Ode to Toni Collette, the supreme icon of women

Treccani’s vocabulary, which I blindly trust, gives a definition of the adjective «rushed» that I don’t fully agree with: «Broken, broken, even exhausted, knocked down, physically distorted». In reality, for me being emaciated coincides with being fed up with the world, with being full in every sense, eyes rolled up to heaven and the desire to fuck off anyone who approaches or tries to speak. In short, Treccani’s vocabulary gives it a vaguely victimistic meaning, which is absent from my personal family lexicon: being emasculated is almost an anarchic act; not a surrender but an admission that from then on anything goes by virtue of chutzpah (or chutzpah, I love both).

I have many examples of facial expressions, attitudes and language of friends that perfectly sum up what I mean by «being emasculated», but if there is an actress who has elevated this status to the highest 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 in 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 was 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 there is no space to dwell on how much Velvet Goldmine was important – but what am I saying, fundamental! – in my musical-cinematographic-stylistic education, I can 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 an opera with all the sacred trappings», and which in honour of Velvet Goldmine I would have bought some very tight purple vinyl pants to show off with a cardigan including marabou cuffs and collar. It is there that Toni Collette begins to kick off the epic of the emaciated woman: her Mandy Slade, (ex) wife of glam rock star Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), past the exciting period of sex, drugs, partying & rock’n’roll, is badly dismissed by her husband who in the meantime has established a relationship with Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor). Years later she is wearing make-up, with dark circles under her eyes, devastated by her life, an unrepentant smoker and, indeed, frazzled; Brian is now a story done and finished, and she throws out a very sad and prophetic sentence: “It’s strange how beautiful people look as they go away”.

From Velvet Goldmine onwards, it is a succession of wonderful and very sfrantissimi characters: Lynn Sear, the mother of the disturbing Cole (Haley Joel Osment) in Sixth Sense, an interpretation for which she will be nominated for an Oscar; the Kitty of The Hours; the wacky Fiona Brewer in About a Boy. And in 2006 it’s 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 in the role of the mother of the family Sheryl Hoover to the extraordinary Abigail Breslin, through Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, Steve Carell, Greg Kinnear; an avalanche of nominations and prizes won; the score written by the DeVotchkas; the official entry into the «cult» category. The same year he records an album, Beautiful Awkward Pictureswhich, while not breaking through, receives critical and fan acclaim: Collette is good, damn good at singing, writing music, acting, and any accent – American, Australian, British – she is asked to do is credible.

Photo: 20th Century Studios

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 unjustly underrated Once upon a summer by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash; by James Gandolfini in I say no more 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 suffering from dissociative identity disorder, characterized by the presence of multiple personalities. The criticisms are more than positive also thanks to the interpretation of Collette, who wins an Emmy in 2009, and United States of Tara manages to gain a devoted niche following for three seasons, until 2011. The Ten Years for Collette pass a little 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 – however canceled after 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 dollars in box office, very high approval ratings on any aggregator and Stephanie Zacharek of Time which places it among the ten best films of the year. Netflix will take care of the rest with Unbelievablecrime-drama miniseries based on a series of rapes that took place in Washington state and Colorado, later the subject of the essay To False Reports. The nominations are flooding, critics and the public are in raptures, Toni Collette is rightfully back among the greats. In 2020 Charlie Kaufman chooses it for his I’m thinking of ending it here; the following year she is in the cast of Fair of Illusions – Nightmare Alley by Guillermo del Toro, along with Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett and Willem Dafoe.

Today is the absolute star of Fragments of herNetflix series based on the novel of the same name by Karin Slaughter, and by The Staircase – A suspicious death, HBO Max miniseries (aired on Sky Atlantic in Italy) created and written by Antonio Campos and based on the 2004 docuseries of the same name by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade. Here she Collette is Kathleen Peterson, wife of politically minded writer Michael (Colin Firth) who was found mysteriously dead at the bottom of the stairs in their home, and she is more broken 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 is saved from the eight episodes (four would have been enough, it’s always the same story) of The Staircase, between a hodgepodge of actors who have nothing to do with each other and an elongated plot with all the broth resources available. Dear, very heartbroken Toni Collette: on behalf of all the heartbroken 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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