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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Discerning cinephiles, especially those familiar with the kings and
queens of bleak, the Danish, are in for a treat. Paprika Steen is
absolutely riveting in Applause, which opened a one-week Best Actress
Oscar-qualifying run at the Laemmle Sunset 5 on Dec 3. Screeners have
been sent to members of the Academy, and Steen has flown in from
Denmark for a series of SAG and American Cinematheque special events,
as well as a host of publicity interviews and appearances in Los
Angeles and New York. The movie premieres on January 21, 2011.
See the virtuoso performance that Karen Durbin of the New York Times described as, "one of the best screen performances of the year."
Steen plays acclaimed stage actress, Thea Barfold, who is trying to juggle three wobbly plates on long thin sticks without letting them crash, all while drinking. First, she shouldn't be drinking. That's why she and her husband are divorced and he has custody of their two young sons. Second, she's trying to convince her ex, her two sons, her ex's new wife (a shrink--great, just what Thea needs), as well as herself, that she's ready to resume some kind of motherly role before it's too late. As the movie opens we see Thea telling her sons she loves them only for the older one to reply, "Dad says you're crazy." Thea's smile, committed to portraying the new Thea, does not disagree with the assessment. Steen's half-thawed facial expression sets the tone for how she will captivate viewers from this moment forward. Constantly on-screen, Steen conjures a way of holding our attention rapt from start to finish. Oh, the third plate! I almost forgot. There it is now, barely spinning. In the midst of convincing her family and herself she is sufficiently steady and balanced and deserving of trust and time with her boys, Thea happens to be playing one of the most physically and mentally all-consuming characters an actress could possibly tackle: the insane drunk, Martha, in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Talk about an impossible juggling act.
Watch the scene where Thea takes her boys for a drive to a lake, without permission from their father, and tell yourself the plates are still spinning and Thea has it all under control.
If Steen gets nominated she'll win. She's that good.