Sarah Polley’s Away From Her is one of the most overlooked films of 2007. This Canadian indie has been heralded as being one of the most honest, sugar-free portrayals of Alzheimer’s disease ever to hit the screen. It chronicles how the illness slowly deteriorates a woman’s mind to the point that she can no longer live at home, and demonstrates how this transition leaves her husband emotionally devastated. It’s basically the anti-Notebook. If you haven’t seen it, you’ve probably at least heard about all the praise being thrown at Julie Christie.
The Academy has had an annoying trend of giving the Best Actress Oscar to beautiful, young movie stars who simply ugly themselves up and mug a little dark emotion in their vanity projects (ie. Halle Berry, Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman’s nose). This hasn't been helped by the movie industry's frustrating lack of good leading roles available for women. While the Best Supporting Actress category has consistently recognized a good balance of diverse, even offbeat performances from an interesting variety of women (this year probably more so than most), the Best Actress category seems to most often go to the movie stars (Reese Witherspoon, Julia Roberts). So, when I saw Away From Her several months ago (well before all the awards hype), I thought, finally, a good performance that serves the film instead of the actress, and by an elderly woman well past her height of stardom no less. Julie Christie certainly deserves recognition for this.
Then I saw her acceptance speech at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.*
(*I should have posted this sooner after the awards show when it was fresher on everyone’s mind. Copy this URL and fast-forward to 2:45 to see a snippet of this egregious display:
Julie Christie’s speech was such a disgusting display of pomposity that she should be prevented by any means necessary from receiving an Academy Award.
First of all, once she heard her name, without missing a beat, she pulls out her acceptance speech from her purse and strolls up to the podium without an inkling of gratitude (as you can see in the link). She obviously came prepared, knowing she deserved the award as much as the SAG did. You’re an actress, Julie, can’t you at least “act” humble or surprised?
She then proceeds to pay lip service to the SAG and the ongoing WGA strike by declaring how wonderful unions are. It’s a nice thing to say, I guess, but it doesn’t sound the least bit sincere. Her superficial social consciousness seems to exist solely to garner more applause. It’s like when you hear Bono talk about starving children in Africa—you know it needs to be said, but you wish it wasn’t being said by such a douchebag public personality. Also, I’m sorry, but seeing a bunch of wealthy actors and filmmakers cheer for unions just feels unsettling. Unions weren’t made for these types; they were made for blue-collar, below-the-line, “little” people—not Julie Christie.
She then says, “My thanks to Sarah [Polley] for putting the wonderful words in my mouth…with her dialogue.” I can’t believe she wrote her speech down and came up with this gem of a sentence.
Finally, Julie Christie ends her speech by saying, “If I forgot to thank anybody else, let’s just say I’m still in character.” Wow. So you give one of the most subtle, respectful portrayals of a debilitating disease and show your appreciation for an award recognizing your performance by…making a cheap Alzheimer’s joke? She’s managed to completely undercut everything she did to get to this point with one stupid (and, not to mention, incredibly insensitive) quip.
This alone should make any Academy member with an empathetic soul steer clear from giving this ungrateful, nauseatingly superficial diva an Academy Award. She already has one anyway for a film she made over forty years ago (John Schlesinger’s Darling), so it’s not like we’re making up for lost time with an unawarded veteran (like Peter O’Toole, poor guy). And not that shenanigans that happen outside a film or performance should affect that person’s eligibility to win a deserved award (for example, there was certainly an aura of relief when Polanski’s statutory rape charge didn’t prevent him from winning his well-deserved Best Director Award for The Pianist five years ago). But that Julie Christie gave such a despicable, disgusting display of shameless self-aggrandization at one awards ceremony doesn’t mean she won’t do it again.
Please, Academy, give the Oscar to somebody who will truly appreciate it. How about the pregnant girl with the quirky dialogue?
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