Sunday, January 4, 2009

Pin It


Supporting Actress Blog-a-thon

Wow, is this late. But it took me a while who to do and what to say, all while getting ready for classes this week.

It's no secret that I freeking love Speed Racer. It made it to my Top Ten of 2008, I gave it four stars, I love it. I could reiterate all that I've already said about it, but in the end, it all comes down to how the movie just nailed the sentimental cheesiness of it all, without cynicism, without compromising the tone, without sacrificing the realism of the characters. And nobody does it better (makes me feel sad for the rest) than Susan Sarandon as Speed's mom.

Not Susan Sarandon
She certainly does not have an easy task. Mom doesn't even have a name. We know little about her except that she makes the best pancakes ever. Yet Sarandon -- and certainly, the Wachowskis -- work to make Mom a believable enough human being. That's saying a lot for a film that delights in its own cartoonishness. Certainly Sarandon herself said her part is just a series of scenes involving her making breakfast. But she really does invest quite a bit more in this character.

Mom really is the Perfect Mother, first of all. She's a housewife, and revels in it. No complaints, not even an underlying hint of resentment or desire for something more. This is her dream, and while it may not seem like much to you or I, she's genuinely happy. She takes pride in her pancakes, her children, her husband's work. She's supportive and loving, but she's also Mom. Like when she admonishes Spritle for his couch antics with Chim-Chim: it's a fine scene establishing both the playfulness of the children and her role as Mom. Sure, it's in her name, but if she doesn't do any mothering, how can we know for sure?

Sarandon's greatest triumph is in making Mom sentimental without being too grating. Her bedside talk with Speed is beautiful. Any actress could go for cheese here. Any actress could just say the words without a care, because it's a cartoon movie. But Sarandon means every word of it. She believes it, and so we believe it. When she compares his racing to an artist painting, it's a truly touching moment. Forget Racer X's odd but awesome "Racing changes us" speech; <i>this</i> is when we realize the impact this sport has on the family.

I'd have an Oedipus complex for sure
In fact, Mom is the character who best expresses the family's workings. In her first scene, called into a conference with Speed's teacher, she gives us all the elements we'll see in the rest of the family. First is that pride in racing as a family sport. The teacher is not amused, but Sarandon's Mom, while waxing apologetic, also has a gleam in her eye, a mischievous smile threatening at the corners. She can see that it's a flimsy excuse, but to her it makes sense: Pops builds cars, Rex races them, Speed adores it all. And while she may be a little concerned, a little embarrassed, she sees no problem in her son pursuing his passion.

Second is that somewhat frightening loyalty. Pops can't make it to the conference, and Speed's teacher disapproves. What's more, she voices that disapproval. And man, the look Sarandon has. This movie taught me what it meant to stare daggers at someone. Sarandon just absolutely nails it. It's a little scary because it really looks like she could kill, a lioness protecting her cubs. And husband. But it's also what we all hoped our moms looked like when teacher called them in. We all want our mothers to love us that much, and to be willing to strike. Sarandon's Mom doesn't strike, but there is an edge to her voice that makes things very clear.
And later, she will club that teacher to death with the trophy
(While we're on the subject, I also love that the teacher (Melissa Holroyd) doesn't care. She's seen it all, she knows the score. Fuck you, parents, you don't scare me. Nice.)

I guess I love the performance because it reminds me of my mother. We've had that bedside talk, where she encouraged me to get into theatre and film, because when she sees the things I do on stage, it just takes her breath away. She's said this, she really has. And I've seen her at a few parent-teacher conferences, and both her and my dad told off my vice principal in fourth grade. Never mind the situation, that's for a later date. But ol' Mom Racer is Mom Hollmann, so I know how true it rings. As Mae West said in <i>Sextette</i>, "It's real, baby, it's all real."

No comments: