Monday, July 23, 2012

The best lines from the best roles of Allison Janney

When Allison Janney won four Emmy awards for her role on The West Wing, I didn’t really know her well as an actress because I didn’t watch that show and I remember feeling somewhat disappointed when the actresses from the shows I did watch kept losing to her.  But when I saw Janney in some wonderful supporting film roles I understood why she’d been awarded as often as she had – she’s one heck of an actress.

There are certain films I recall specifically when I think about Janney’s filmography.  For some reason, several of them are roles in which she’s played a mother, but they’re all very different characters and their differences showcase how seamlessly and believably Janney takes on any role and makes it uniquely and memorably her own.

In American Beauty, Janney plays Barbara Fitts, a wife and mother who is like a ghostly presence, seemingly disconnected from the world around her, spacey and out of touch.  She’s been irreparably damaged by her abusive husband, who also abuses their son, and when she speaks, she does so in a bland tone, without much thought, like she’s numb and on automatic pilot. 

Ricky Fitts: [after Ricky’s dad beats him up.] “Mom, I’m leaving.”
Barbara Fitts: “Okay.  Wear a raincoat.”

In The Hours, Janney plays Sally, a lesbian woman and she and her partner, Clarissa (Meryl Streep) are raising a daughter together (Claire Danes.)  Sally is matter-of-fact, sarcastically funny, and a loving and supportive partner who understands the unique bond that remains between Clarissa and her college lover, Richard, whom they’re throwing a party for.  

Sally: Why do I always have to sit next to the exes? Is this some kind of a hint, sweetheart? Anyway, shouldn't the exes have a table of their own, where they can all ex together in ex-quisite agony?

In Adam Shankman’s remake of the classic 80s film, Hairspray, Janney took on the role of Penny Pingleton’s mother, Prudy, a staunch, uptight, zealous Catholic who opposes racial integration and tries to keep her daughter from having a social life.  She won’t let Penny watch the popular local teenage dance program called “The Corney Collins Show” much less appear on it, and can scarcely imagine her daughter interacting with anyone outside the confines of their home.  Janney portrays prim Mrs. Pingleton perfectly.

Penny Pingleton: Without that show I have nothing!
Prudy Pingleton: Having nothing builds character!

In Juno, Janney portrayed Bren MacGuff, stepmother to a pregnant teenage girl named Juno.  Bren is blunt, yet caring and supportive to a fault, though she doesn’t always consider how what she says will come across before she says it.  She and her husband, Mac, take learning of Juno’s pregnancy in stride.  They don’t panic; they don’t get upset; they simply accept it and certain reactions they have towards Juno’s pregnancy are strangely and amusingly cavalier.

Mac MacGuff: Did you see that coming?
Bren: Yeah... but I was hoping she was expelled, or into hard drugs. 

I finally got a chance to watch The Help recently and I was once again blown away by Janney’s portrayal of a mother.  She plays Charlotte Phelan, a Southern woman living in Jackson, Mississippi in 1963, battling cancer and forever wishing that her daughter, Skeeter, would make more of an effort to fit in with the other young Southern girls.  At first, she’s a go-alonger like most of the White women who fail to stand up to the bullying of a segregationist housewife named Hilly, but towards the end of the film, Charlotte displays deep sadness and regret over firing her longtime maid to save face, and finally stands up to Hilly’s bullying.

Charlotte Phelan (to Skeeter): Your eggs are dying.  Would it kill you to go on a date?
Charlotte Phelan (to Hilly): Get your raggedy ass off my porch.

Allison Janney has certainly turned motherhood into a fine career.

What are your favourite Allison Janney roles?  Let us know in the comments section.


  1. Juno remains my favorite Allison Janney performance as I also liked her in The Help as she was one of the highlights in a film that I found to be overrated. I loved that line she gave to Bryce Dallas Howard.

    One character I love is her role as an assistant principal in 10 Things I Hate About You where she tries to write a smutty novel. There's something cool about her character and it makes very hot.

    1. I agree - she was so great in Juno. I love the way she'd say things in that funny deadpan, matter-of-fact tone.

      And she was wonderful in The Help. I like how she stuck it to Hilly at the end. It was a great moment in the film.

      I don't know why I had forgotten her role in "10 Things I Hate About You," especially since I love that movie. I'll have to rewatch it and pay attention for Janney.

  2. I was hoping Janney would get a Supporting Actress nod for 'The Help' but I knew that was a long shot. Wonderful actress. Had no idea she won so many Emmys!

    1. Yeah, with both Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain nominated for their supporting roles, Janney kind of got bumped out, but she was certainly deserving.

      She won four Emmys and two SAG Awards for her work on 'The West Wing.'

  3. Totally loved her on The West Wing. She was amazing. Also her supporting role in 10 Things I Hate About You as a guidance counselor who writes adult romance novels.

    1. You're the second person to mention her role in '10 Things I Hate About You.' I'm going to have to rewatch that film because I really don't remember her role - and I'm kicking myself!

  4. I'm always glad when I see Janney in the cast of something I'm about to watch - she livens up everything! I think Juno is probably my favorite of hers; hits just the right notes. She's fun in Away We Go, too, though far more abrasive. And I was just flipping through her filmography and noticed Drop Dead Gorgeous - now THAT was a great showcase for a lot of hilarious women.

    1. I agree - I like seeing her on the cast list of films too.

      'Juno' is my favourite role of hers too.

      I've never seen 'Away We Go' or 'Drop Dead Gorgeous,' so I'll have to check them out.

  5. Not to pile on, but my favorite comedic performance from Janney is in 10 Things I Hate About You. Just about everything out of her mouth is funny. ("Scoot!") I'd pick American Beauty for my favorite dramatic performance from her.

  6. Pile away! I really have to re-watch '10 Things I Hate About You' so I can be reminded of Janney's role in the film.

    Janney was wonderful in 'American Beauty.'


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