On May 29th, Annette Bening celebrated her 54th birthday. She is known as the woman who domesticated one of Hollywood’s famous playboys, Warren Beatty, but she has also built a worthy film career that she can be proud of. She hasn’t worked a lot and she’s made some poor and regrettable films, but which actor hasn’t? She has also made some impressive movies with strong, committed performances, and it's her good films that stand out above the rest. It’s easy with some actors to remember the bad much more easily than the good, but with Bening, I think of her good work before anything else.
The first film I saw with Annette Bening is one of my all-time favourite 80's films – The Great Outdoors. She was well-cast and very funny as Dan Ackroyd’s irritable wife. In the role I remember next, Bening switched gears completely and threw all inhibition out the window in her portrayal of an ill-fated con artist named Myra Langtry in Stephen Frears’ The Grifters. In one scene, she saunters across the screen stark naked with a comical look on her face. She’s not a good girl, but she has fun and seems happy even when the humour turns poisonous and even though her fate ends badly. She brought knowledge and maturity to the role and she won unanimously rave reviews from critics for her work in the film.
Her performance in The Grifters changed her life forever when it won the attention of actor-director Warren Beatty. He was so impressed with her work in The Grifters that he cast her as his love interest in his 1991 mob flick Bugsy. The film was a commercial disappointment, but it resulted in a 1992 marriage between Bening and Beatty. The two collaborated again onscreen two years later in Love Affair, a remake of the 1957 film An Affair to Remember. The film was poorly received by audiences and critics alike and it was the last film that Bening and Beatty made together.
In 1999, Bening starred in what is perhaps her most notable leading role in what was one of the best films of that year – American Beauty. She delivered a wonderfully committed performance and showed how little vanity she had while playing a neurotic control-freak. Bening perfectly embodied the ambitious, dissatisfied, pert housewife and imbued the character of Carolyn Burnham with scathing humour and perfect sarcasm, and did so with such grace that she somehow managed to evoke sympathy and compassion despite Carolyn’s despicable values and frigidity as a wife and detachment as a mother.
Bening has become more selective than ever in choosing her projects, and for an actress like Bening who is treading on tricky ground as one of several actresses – Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Helen Mirren, Julianne Moore - vying for parts made for mature women in film, she seems willing to take risks by picking challenging and interesting roles in independent pictures like The Kids Are All Right. In the film, Bening plays Nic, one half of a lesbian couple who have been together for 20 years since falling in love in college. Bening and her partner in the film, played by Julianne Moore, are devoted to their teenage children who were both conceived by artificial insemination and who begin to wonder about their biological father. Bening delivers a performance full of verve alongside Moore and together they create a relationship full of realism, adoration and compromise. Bening deserves more roles like Nic; roles which demonstrate her formidable acting ability and the simple fact that she is one of the best actresses on the market today.
What are your favourite Annette Bening films? Let us know in the comments section.