Next week will see Diane Keaton playing opposite Harrison Ford in Roger Michell's 'Morning Glory'; as feuding TV morning show co-hosts, they provide the backdrop / counterpoint to Rachel McAdams' star turn as the show's beleaguered producer. In the past 20 years, Keaton has moved effortlessly from lead to supporting roles and back again, earning Academy Award nominations for 'Marvin's Room' and 'Something's Gotta Give,' surviving and thriving in an industry not noted for its kindness toward actresses over the age of 40.
She's enjoyed a rich and varied career. Because of her likable, funny performances as Woody Allen's leading lady in 'Sleeper,' 'Love and Death,' and, especially, 'Annie Hall,' for which she won an Academy Award, it's easy to forget that Keaton first came to attention in 'The Godfather' with a very modest role, tackling much more intense dramatic roles in 'The Godfather Part II," 'Looking for Mr. Goodbar' and 'Interiors.' She began the 80s with a nuanced performance as the earnest Louise Bryant in Warren Beatty's period epic 'Reds' (another Academy Award nomination) and followed that up by losing herself completely in her best role to date, the ironically named Faith Dunlap in Alan Parker's 'Shoot the Moon.' The script by Bo Goldman, originally titled 'Switching,' came from a very personal place in the writer's life, as he observed friends and family members suffering through the pains of divorce. Yet it sat around Hollywood for years, impressing potential backers with his skills as a screenwriter -- he subsequently wrote and won Academy Awards for 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' and 'Melvin and Howard' -- even as the subject matter itself scared them off.
In the late 70s, the script came to the attention of Alan Parker, hot off 'Midnight Express' and 'Fame,' but it wasn't until Keaton signed on that the project could move forward. It wasn't to be a glamorous role that traded on her name value, however.
The movie begins in the dying days of the 15-year marriage between her character, Faith Dunlap, and George (Albert Finney in an equally remarkable performance), a successful writer. George has kept his affair with another woman (Karen Allen, her follow-up to 'Raiders of the Lost Ark') secret, or so he thinks. The morning after a strained evening at an awards banquet, George decides to tell her, but Faith already knows. George walks out the door and out of their marriage, an action that, in many stories, would signal the termination of their affections for each other. It's never that easy, though, especially when four young daughters are involved.
George is a cauldron of emotion, a volatile mixture of frustration and anger that keeps boiling over in steadily increasing fits of rage, followed by a degree of self-recrimination. You get the sense that he's wanted out of the marriage for years; the divorce process has unleashed feelings of hostility that he's been unable or unwilling to express. For her part, initially Faith can't fathom exactly why their marriage has fallen apart. She's felt neglected and unloved, probably for more years than George would ever realize, yet made her own happiness subservient to the needs of her children.
Keaton internalizes all of Faith's pent-up emotions, which come percolating out only when she's provoked or lets her guard down. Early on, she's alone in the house, relaxing in a bath, smoking a joint, softly singing a Beatles song to herself, when a wave of emotional pain floods into her body. The enormity of the situation is overwhelming; she sobs and slams her fist against the tub. It's a quiet moment, undisturbed by camera movement, and it's all Keaton, as she slides down from contentment to fear and anger.
Keaton continues to slide up and down a constantly-shifting emotional scale, her face and body language communicating in subtle ways what she's feeling. She captures the awkwardness of a new romance with another man (Peter Weller, before 'RoboCop'), the extreme challenge of helping her oldest daughter (Dana Hill, quite amazing) navigate troubled waters, the pain of ending a relationship with a man with whom she has shared so many joys. She always remains grounded in reality, which makes her that much more aware of her own limitations, and helps her recognize, in time, her own culpability.
'Shoot the Moon' is not easy to watch, but it's stayed with me ever since I first saw it theatrically in 1982. A recent viewing on DVD again stirred up a depth of emotion that I'd almost rather stayed buried. Film critic Kim Morgan observed: "It's a wonderful performance, but you often want to snatch her from the movie and plop her in a comedy -- there's just something not right about Diane Keaton being that sad." She provides her own list of ten top Keaton performances.
What do you think is Diane Keaton's best role?