Every year at this time, the film bloggers get out their pitchforks and begin to vilify one of the most beloved performances of the year. Last year, they went after my girl J. Hud in Dreamgirls, claiming she couldn't act and claiming all the hoopla was overblown. She got the last laugh by winning the Oscar, but that still didn't stop the nay-sayers. This year, they seem to be gunning after Marion Cotillard's immaculate work in La Vie en Rose, where she IS Edith Piaf.
So what are people saying about Cotillard, you ask? Here are some of the choice words from a few of my "contemporaries" (I use that word loosely because they are generally better than me):
Nathaniel R. at The Film Experience claims that "'Edith Piaf' has no through line, no modulated character development: she's all big moments without connective performance tissue."
Josh R. at Edward Copeland on Film is the harshest of them all, offering many choice barbs: "really more of an extended drag act with subtitles...the voice is pitched somewhere between The Lord of the Rings' Gollum and the cartoon hag in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs...Cotillard's approach does not suggest anything even remotely resembling that which might be drawn from the recognizable realm of human behavior."
Glenn at Stale Popcorn claims: "Edith Piaf, as played by Marion Cotillard with an assortment of wigs and Amelie impersonations" and he hopes that "the 'omgsheISedithpiaf' campaign will run off the rails."
DL at The Cellar Door simply states: "I unfortunately can't even say the movie's only watchable for Marion Cotillard, because her irksome, overblown performance is half the reason the movie sucks."
While I respect everyone's opinion, all I really have to say "WTF?" to them. Did we really watch the same performance? I understand that the film itself was pretty much a pile of steaming crap, but Cotillard excelled in ways that the film couldn't. The film cuts across between different time periods so often and so confusingly that I really didn't understand Piaf's timeline any better than before the film. But, with Cotillard, I felt like I understood Piaf the woman. I don't know about anyone else, but I was genuinely moved at certain parts of the film and felt for Cotillard/Piaf extraordinarily. I was angry at her selfish mother in the scene in the bar before she's discovered; I was delighted for Piaf at the New Year's party when she was so excited to be around new friends and the promise of the new year; I was distraught during the scene where she runs maniacally through her house screaming for her lover Marcel; and I was about ready to cry tears of joy when the withered, shadow of her former self Piaf finds her last great hit "Non, je ne regrette rien" and is excited for the chance to perform it for everyone. She literally takes us on a rollercoaster throughout the film (one thing everyone can agree on about this performance is that it's never boring), culminating in that spectacular finale where her performance of "Non, je ne regrette rien" collides with her past, present and future. Her lip syncing is so convincing, so in the moment, that it's hard to wrap my head around the fact that Cotillard isn't actually singing.
A lot of people seem to be convinced that Cotillard overacts in the film (and to some, "overacts" is the understatement of the century). While I do see that she's loud, emotional and messy, I find that it's often for very good reasons. The life of Edith Piaf was not quiet, with just a couple of speed bumps along the way; it was extraordinarily painful with many difficult and awful memories to deal with. This woman is alive and Cotillard is simply reacting to what was happening to Piaf. Her performance is straight out of 1940's Hollywood melodrama and I don't believe it's a stretch to say that Goddesses like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford would have opted to play Piaf like Cotillard.
Let it be heard that I am generally not a huge biopic performance fan. I don't automatically go crazy when some actor or actress de-glams to play a "real" person and proclaim them the Second Coming of Christ for adopting an accent or developing facial tics. Sure, Hoffman in Capote, Witherspoon in Walk the Line and Dame Helen Mirren in The Queen all earned Diva Cup nominations from myself and were generally great performances, but did they deserve to win the Oscar? To quote Whitney Houston, "Hell to tha no!" Even among the nominees, there were generally one or two I liked better. Sonce of the year, you have to realize what a big deal it is when I find a biopic performance that I think should not only win the Oscar, but is also the best performance of the year.