Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2002: Dennis Quaid in Far From Heaven

Dennis Quaid did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, a Sag, and being nominated for and winning several critic awards including the NYFCC, for portraying Frank Whitaker in Far From Heaven.

Far From Heaven is an interesting experiment at recreating the look and feel of a 50's melodrama although it deals directly with its topics rather than alluding to them. The only problem with this for me is that I never really cared for 50's melodramas, and as well I think it missteps somewhat in its partial attempt to replicate the style of the performances in that era.

Dennis Quaid actually has nothing really to do with the style found in some of the other performances in the film and pretty much tries for a realistic approach in his character. Quaid plays Frank the husband of Julianne Moore's Cathy Whitaker and the father of the children. They seem the ideal enough suburban household of the fifties except there is a severe problem in that Frank is a repressed homosexual who early on the film secretly attempts to find liaisons for himself which most often result in him being caught. Unlike many portrayals of gay characters Quaid in no way uses any mannerisms in his portrayal which makes absolute sense because he is playing someone who on the surface should at least seem just like any normal family man from the period. 

Although I know many love this performance I do not have quite the same appreciation for it as I feel Quaid's role is used as more of a plot point to Moore's central storyline muting the impact of Quaid's work somewhat. This is not at all Quaid's fault but it does set some limitations to his portrayal making his character not nearly as interesting as he could have been. What we see of Frank are really glimpses of his moments. We never really see the details, and no I don't mean the sex scenes. What I mean is we see the beginning and the end only of each part of his story. We see him look for liaisons, but then instantly only see the result of them. We see him hear about the therapy but we see none of it. We see him go back to his old ways at the end, but then we instantly see him having accepted himself fully.

What Quaid is left with are the glimpses of the man rather than the whole, but to Quiad's credit I did want to see the whole instead. Quaid is effective in the glimpses. In any of his scenes seeking liaisons they are almost entirely silent which Quaid works well with. Quaid always supports that Frank is a man of the time still no matter what, and even as he is doing something looked very much down upon he will still fulfill his role. Quaid is very good in this as Frank does keep himself within his structures even as he is breaking them, and Quaid leaves the desires in Frank subtle but known. Quaid brings across the repression with the right internalized intensity. Even when Frank seems the ideal man Quaid has the other element always present, but often only there if you look closely.

Quaid's work ends up being really episodic because we don't get the transitions instead we get the results.  Credit goes to Quaid though for realizing each of these moments the best he can and firmly in the character of Frank. Even when he laments his existence where he fights his repression with alcohol Quaid even as he breaks down still keeps that repression even within the scene. It is an interesting scenes as Quaid portrays Frank fighting against himself during the whole time, and leaving himself as nothing more than a bit of a confused mess. Due keeping the character always in this framework it is utterly fitting in the scene where Frank becomes angry over the rumors of Cathy's relationship with the black gardener as again Quaid shows Frank always keeping his role even if he hates that role.

This is a strong piece of work by Dennis Quaid in his creation of Frank, and it only helps that he doesn't go for any of the over the top moments so often in equivalent characters from the 50's. I do have my reservations in that I do think this could have been something absolutely incredible even Frank received much more focus and his arc consisted of more than just the base and then the peak in terms of every point of his story. I won't blame Quaid as that has absolutely nothing to do with him, instead I will credit him in giving striking portrait of Frank even within the sometimes extreme limitations put upon him, and I do believe that Quaid only would have been better if there was more material for him as he excels with what he has.


Anonymous said...

What did you think of Julianne Moore?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I actually love this movie. I tend to go with subversive cinema, and Todd Haynes usually delivers on that front. I don't like 50's melodrama, but Haynes's clever use of old tropes and then soundly subverting them delighted me. I'd give Quaid a little more credit than you. I also loved the other cast members (Moore, Haysbert, and Clarkson).

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous: I'll say she was good for the most part, but I thought she played up the 50's style too much at the beginning of the film especially since she suddenly just drops it entirely later in the film.

Michael Patison said...

I agree with koook. This would make my Best Picture ballot. I also thought Moore was excellent and she's my win this year. I would also nominate Quaid and Clarkson. I liked Haysbert, but found him to be the weak link of the very strong cast. This is simply a fantastically made film. It's also gorgeously shot and scored, of course.

mrripley said...

Clarkson works wonders with her small role,a perfect write up,he's in my top 5 but something was not in there for a win.

Michael Patison said...

For once I actually completely agree with you, mrripley