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.
Freaks and Geeks (2000)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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
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.
Green Card (1990)
Lorenzo's Oil (1992)
Nothing Sacred (1997-1998)
Apt Pupil (1998)
The Thing About My Folks (2005)
The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Marley & Me (2008)
The Informant! (2009)
The Art of Getting By (2011)
Gimme Shelter (2013)
Masters of Sex (2013-2014)
Olive Kitteridge (2014)
St. Vincent (2014)
The Drop (2014)