably the only real 'honor' she could ever earn from the industry.

She's one of those celebrities who sprang up long ago, Barbara Stanwyck noticed them on the set of THE BIG VALLEY where a scene would be blocked and immediately they would run to make up, "That's the most important part of their performance -- their hairdos.  After that, their make up, then wardrobe.  Finally comes remember their lines -- A and B and C and D -- and just that monotonous is how most of it comes out.  Last on their list is the performance."

Watching TEMPTED FATE, you realize Stanwyck nailed Alyssa Milano and then some.  You also realize that with all the talented actresses out there looking for work, there's no need to ever employ celebrity Alyssa Milano so she can walk through another role.

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