Tuesday, June 30, 2015

In Character: Ann Dowd

Ann Dowd is having a moment. In the past two years alone she’s been featured in critically revered indies as well as some of the most popular shows on television. But diving into her filmography, it’s clear that Dowd has been killing it for quite some time (yeah, that’s her as Ton Hanks’ supportive sis in Philadelphia), she only just broke through recently. Here I take a look back at her career, from humble and humorous beginnings, to current career-best work.


Five Essential Roles
Freaks and Geeks (2000)
Cookie Kelly
There are more substantial roles to occupy this place, but I’m using Freaks and Geeks as a means of highlighting Dowd’s comedic prowess. Dowd appeared twice in the first season of the show, as Busy Philipps’ envious and white trash mother, Cookie. Dowd’s best moment on the show is a riotous dinner at the Kelly household, in which Cookie interrogates her daughter’s friend, Lindsay (Linda Cardellini), over Lindsay’s apparent wealth. Cookie, what with her big hair, loud voice and mouth full of fried chicken, is crass, embarrassing, and, to the audience, utterly hysterical. If you’re only aware of the melodramatic side of Dowd’s work, do seek out her stint on Freaks and Geeks

Garden State (2004)
Olivia
It’s all about that hug. As Andrew (Zach Braff) and Sam (Natalie Portman) leave Sam’s house to go on a date, Sam’s free spirited mom, Olivia, demands that her daughter give her a hug. They hug quickly, then Olivia kindly requests a hug from Andrew. He warmly complies, and he and Olivia share a hug that lasts a few beats longer than it should, which, in turn, says everything about Andrew and Olivia that we need to know. Andrew is a broke man-child longing for purpose. He needs affection, attention, kindness. He needs a hug. And Olivia, in her own generous and presumptive way, is there to offer one. It’s a great little moment between acquaintances. Because, hell, at the end of the day, sometimes we just need a hug.

Side Effects (2013)
Martin’s mother
Though Dowd only has a few brief scenes as Channing Tatum’s mom in Side Effects, her character motivations are so compelling. When we first meet Martin’s mother, she and her daughter-in-law, Emily (Rooney Mara), are picking Martin up from prison. The mother is supportive and friendly; she and Emily are close. But later in the film, after Emily does something terrible to Martin while she’s zonked out on prescription drugs, Dowd’s character takes on a new dynamic. Shortly after the incident, Emily and the mother meet, and we learn that the mother actually forgives Emily for what she’s done.

That is fascinating to me. What could possibly drive a mother to side with a woman who harmed her son? Does she honestly believe the drugs were at fault? Or does she really, truly love Emily like a daughter? We’ll never really know, but I certainly love wondering.

True Detective (2014)
Betty Childress
If you saw the Season 1 finale of True Detective, you were damn well aware of Dowd’s disturbing work in it, you just may not have known who you were watching. Look closely, and you’ll spot Dowd in the opening scene of the episode, getting felt up by her on-screen brother/lover, Errol Childress (who also happens to be a murdering psychopath).

Betty Childress don’t speak none too good. The words don’t come easy, and they’re obscured through a nearly indecipherable southern accent. She’s utterly filthy, and slow in a way that suggests mental and/or physical abuse, a heritage of incest, or all of the above. Betty appears again, later in the episode, mumbling to Woody Harrelson about what’s coming. “The girl’s a nut, she talked some but…” a detective later says of Betty. And hell, really, what else is there to say?

The Leftovers (2014)
Patti Levin
If you tuned into the first season of HBO’s The Leftovers, chances are you couldn’t take your eyes off Dowd’s Patti Levin, the leader of the white-clad, chain-smoking cult, the Guilty Remnant. It’s difficult to gauge Patti and the cult’s motivations early on, as they choose never to speak. So it’s a testament to Dowd’s work that through her silence, she’s still able to convey so much. Patti is strong, embittered, vengeful. She’s disruptive, which makes us not trust her, but, perhaps, well intentioned, which makes us curious about her. Out of respect for the show as a whole, I’ll cease further plot details, but come Emmy time, I’d love to see Dowd’s crowning achievement on the show (which is pretty much all of Episode 8) earn her a chance at nabbing the prize.

The Best of the Best
Compliance (2012)
Sandra
I’ve talked about Craig Zobel’s Compliance, and Dowd’s revelatory work in it, on this blog plenty. I hailed the movie as one of my Top 3 Films of 2012, and said Dowd delivered nearly the best female performance of the year. Hell, I thought she should’ve won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, even though she wasn’t even nominated.

Sandra is a fast food manager who really just wants to fit in. But she can’t. She can’t adapt to the dismissive, careless teenagers who work under her. So, instead of trying to connect, Sanda lashes out. She goes on a power trip. When a police officer calls and tells Sandra that one of her employees stole from a customer, Sandra complies with everything the officer tells her to do. Because that’s what we do, right? We listen to authority, we don’t question it. We do what we’re told by the people we trust to tell us what to do. History has proven this. But at some point, logic has to kick in. If the demands are too dangerous, our brain must object. Sandra doesn’t have that switch. Instead, she listens and she delegates the false authority given to her. This naïveté will make you hate Sandra. You will want to see her punished, swiftly. But by the end, by the sad and startling end, you may very well end up feeling sorry for her. That’s acting. That’s command. That’s Ann Dowd.

