Sunday, July 23, 2017
Performance Review: Kathy Bates in Misery
Kathy Bates received her first Oscar nomination and won the Oscar for playing Annie Wilkes, a very disturbed woman who is fictional writer Paul Sheldon's number one fan and "rescues" him from a car crash and saves his life, only to eventually force him to burn his new book out of retaliation for killing her favorite character in his novels Misery, force to him write a new book about her resurrection, both threatening and executing violence on him, and continue to hold him capture in her house, all the while making Paul greatly fear for his life in the process.
On the surface, it seems rather odd that the Academy decided to honor Bates's performance- Films like Misery are hardly ever recognized by the Academy in any way and characters like this had been passed over previously by the Academy(see Glenn Close's loss to Cher for Fatal Attraction 3 years previously). And Bates was no A-lister in Hollywood at the time. But Bates beat the odds. I think she had the always desirable advantage of too many things going against her competition: Woodward may have been the sentimental favorite, but the film may have been too slow for Oscar voters. Huston gave a great performance as another villainous character, but she had just won an Oscar five years earlier and she is more of a co-lead then a de-facto lead. Julia Roberts was not going to be honored for a film like Pretty Woman, the nomination was the reward for her. And Meryl Streep had no chance of winning. So voters rallied around Bates, who was helped by her Golden Globe win and her unforgettable character.
Annie Wilkes is certainly one of the more complex and memorable characters in this category: She very clearly has serious psychological problems, most of which are believed to be a mix of Bipolar Disorder, anti-social personality disorder, erotomania, ect. Given all these aspects, Annie Wilkes is a tricky character to get right for any actress, but Bates gets her to a T. When we see Annie for the first time, we believe, like Paul, that she is a sweet, eccentric, but well-meaning woman. Bates plays all these traits perfectly: She plays all the flattery, the adoration, the kindness, the hesitancy about asking Paul certain things, all wonderfully. Of course, we come to notice Annie is not what she seems very quickly, due to her erratic nature. She gets extremely angry about things that are relatively minor or not worthy of the amount of anger she spouts about them. For example, she loses it when Paul scoffs at her dislike of profanity and spills soup on his bed after going on an angry tirade about how she never uses profanity(at least not the normal kind, lol). And when she finds out Misery is dead, she goes completely insane and violent. She and James Caan work extremely well together, with Bates always commanding the screen in every scene she's in.
Bates is very convincing and terrifying throughout as Annie: She brilliantly shows her character 's cleverness, longing for control over everything she does, her charisma, her high status over Paul in their power struggle, her continued adoration over Paul, and eventually her obsessive, disturbing, unfathomable love for him. Annie Wilkes is a juicy role and a brilliantly written character and Bates milks her for all she's worth.
The one slight complaint I have is that some of Annie's outbursts come across as slightly cartoonish and overly mannered, but it doesn't take away from the power of her performance.