Sunday, January 4, 2009

Supporting Actress Blogathon: Tilda Swinton as "Elizabeth Abbott" in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Despite only appearing in no more than - and this is pure estimation - 20 minutes or so of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button's sprawling three-hour running time, Tilda Swinton's character of "Elizabeth Abbott" is the most real and moving character in the whole film. While more lauded performances come from Taraji P Henson as "Queenie" and Cate Blanchett as "Daisy", I felt neither of those characters, neither of those performances, existed outside of the walls of the film. As good as Cate was - an Oscar nomination for either would be a headscratcher, I must admit - it was a very closed off performance without anything to make the viewer believe that when the camera is not on her that she is off gallivanting throughout Europe. She only exists when the camera is on her. "Elizabeth Abbott" on the other hand truly does.

Swinton's oughties have brought varied riches to her fans. From her lead roles in movies like The Deep End and Julia to breaching the mainstream in The Chronicles of Narnia and just last year she won the Best Supporting Actress category at the Academy Awards for her role in Michael Clayton, which is a good thing too because I would have given her the prize too and it's a rare thing when that happens. Swinton will not have such luck this year although, to be honest, she won't win my award either, I just figured my other favourites would have been discussed already (and a quick check of home base confirms this.)

Swinton's "Elizabeth Abbott" is a character like many other in Benjamin Button. She arrives, has some brief moments with the title character and then leaves just as quickly as she arrived but not before leaving an undeniable impression on the age-regressed hero of the story. I love that Swinton doesn't play the character as a total cliche. She could have easily been the posh British lady that her character is, but she made her warm and inviting. She makes her the kind of person you would want to get up in the middle of the night to eat cavier and vodka for. And, for me at least, in the few brief scenes we see of her I actually grew to feel for her. She's a desperately lonely women, that we know, but Benjamin slowly pulls her out and Tilda's gradual turn from introversion is lovely to watch.

Tilda's voice remains one of her strongest assets. Listen to the way she delivers such lines as "perhaps not" (upon seeing dead flies in the honey). Sometimes you just can't tell whether a character she plays is trying to be being humourous or not. And the casting of Swinton was spot on in other ways, too. Don't you think she has a perfect face for this sort of otherworldly tale? A tale filled with all sorts of odd characters, it seems likely that one would remember a face like hers.

It would be negligent of me to not mention the performance as "Katie Cox" in the Coen Bros' Burn After Reading, a movie in which she takes the "posh british" routine that many shoehorn her into and takes it by the horns. "How crass" she says to a suggestion by George Clooney that they have sex in a back alley, but there's nothing crass about her performance in that movie too. In a movie where everybody is being loud and ridiculous, it's Swinton's relatively normal performance that comes out shining brightest (give to take Brad Pitt). That's just now Swinton works. She so perfectly calibrates every performance and knows what to do to stand out. I'm sure I and others will get plenty of other opportunities to discuss her for decades to tome.

Make sure to check out StinkyLuLu and read all the other submissions in the Supporting Actress Blog-a-thon. It's always a treat, isn't it?


J.J. said...

I agree: Tilda's was the only character I cared for in Benjamin Button.

Abhi said...

Everytime I see her, I just want to scream out "TILDA!!!" I think I will name my kid after a punctuation mark too. Do you think he would get teased if I named him Colon?

Joel said...

Tilda was great. I don't think I've liked one of Tilda's characters since The Deep End (and by that, I mean she has been great in everything, just hasn't played particularly likable characters).
But she was so good in this film, and so likable!

Sally Belle said...

I've been madly in love with Tilda since Orlando!

RC said...

i would think an "Elizabeth Abbott" film could be very entertaining in itself.

Anonymous said...

I think I felt the most emotion in Benjamin Button when he sees Elizabeth on the TV set. I just was so fond of her character.

Anonymous said...

Tilda Swinton as Elizabeth Abbott. I would hit it! Fo' sho!

Anonymous said...

Totally agreed that when Button saw her interview on the tv screen, it brought her very small part to a nice wrapped ribbon finish. In a tiny scene, it signified they both remembered each other. Tilda performs great everytime but so glad that she finally played a character that has more of a warm tinge.

Criticlasm said...

I love that she can be completely plain and stunningly beatiful, all in the same role, within moments. Love her. I could watch her do dishes, really.

ed said...


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