Other Notable Roles
In Louie (Season 1 Episode 11)
Green Card (1990)
Lorenzo's Oil (1992)
Philadelphia (1993)
Nothing Sacred (1997-1998)
Apt Pupil (1998)
House (2004)
The Thing About My Folks (2005)
The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Marley & Me (2008)
The Informant! (2009)
Louie (2010)
The Art of Getting By (2011)
Bachelorette (2012)
Gimme Shelter (2013)
Masters of Sex (2013-2014)
Olive Kitteridge (2014)
St. Vincent (2014)
The Drop (2014)

32 comments:

  1. I love Ann Dowd! One of our finest character actors. So happy that she's getting increased exposure now.

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  2. I love how I didn't realize I knew who Ann Dowd was when I first saw her in Compliance and then, as I'm looking through your post, I realize that I've known her for a while now!

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    1. I know right?! She's been around for so long, but I love that Compliance helped her career take off.

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  3. I raged during Compliance but Dowd was SO good in it. I love these performances you picked out. She really is a gem.

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    1. That movie is fucking infuriating, no question. But she's so strong in it. That final scene... jesus.

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  4. I honestly didn't recognize the name Ann Dowd. When I started reading through your post and looking at the pictures, I recognized her (I thought) from the pics. I figured your "best" spot would go to her work as the mother in Million Dollar Baby. When I didn't even see it mentioned I was surprised. I then went to IMDB and discovered that it was Margo Martindale who played that role in Million Dollar Baby. I think I've been confusing Dowd for Martindale for years.

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    1. That makes sense, easy to confuse them. Similar acting styles, both careers are taking off now. Love Martindale as well. So strong in Million Dollar Baby, but her heartbreaking work in Paris je'taime is still her top performance for me.

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  5. Compliance really was such an exceptional role and I agree should've been more of an Oscar contender. She almost looks like a different person in all the pictures in your post which really shows her range and skill.

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    1. I agree, she really does look different from role to role. Would have loved to see her Compliance work earn more acclaim.

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  6. I was like 'Why she still doesn't have an In Character profile?' after I saw her in the 2012 list. She has a prolific career behind her. I liked her a lot in Philadelphia, St. Vincent and Me & Marley, she does so much with so little. But Compliance is her best performance. The film is eh but her performance makes it worth.

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    1. I think that film is masterful, because it conjures up such a visceral reaction. But all movies that do that are bound to be polarizing. Still, glad we agree Dowd is great in it.

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  7. Every single performance you talked about here is wonderful, but Ann Dowd's performance in Compliance is one of my favourite of this decade so far. She can do everything and anything so well. She and Carrie Coon were, for me, the standouts of an already great cast on The Leftovers.

    Did you catch her guest blogging stint over at The Film Experience? Not only is she talented, but she's also kind, smart and funny. I absolutely adore Ann Dowd.

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    1. Guest blogging?! How did I miss that? I need to check those posts out ASAP. And I absolutely loved her and Carrie Coon in The Leftovers. My favorite episode of the season was Coon's standalone ep. Incredible work.

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  8. I love your analysis of her work in Compliance. I agree that she should've gotten nominated at the Oscars and she certainly would've been a worthy winner. I'm just unsure whether I'd put her in Lead or Supporting.

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    1. Yeah that's a tough call. She would've had a better shot in Supporting, for sure. But I remember thinking it was odd when she was campaigning herself in Supporting, as it really is a Lead performance.

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    2. Well, I think she campaigned herself for Supporting because that category is less competitive. If it wasn't just her campaigning, I think she might've had an easier time getting in but the film's distributor just didn't have the dough to mount an aggressive campaign which is unfortunate.

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  9. She's fucking great in Compliance and I fucking adored her in Garden State and Side Effects.

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  10. Great pick! I agree that her best performance (among those I've seen) is in Compliance, a movie that -- as you may know -- was a huge springboard for discussion with my homeschooled teens. :-) She managed to take an insanely implausible situation (can human stupidity really fucking go that far???) and make it believable.

    However -- her standout role -- for me -- will always be in True Detective. God, I loved that bad-shit crazy, disturbing scenario. Sick, no?

    Glad you highlighted her work in Freaks and Geeks too. She was great there, in what I think is an underrated series.

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    1. We've had many a great discussion about Compliance, and I'm glad the film has sparked good convos with you and your kid. Very important issues to talk about in that movie.

      I LOVE that your favorite performance of hers is in True Detective. Suuch a freaky role.

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  11. I funcking LOVE The Leftovers. It's one of the best tv series I'v ever watched. And she's brilliant on it! The show's got SO many great actors! Carrie Coon, Amy Brennerman, Christopher Eccleston...

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    1. Me too! Can't wait for it to start back up.

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  12. Great actress. She was so creepy in True Detective. The Leftovers is a show i really want to start watching as well. I hear it's great.

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    1. The Leftovers is a really trippy show. If you're into the whole "explain everything to me" thing (and I know you aren't), then it won't work for you. But I loved it. Carrie Coon's standalone episode (episode 6) is one of the best hours of TV I've seen.

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    2. Hmmm. Yeah that's not really my thing. I'll check it out for a few episodes at least if i ever get around to it. I have so much else on my 'to watch' list now.

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    3. Always feels like there are more and more TV shows to track down. But it's a worthy one.

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  13. Awesome job man! She was amazing in Compliance, and I totally forgot she was in True Detective and Garden State. Glad she's getting more work now.

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    1. Me too dude. It's never too late to have your moment!

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  14. Love her a lot in Compliance and The Leftovers.
    Big fan of her work! :)

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