Ode to Toni Collette, supreme icon of the sizzling women

Treccani’s vocabulary, in which I trust blindly, gives a definition of the adjective «frayed» which I do not fully agree with: «Broken, shattered, even exhausted, dejected, physically distorted». In reality, for me being broken coincides with not being able to take more of the world, with being full in every sense, eyes raised to the sky and the desire to fuck off anyone who approaches or tries to talk. In short, Treccani’s vocabulary gives it a vaguely victimistic meaning, which is absent from my personal family lexicon: being frayed is almost an anarchic act; not a surrender but the admission that thereafter it is worth anything by virtue of the exploitation (or exploitation, I love both).

I have many examples of facial expressions, attitudes and languages ​​of friends that perfectly summarize what I mean by “being broken”, but if there is an actress who has elevated this status to maximum expression, I can only think of Toni Collette. Australian, born in 1972, my first meeting with her dates back to 1994 in a cinema in Bologna, where I went with my mother to see Muriel’s wedding, a small, great masterpiece that from then on I would have included in my personal list of essential films of those years. And not surprisingly, presented at the Directors’ Fortnight at the 47th Cannes Film Festival, the film earned Collette a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. In 1996 it is the turn of the delicious Emmaalongside Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam and Ewan McGregor, who will also meet again two years later, in 1998, in Velvet Goldmine by Todd Haynes.

There is no time and no space to dwell on how much Velvet Goldmine it was important – but what am I saying, fundamental! – in my musical-cinematographic-stylistic education, I only add that I have seen it three times, dragging initially recalcitrant friends to the Nosadella cinema to attend what “is not a simple film, it is a work with all the sacred trappings”, and that in honour of Velvet Goldmine I would have bought very tight purple vinyl pants to show off with a cardigan including marabou cuffs and collar. That’s where Toni Collette begins to kickstart the epic of the frayed woman: her Mandy Slade, (ex) wife of glam rock star Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), has gone through an exciting period of sex, drugs, parties & rock’n’roll, she is badly dismissed by her husband who in the meantime has entered into a relationship with Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor). Years later she is removed, with dark circles, devastated by her life, unrepentant smoker and, in fact, frayed; Brian is now a story over and over, and she throws in a very sad and prophetic sentence: “It’s strange how beautiful people look as they leave.”

From Velvet Goldmine onwards, is a succession of wonderful and very exploitable characters: Lynn Sear, the mother of the disturbing Cole (Haley Joel Osment) in the Sixth Sense, interpretation for which she will be nominated for an Oscar; the Kitty’s The Hours; the wacky Fiona Brewer in About a Boy. And in 2006 it is the turn of Little Miss Sunshine, “Surprising and irresistible comedy to be considered one of the best films of the year” according to critic Michael Medved, so much so that “Orson Welles should come back to life for this film”, echoes Joe Siegel. An exceptional cast, from Toni Collette as the mother of the family Sheryl Hoover to the extraordinary Abigail Breslin, passing through Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, Steve Carell, Greg Kinnear; an avalanche of nominations and prizes won; the soundtrack written by DeVotchka; the official entry into the «cult» category. The same year he records an album, Beautiful Awkward Pictureswhich, while not breaking through, receives the acclaim of critics and fans: Collette is good, damn good at singing, writing music, acting, and any accent – American, Australian, British – is credible – she is asked to do.

Photo: 20th Century Studios

He works alongside Robin Williams in A voice in the night by Patrick Stettner; by Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins and Scarlett Johansson in Hitchcock by Sacha Gervasi; by Steve Carell, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell and Maya Rudolph in the unfairly underestimated Once upon a time there was a summer by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash; by James Gandolfini in I don’t say anything else by Nicole Holofcener. From 2009 to 2011 she is the protagonist of United States of Tara, a Showtime series born from an idea by Steven Spielberg and developed by Diablo Cody, where she plays the role of a housewife and mother of a family suffering from dissociative identity disorder, characterized by the presence of multiple personalities. The reviews are more than positive also thanks to the interpretation of Collette, who won an Emmy in 2009, and United States of Tara manages to win a loyal niche following for three seasons, until 2011. The Ten Years for Collette pass a bit subdued compared to the previous ones: not exceptional titles alternate with a TV series – Hostagesbased on the Israeli series of the same name and aired on CBS in 2013 – but canceled after just one season.

But you just have to be patient, because 2019 is definitely his year: Dinner with crime by Rian Johnson is a worldwide success, with $ 313 million gross, very high approval rates on any aggregator and Stephanie Zacharek of Time which places him among the ten best films of the year. Netflix takes care of the rest with Unbelievablea drama-crime miniseries based on a series of rapes in the state of Washington and Colorado, later the subject of the essay A False Report. Nominations are floundering, critics and audiences are in raptures, Toni Collette is right back among the greats. In 2020 Charlie Kaufman chooses her for his I’m thinking of ending it here; the following year she is in the cast of The Fair of Illusions – Nightmare Alley by Guillermo del Toro, along with Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett and Willem Dafoe.

Today she is the absolute star of Fragments of herNetflix series based on the novel of the same name by Karin Slaughter, and The Staircase – A suspicious death, HBO Max miniseries (aired in Italy on Sky Atlantic) created and written by Antonio Campos and based on the 2004 docuseries of the same name by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade. Here she is Collette Kathleen Peterson, wife of politically motivated writer Michael (Colin Firth) found mysteriously dead at the bottom of the stairs in their home, and she is more frayed than ever. A colony of children, an unbearable narcissistic husband with bisexual tendencies, a managerial job that sucks her soul and a little problem with alcohol: Toni is the only thing that can be saved of the eight episodes (four would have been enough, it is always the same old story) of The Staircase, between a jumble of actors who have nothing to do with each other and an elongated plot with all the resources of stock available. Dear, very sassy Toni Collette: on behalf of all the sizzling women of this world, thank you for existing.

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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