Friday, 16 December 2011

Best Supporting Actor 1991: Michael Lerner in Barton Fink

Michael Lerner received his only Oscar nomination so far for portraying Jack Lipnick in Barton Fink.

Barton Fink depicts the strange story of a playwright hired for the movies to write a wrestling picture but suffers from writer's block well living in a bizarre hotel.

This is a little bit of a strange nomination since after the watching the film I would think that anyone would most likely say the standout supporting performance in the film was by John Goodman as the strange neighbor of Barton's, but I guess maybe Goodman's character was a little too strange for them maybe his whole plot line so perhaps they decided to go with the character they could more fully understand the imposing studio boss played by Michael Lerner. Jack Lipnick the man who hires Fink to write a wrestling picture that is to star Wallace Beery. Also Lerner evidently launched an active personal campaign for the nomination whereas Goodman did not, although two from Barton Fink would have been much more preferable than two from the forgettable Bugsy.

Lerner appears in only three scenes total as Lipnick although he is the domineering presence in all three of them. Jack Lipnick is forceful fast talking studio head who knows his business and talks fast, and is unpredictable in his way he praises Fink and ridicules his assistant. Lerner is great in these scenes and does bring all of these qualities to life. He dominates his scenes just as Jack Lipnick should dominate everything around him. Lerner finds this magnificent combination within his three scenes of creating the very strange yet rather hilarious nature of the forceful Jack Lipnick particularly to how he contrasts against the unsure Fink. Lerner finds this perfect tone to maneuver within his performance, as any proper supporting player in a Coen brothers should, in that he not only brings impeccable comedic timing but also goes further in terms of the creation of what Lipnick represents. Lipnick is the studio system in full force and his use of Fink is the brilliant representation of this sort of grotesque leviathan. There is this confidence, overwhelming confidence, Lerner brings and a passion, however both of those seem forceful for the sake of it, of a man demanding to own his "art" even when he's really in it just for the money. His interactions with Barton are sheer perfection in the first two scenes Lerner plays this brilliant line between excessive affability but with these strict sinister undertones. One of my favorite moments is in their first scene together where he states his lack of actually having seen Barton's work, despite being so enthusiastic towards Barton's work, and as a parting note Lerner infuses this certain cynicism as he casually dismisses Barton's intentions when speaking about work he has done rather than theoretical work he will do for capitol pictures. Lerner's second scene is equally entertaining as Lerner brings such earnestness towards Lipnick's fawning over Barton, even translating it towards his violent reaction towards his assistant Lou when he demands actual work from Barton. Lerner again is this great face of the studio delivering this great smile towards Barton yet again channels this vicious darkness even within that. Lerner then naturally makes it all come to his final scene where he is openly hostile towards Barton for having written a "fruity picture about a man wrestling with his soul". Lerner is great as he still is very funny even in this breakdown of Barton's passion but indeed is also all the more cruel because of it as Lerner still doesn't lose that certain spring in his delivery while cutting out Barton's heart and feeding it to him. Although yes Goodman should have been nominated, I will say Lerner is extremely entertaining and effective in his own right by creating both the colorful facade of the studio system and its more genuine dog eat dog attitude.


RatedRStar said...

My predictions are going well =D so far lol

Gustavo said...

I read your evaluation of this performance in hope of understanding it. You described well what he did, but to me the reaction to his choices is nothing but bafflement. I just didn't get what the actor was trying to accomplish.

Goodman was criminally robbed.