Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Happy Birthday Frances McDormand

The first movie I ever saw Frances McDormand in was Fargo (1996), which is not bad as these things go, since Fargo is one of the best movies I've ever seen*. What struck me most about the film, though, was how the Coen Brothers and their actors so expertly captured the North Dakota accent. I have some distant family in North Dakota, and even in Saskatchewan this is the regional accent; the area was heavily settled by Scandinavians, and 'Oh ya, they really do talk like that, sure'...

PhotobucketIt was by no means her first role, nor would it be her last, but McDormand's star turn in Fargo defined her in ways that subsequent roles in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous and Curtis Hanson's celluloid vision of the Michael Chabon novel Wonder Boys never could. For one it pegged her as the kind of fearless actor who would don a fake pregnancy belly and mug her way through a very dark comedy while seeming preternaturally cheerful about what turns out to be some very gory goings-on indeed. Of course, the fact that she's married to the film's co-director Joel Coen might have something to do with the casting, but as for turning her performance as Marge Gunderson into a star turn - she did that all on her own!

McDormand was away from our movie screens for a few years in the middle of the decade, but re-emerged in a pair of films scheduled for release in 2008 - Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, a period piece set in the years before World War II in which she plays the title character, was released in March; and Burn After Reading, yet another excursion into the exotic psyches of her husband and brother-in-law.  She is set to re-emerge in 2011 after a similar sabbatical, and I for one wish she would work more...

*The members of the Motion Picture Academy concurred; McDormand won the Oscar for Best Actress for her quirky, heartfelt performance of a small-town sheriff investigating some big time crime.

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