Richard Jenkins received his second Oscar nomination for portraying Giles in The Shape of Water.
The Shape of Water is not a very subtle film. It focuses on the grandiose broad strokes in its overarching romance, including even a dance musical number, but also in terms of its social commentary angle. The oppressed are the good guys whether they be the mute woman, the African American woman, the secret communist, the sea creature, and of course the gay man. Meanwhile the straight laced "average man" of the fifties is an evil psychopath. That's character's name is Strickland that pretty much sums up the film's approach in this regard. Now most films with such an overt approach I might take some umbrage with, however it works in this film because of the overarching stylistic realization of the film by director Guillermo del Toro. The film in every facet is that of a heightened reality to begin with enabling for such a broad approach. In a way it takes an old school musical Astaire/Rogers musical approach to telling the story of the creature from the black lagoon...in love. This includes in the character of Giles played by Richard Jenkins, originally intended for Ian McKellen which says something about the nature of the role. It isn't so much the gay best friend of a romantic comedy, though is that as well, but also the best friend characater in those musicals of old who probably would've played by Edward Everett Horton.
Richard Jenkins's role is therefore set within in a certain set of requirements of the tropes, although perhaps this is a bit more of challenge to begin with for Jenkins as this role is not his typical onscreen presence as Jenkins is more often cast as fathers or minor authority figures. Jenkins attunes himself nicely within the part adding sort of these instances minor flamboyancy in his physical mannerisms and delivery. Jenkins carefully doesn't over do this making it just natural facet of the character while relating the mostly unsaid background of the character rather effectively. Jenkins lets you know who Giles is, but doesn't bring any unneeded excess to the role. Well after that though he is set to portray the gay best friend, or old school musical friend, as required. This has a few different facets to it. The first being charm. Well Jenkins, when ever given the opportunity, is a very charming actor, and this comes naturally here. Jenkins is simply an actor with a certain on screen charisma to begin with so he's a particularly well equipped for that requirement. The second requirement is chemistry with his co-star. Jenkins and Hawkins have this in spades. Jenkins provides such a natural warmth in every interaction and the two are delightful together. The third is of course the delivery of comedic one liners, and plenty of them. Well Jenkins handles this with with aplomb, and thankfully doesn't over accentuate these lines rather finding humor in them properly though also just as a natural part of what Giles would say.
Of course there is a bit more required with whole social subversion aspects of the film, and the plot of rescuing the fishman from his evil captors. This tests the trope slightly, or at least demands a bit more from Jenkins who is more than up to the task. Jenkins effortlessly delivers a bit of pathos, even within those one liners, as there is an overarching somberness in his slight hangdog expressions, and sardonic deliveries. Jenkins delivers the sense of Giles own loneliness even while he entertains Elisa and the audience. Jenkins is able to effectively shift to the more dramatic moments particularly when Elisa asks him to help her. Jenkins is terrific in the scene as he brings such a strong sense of empathy in his own re-delivery of every one of her signed lines, and expresses Giles recognition of her words in very moving fashion. The one major scene though that relates to Giles's own plight is when he attempts to connect with a local diner owner. I will say this scene is perhaps even a bit over the top even for this film where the diner owner reveals his hatred for African Americans and homosexual in a matter of about six seconds. Having said though nothing can be faulted towards Jenkins's performance where he successfully embodies that hope for an end to his loneliness as he so joyfully speaks to the man, but then is rather affecting in reveals his distraught state when so intensely rebuffed. After that scene though he is set back into his supporting role as he helps Elisa try to rescue then release the fishman. Jenkins though still remains an integral part of every scene he's in always still bringing that charm and palatable warmth in every moment. Jenkins is there essentially to amplify every emotional moment, and he does this through his quiet yet impassioned work. I will say I particularly love his opening and ending narration where Jenkins brings such a gentle yet powerful poignancy to his delivery. The delivery fitting to a fairy tale in the elders voice speaking it, yet Jenkins delivers it also as the man who has lived the experience with someone he loved. In the end is this the most original character? No, nor is intended to be. Richard Jenkins works within a specific type of role here, but grants Giles his own distinct life through his wonderful performance.