Sunday, September 26, 2010

Take Three: Amanda Plummer

Craig back with a new Take Three.

Amanda Plummer photograph from Jeannick Gravelines Photographe

Take One: No film without her

There are certain characters who, when they appear on screen and begin adding their particular slant, I know I'll want to see more of. Sometimes the filmmakers oblige with this. Sometimes they don't. Personally, I'm thinking Radha Mitchell in Finding Neverland (who I looked at here), Anna Faris in Lost in Translation, Jayne Eastwood in Dawn of the Dead (2004) and the like. We all have certain types we want more from.

More often than not, they're played by great supporting/character actors, doing what they do best: stealing the film... if actually given the chance. That's how I felt about Plummer as boiler-suited cleaner Laurie in Isabel Coixet's My Life Without Me (2003). This isn't to dismiss Sarah Polley's fine central performance as Ann, but something made me gravitate toward Plummer's character, her friend and co-worker, with far more curiosity.

A clean break: Plummer takes lunch sitting down in My Life without Me

There was a story there. Her whole life and all the possible dramas and woes it contained was hidden within the tiny flickers of unrest and resignation that Plummer spiritised Laurie with. She made real, solid sense; she's someone we've all surely met. Plummer's such a seasoned, versatile actress that she raised a fringe character beyond someone who merely pushed a mop around and assisted Ann with her laundry list of terminal woes. Plummer's also a generous actress -- too generous, maybe. She settled for the supporting role of the supportive friend here with neither fuss nor fanfare. Yet what she does with this most peripheral of roles is consistently engrossing. I find my eyes drawn to her awkwardly wonderful face whenever she's on screen. And I couldn't imagine My Life without Me without Amanda P.

Take Two: The meek shall inherit... Robin Williams' undying devotion

The Fisher King (1991), Terry Gilliam's paean to the homeless, marginalised denizens of New York, by way of the titular Arthurian legend, has a wonderful cast quartet. There's Williams as Parry, Jeff Bridges as shock-jock DJ Jack, Mercedes Ruehl as saucy broad Anne, and, last but not least, Plummer as mousy, lonely publishing accountant Lydia. With a strawberry bell-end bob under a beige beret and a sloppy, fusspot disposition, Lydia is courted (well, more like stalked) by tender tramp Parry. He's adored her from afar and with Jack's chummy coercion, snags a date with her. It's more meet-clumsy, than meet-cute.

Dinner not for schmucks: Plummer & Co. dine in style in The Fisher King

Lydia's as much the awkward, nervy oddball as the troubled Parry ("They were made for each other... scary, but true," says Anne at one point), and Plummer expertly plays up the quirkiness without any unnecessarily forced embellishments. Over the film's charming, easy-going middle section she proceeds to peel the kooky layers away to show us the vulnerable woman behind it all. This is especially visible straight after the funny, largely silent double-date sequence. Plummer's mini speech, where she recounts the tired process of a life's worth of bad dating experiences with gradual tears and a weary demeanour ("...and ever-so-slowly I'll turn into a piece of dirt"), is one of The Fisher King's most emotionally wrenching moments. But Plummer does also get to glide through the waltzing crowds in Grand Central Station when Gilliam turns it into a giant fantasy ballroom. Gilliam likes to celebrate the often unassuming, interesting types in his films; Plummer's the perfect character actress fit for his otherworldly cinema.

Take Three: The crowd control

Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer. Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. (Ringo and Yolanda, to be precise.) Two enterprising, pre-title wired diners who demanded more from breakfast service than most and wanted it bloody side up. They had the hipness of Bonnie and Clyde, the daffy scorn of Leonard Kastle's Honeymoon Killers and the light weaponry of Thelma & Louise. They had snappier dialogue than all of them put together.

Garrulous to a fault (it's Quentin Tarantino, so of course) and teetering on the edge of idiosyncrasy, they had odd sweetly grinning faces -- interesting faces, character actor faces, watchable faces -- to match their nicknames. Especially Amanda Plummer: there was a reason QT focused more on Honey Bunny, foregrounding Plummer in his pulpy prologue. She's a bona fide live wire, revelling in the dark ebullience of her mayhem: only a freeze-frame could put a stop to her antics. "I'm ready. Let's do it: right now, right here!"

Plummer & Roth strongly object to the 10% tipping policy in Pulp Fiction

She's Pulp Fiction's (1994) crazy gem, the one who got to hysterically deliver the line most folk remember first. Plummer was maniacally good with her own brand of Tourette's etiquette, barking "Any of you fuckin' pricks move, and I'll execute every-mother-fuckin'-last-one-of-you!" It's not the first thing you want to hear over your eggs and morning coffee, true, but a wake-up nonetheless. When Tarantino gets famed for the sureness of his dialogue it's outbursts like this, delivered by fearless, competent performers, that spring to mind more than the flip pop references. Plummer devotees will see Honey Bunny as a defining, quintessential bit-part in one of the bigger movies of her career. Casual movie-goers will remember her as That Mental-Lookin'-Gun-Waving Woman. But we do all remember Honey Bunny.

Three more key films for the taking: So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993), Needful Things (1993), Butterfly Kiss (1995)

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