In starting to respond to a comment on Chris Campbell's Their Best Role piece for Maggie Gyllenhaal, I realized the following question was much longer than a short comment field and should be sent out to the Cinematical universe at large: Do you like personal quirks in performances?
From the moment Gyllenhaal's sweet Satanist squeezed those eyelash curlers around her tongue in cinematic solidarity for Cecil B. Demented, I was hooked. But it wasn't a one-off love. She's entertained a varied career from superhero love interest to the meek woman who finds her strength in Secretary, and where Campbell sees her as trying "too hard," I've seen an easily relatable person -- not just in characterization, but in performance.Hanne wrote: "I like Gyllenhaal myself, and I think her voice, which can easily become whiny, and her body language, which seems to be naturally over the top, might be part of the reason why people have a problem with her. For me, those are the some of the things I like best -- real personal quirks in a business where similarity of expression seems to be the ultimate goal."
And she's far from the only one. When I first nestled down on the couch and watched Twilight, I found myself charmed by Kristen Stewart's performance, even enough to momentarily ignore the film's flaws. Granted, it's not so much a performance as a set bag of quirks that follows her from film to film, but it's a bag that's made for Bella, from text-specific lip biting to her stuttering and awkward-at-best voiceovers. The first stutters and choppy bits of narration made me cringe, but then I started to really like it -- a vacation from the "similarity of expression." Bella isn't a Gilmore Girl able to rip off flowing monologues without the slightest falter. She's the real girl with flaws, who struggles to express herself. (And as someone who can explain my thoughts a lot better with written words than vocal ones, I empathize.)
It's a hard tradition to break through. We are used to eloquence and smooth communication. Its tradition is much longer than the life of Hollywood, stemming from eloquent theater pieces and a history of flowering literature. Yet for the books, authors popped into the world to challenge the status quo, from Hemingway's insistence on simplicity to Mark Twain's realistic word usage, to scribes who throw away grammar and grace for something gritty and true to troubled life.
I think a little more reality in our cinematic performances would be nice. Remember, as great as our memories are, they are always seen through a veil of clarity that wipes away the ums, pauses, and stuttered sentences. Just tape a conversation and see how it plays out. Of course, this long tradition means that there is a hard wall to break through for change. Actors with quirks and unique mannerisms are often chastised and teased for those very tics that make them different.
What do you think? Can you handle a little quirk in your cinema? A break from the similarity of expression? Or do you like it smooth and similar?