Monday, September 26, 2005

Pauline Kael

“Gere has become capable and accomplished, but he doesn’t have what Debra Winger has (and she has it right to her fingertips)—the vividness of those we call “born” performers. As Paula, a girl who works in the local paper mill, she’s a completely different character from the flushed hot-baby she played in Urban Cowboy, but she hasn’t lost her sultirness or her liquid style. Paula’s tough-chick little-girl insolence plays off the avid look in her eyes that tellsyou she longs to make human contact—she’s daring you to trust her. And what may be the world’s most expressive upper lip (it’s almost prehensile) tells you that she’s hungrily sensual; when she’s trying to conceal her raw feelings, her hoarse voice, with its prcarious pitch, gives her away. (It helps that Debra Winger has kept her own nose; it’s straight with an aquiline hint—just enough to make her look strong and distinguished.) When Paula is nervy and impatient, you feel where her impulses come from. And when she’s desperate because she’s losing the man she loves you pull for her. You pull for her even if the premise that this is her only chance in life strikes you as hype and you have subversive thoughts about what kind of life she’ll have as a navy flier’s wife. Debra Winger makes you accept the important part: that Paula loves Zack, that she believes her life would be empty without him….

“….[I]t’s Debra Winger who holds the picture together—she makes you feel that there’s something burning inside her. And she looks different in every shot, which helps to keep your mind off the fact that her character doesn’t develop. The only time I cringed for her was in the poorly staged scene with Zack telling off a callous, cold-blooded girl friend of hers, and Paula rounding on the no-goodnik girl with a pitying “God help you.” (I’ve only seen Duse in a silent film, but I’d swear that even she couldn’t have brought off that line in that situation.) On the other hand, Hackford has enough howling effrontery to put over the big romantic number, when Zack, having recognized Paula’s true qualities, … carries her out [of the mill], as the other employees, misty-eyed, applaud. (Norma Rae prepared us: workers applaud in mills all the time.) A movie like this, in which no one is like anyone you know and everything is make up, can make you feel imaginary, too.”

Pauline Kael
The New Yorker, August 23, 1982
Taking It All In, 382-83


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