Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Trip to Bountiful

"The Trip to Bountiful" (Peter Masterson, 1985) If "The Trip to Bountiful" resembles one of those "Hallmark Hall of Fame" vehicles, there's a reason: the HHOF is one of the last kin of the Golden Age of Television that specialized in Anthology programming, a happy confluence of an up-tick in stage-writing (with no venues) and the work coming out of the Actor's Studio. "The Trip to Bountiful" is a product of that Golden Age, Horton Foote writing it in 1953 and being broadcast with a cast including Lillian Gish, Eileen Heckart, and Eva Marie Saint (then going to Broadway for 309 performances with Gish and Saint, becoming a staple of village theater groups ever since). Spare in stage-craft and language, it is a showcase for what actors bring to it.

And besides Foote's intuitive, empathetic play, the highlight is Geraldine Page's portrait of a wilting flower seeking its home soil. One could be cynical about Page beating out (in that year of years) Anne Bancroft in "Agnes of God," Whoopi Goldberg in "The Color Purple," Jessica Lange in "Sweet Dreams," and Meryl Streep in "Out of Africa," for the Best Actress Oscar as a mere lifetime achievement award. That is, until you see the movie. All of those actresses did stellar, award-winning, even personal best, work. Page's performance, however, is bone-deep, with a devastating arc punctuated by brave choices and amusing filigrees. It has a deep-rooted embrace of desperation, where to reclaim one's dignity one will do the most undignified things—to lose one's self in the search for self. Amidst the brio and excitement of setting off to her home-town, Page's Carrie Watts is crumbling at each new set-back, each new piece of old news.

The rest of the cast—John Heard, Carlin Glynn, Richard Bradford—do excellent work, but Page leaves them in the dirt with a performance in turn mournful, sly, agitated, effervescent and transparent. It's a primer on making the ordinary extraordinary.

Lillian Gish and Eva Marie Saint in
"A Trip to Bountiful," 1953

1 comment:

Perris said...

I have actually seen this movie a couple times in the past year or so on some cable channel. Page did do a wonderful job with the role.