So I have this thing, right? About Sally Field? She makes me more emotional than any other actor. Or at least, she makes me emotional more easily. When she does that Sally Field thing of barely supressing her grief while delivering a rousing speech, I find her so empathetic that I lose all rational sense. I start crying and carving little Oscars out of Ivory soap.
And I understand that Sally Field gives similar performances in many of her films. The repressed heartbreak that explodes into tearful rage in Steel Magnolias is not that far from the sass-flecked anguish in Lincoln. Or even the disappointment that’s calcifying into sarcasm in Mrs. Doubtfire. In all cases, we’re seeing something trembling below the surface until it finally breaks free, and then, when it erupts, Field flashes with the energy of liberation. When she gets lippy with Tommy Lee Jones or when she goes bananas at Shelby’s grave, you can sense how liberated she feels to finally get some shit off her chest.
That’s what gets me the most, I think. The fact that Sally Field layers innocent awakening into her characters, no matter how world-wise they are.
And like I said: I realize she does this a lot. Sally Field is not a Kate Winslet or a Helen Mirren, disappearing into characters, and when she plays a character that doesn’t require choked emotion, then she doesn’t always shine. But the world is filled with actors who play one type. And for me, Sally Field’s type is a knockout.
This is partly because of my mom, I think. My mom is very good at holding her shit together, but I know her well enough to realize when she’s about to lose it. When I was young, that always made me feel scared for her. I didn’t want my mom to be sad, but I didn’t know how to help. So seeing Sally Field enact that conflict over and over again, but ending with the joy of getting things out there, is kind of like a happy resolution for my own childhood fears. (I should note that my mother wasn’t chronically angry or upset, but she was and is a human being. So sometimes, she got worked up.)
It helps, too, that Sally Field’s essential character arc is rooted in kindness. Even in a satire like Soapdish or a fiery political statement like Norma Rae, her journey involves the realization that being kind is a good way to make the most of an emotional breakthrough. And since I try my damndest to be kind and open with the world, I find it very moving to see characters learning how to do the same.
Obviously, then, I am rooting for Field to win Best Supporting Actress for Lincoln at the Oscars on February 24. Yes, Anne Hathaway was excellent in Les Mis, and I also enjoyed Amy Adams in The Master, but in this category, I can’t vote with my mind. Excuse me while I go buy some soap and a whittling knife.
Mark Blankenship can jog all the way to Texas and back, but his daughter can’t. She never could. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship.