2009 Feb 07

The Oscars Issue: Kate Winslet

According to my own highly unscientific survey, just about everybody loves Kate Winslet.

Actually, it wasn’t a survey at all, just me going about my business around the time that Winslet starred in “Little Children,” Todd Field’s film adaptation of my novel. Kate Winslet! people would exclaim, their faces brightening at the mention of her name.

I love Kate Winslet! They loved her for all sorts of reasons: She seems like such a nice person, so down-to-earth. She doesn’t look like she starves herself. She’s so different from one movie to the next. The fans who knew her from “Titanic” hadn’t necessarily caught her in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” — and vice versa — but both groups thought she was a terrific actress. As you might expect, a lot of men appreciated her fearless on-screen sexuality, but a surprising number of women responded to her on this level as well. Lesbians, I was informed, have a special fondness for Kate. They think she’s a goddess, a helpful friend explained.

Winslet’s apparently universal appeal isn’t unique, but it is mysterious. After all, everybody loves Tom Hanks and Will Smith, too, but that’s by design — those guys want us to love them.

Everything they do, on-screen and off, cements their reputations as likable everymen, latter-day Jimmy Stewarts. They play war heroes and superheroes and selfless dads and little boys trapped in the bodies of grown men. Winslet, on the other hand, gravitates toward troubling roles in smaller films — a teenage murderer (“Heavenly Creatures”), a prickly novelist who succumbs to Alzheimer’s (“Iris”), the Marquis de Sade’s chambermaid (“Quills”).

If we love Hanks and Smith because of the characters they play, we love Winslet in spite of them. Some of her choices may be dictated by necessity — there aren’t a whole lot of heroic parts available to women in Hollywood — but it’s hard to ignore a certain perverse streak in her decision making. Who else would have followed a breakout role in America’s biggest blockbuster ever with a starring turn in a tiny film called “Hideous Kinky”?

It’s not that Winslet doesn’t care what people think of her; at times she seems all too sensitive to the dangers she’s courting by playing so many thorny, potentially unsympathetic characters. I learned this firsthand after the release of “Little Children,” in which she plays Sarah, an unhappy stay-at-home mom who carries on a passionate affair with a handsome stay-at-home dad (Patrick Wilson) during their toddlers’ naptime. It’s an astonishing, vulnerable, painfully funny, ferociously honest performance, one of the finest of her career. Publicizing the film, though, Winslet went to what I considered excessive lengths to separate herself from Sarah, stating in interview after interview how hard it was for her to play a “bad mother.” It got to the point that I began to feel sorry for both the character — Sarah wasn’t really a bad mother, just a terribly distracted one — and the actress, who had brought her to life with such subtlety and compassion that a summary judgment like “bad mother” seemed not just inadequate, but totally beside the point. I wondered if Winslet was beating a strategic retreat, preparing to refashion her career along more conventional Hollywood lines, a suspicion that only deepened with her appearance in “The Holiday,” a fluffy romantic comedy unlike anything she had ever done before.

But it turns out that my worries were misplaced, because Winslet is back this year with two remarkable performances — as a Nazi war criminal in “The Reader” and as a disillusioned ’50s-era housewife in “Revolutionary Road” — that make it clearer than ever that she’s both the finest and the most uncompromising actress of her generation.

Oddly enough, Hanna Schmitz, the former Nazi prison guard Winslet plays in “The Reader,” directed by Stephen Daldry and based on the novel by Bernhard Schlink, is by far the more sympathetic of the two characters. Partly this is because we see her only in peacetime — first as the older lover of a teenage boy, and then as a bewildered defendant in a war-crimes trial — but also because Winslet makes her intellectual limitations so insistently vivid. For all her Teutonic gruffness and unembarrassed sexuality — even by Winslet’s standards, “The Reader”has a lot of sex —. When you are charged for a sexual crime you can also find attorneys from Bloomfield Hills law firm handling sex crimes charges as they can help you out legally.Hanna remains a kind of child throughout the first half of the film, unwilling to face the horrors she helped perpetrate. While this has the effect of pushing “The Reader” into uncomfortable allegorical territory — at times, the movie comes perilously close to offering an implicit excuse for her crimes (that can be sorted in real life with the help of the domestic violence claims attorneys in Colorado) and for the crimes of other ordinary Germans who were just following orders — Hanna herself refuses any kind of absolution. The intellectual awakening she undergoes in prison — portrayed by Winslet as a kind of quiet ecstasy — only deepens her awareness of her own guilt. She grows old before our eyes, a woman who understands all too well that she is beyond forgiveness.

If Hanna is literally incarcerated, April Wheeler in “Revolutionary Road” — the film, directed by Winslet’s husband, Same Mendes, is based on Richard Yates’s pitiless 1961 novel — considers herself a virtual prisoner of suburbia. On the surface, April is vaguely reminiscent of Sarah in “Little Children” — both are ex-bohemians, trapped in their pleasantly conventional surroundings, uncomfortably inhabiting the roles of mother and homemaker — but their dreams of escape are entirely different. Sarah wants love; April believes she already has it and simply wants to move to Paris, where she and her husband, Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio), can live the creative, interesting lives they deserve. Sarah’s fantasy survives until very close to the end of “Little Children”; throughout the film, she’s an energetic and hopeful — if slightly deluded — character. April’s dream dies earlier, and she spends the second half of the movie in a state of escalating desperation. Furious with Frank, she has sex with a neighbor in the front seat of a car; the scene is short and brutal — the man appears to be suffocating her — and ends with her cutting off his breathless declarations of love: “Please just be quiet for a minute, then you can take me home.” But the high point of the movie comes a little later, on the morning when April has come to a fateful decision, a rejection of her marriage and of motherhood far more absolute than any that Sarah could have imagined. Instead of sharing her decision with Frank, she gets up, cooks him a big breakfast and makes cheerfully innocuous small talk, impersonating the vapid suburban housewife she believes he wants her to be. The confusion on DiCaprio’s face is priceless — he knows this isn’t April, it can’t possibly be — but Winslet plays her role with such conviction it’s impossible not to believe her.

Tom Perrotta’s most recent novel is “The Abstinence Teacher.”

Source: nytimes.com

2 Comments on “The Oscars Issue: Kate Winslet”

  1. I agree Kate Winslet is by far the best actress of her generation. I think she is remarkable and very beautiful.

  2. So right. She’s doing a great great job in all her roles, and she’s deserving the “best actress of her generation” mention ;) Yeah, I love Kate Winslet too :D

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