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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Battle of the Basket Cases: Mavis Gary of "Young Adult" and Annie Walker of "Bridesmaids"

Charlize Theron and Kristin Wiig unleash two of the most engaging yet cringe-worthy female performances last year in Young Adult and Bridesmaids, respectively. While both characters have somewhat different personalities, they each suffer meticulously constructed dramatic breakdowns. Let's take a look at both characters and performances.

On the one hand, we've got the black-hearted authoress Mavis Gary, scrupulously played by Charlize Theron. One the other hand, we've got the eternally single Annie, desperately played by Kristin Wiig, who sends Annie teetering towards self-abandonment. Both characters tread dangerously close to the end of their lifelines. One peers over the edge and ends up slinking away from it, and other leaps over the edge and sets up camp there.

What else makes these characters different? Empathy. You want Annie to get over this hump, which is triggered by her best friend's graduation from her dreaded single life, leaving her in the dust. Her descent is rapid, but is realized. She knows she's losing her footing, but sadly doesn't feel she can do anything to stop it. You feel for her. You may see yourself in her. You even want to hug her at times, especially when she starts flailing downward. At her worst, she wallows in her own self-pity. She tries not to fling her dread onto those around her, but rather onto one innocent giant cookie.

This is quite the contrary for Mavis, who we want to feel more sorry for if only she wasn't such a bitch about her extravagant spiral downhill, taking every man, woman and child down with her. Her tactic is more malicious, and inflicted on everyone around her. Unlike Annie, we're never led to think she realizes her spiral downward. It is because her descent is more deliberate, more blind, and not knowingly and pitiful like Annie's. Mavis doesn't hit rock bottom with as quite as big a splat as Annie. Her impact is far more padded, and therefore less discerning and worthy of any real sympathy.

Theron and Wiig arguably tackle two of the most reckless female characters we've seen this year with a frightening ease. Both performances are nuanced, yet not contrived. They both feel real and not in any way put on. One performance isn't better than the other, although it can be debated that Mavis is written with a bit more sophistication than Annie. Theron takes the slovenly aspects of Mavis, and ties it into an ugly bow. While Wiig takes the messiness of Annie and makes it wilder and more entertaining to watch, keeping its authenticity, which is also a talent in and of itself.

In the battle of the basket cases, who do you love to watch more?


Anonymous said...

Mavis Gary, no contest. She's probably the most complex yet distinctive protagonist to grace the big screen in years. Annie seems more conventional... the character is well constructed thanks to a stellar script but it's nothing we haven't seen before. Now if you were to ask who would I want to hang out with... you would get a different answer ;)

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