Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Pain, the Pain, of Shirley MacLaine

Did anyone else watch the recent Lifetime Red Carpet presentation of “Coco Chanel,” starring Shirley MacLaine? If you didn’t, the only thing that you missed was a very passionate performance by the beautiful Leading Lady. And when I say “Leading Lady,” I am NOT in fact referring to Ms. MacLaine. But rather to the charming newcomer Barbora Bobulova, who plays the role of young Coco Chanel, on whom most of the three hour biopic thankfully concentrates. She is feisty and passionate and fiercely driven, and most importantly, sports a rather heavy French accent, an attribute Miss MacLaine apparently forgot to maintain once the character matured to her age level.

In fact, there is such a stark contrast between Miss MacLaine’s interpretation of Coco Chanel, and Miss Bobulova’s portrayal, that you might assume the famous designer went through some kind of schitzophrenic metamorphosis once she reached middle age. Although it’s never really clear what age Miss MacLaine is supposed to be playing during this lengthy biopic (60? 70? 109?), she certainly boasts all the attributes of somebody with Irritable Bowel Disorder. She scowls, she snorts, and generally appears so cantankerous throughout most of her short appearances in the film, that you can’t wait until the next flashback sequence just to get her off the screen. It doesn’t even appear that Miss MacLaine bothered to do any research on the infamous Ms. Chanel before she agreed to tackle such an iconic figure. She simply approached the role like she appears to approach most of her roles these days--with pepper and gusto and a lot of hot air. But once you peel back the superficial layer, you realize she’s still playing the same character she’s been playing for the past twenty years. The aging misunderstood firecracker with a heart of….cold.

Not that I’ve always had such an aversion to Miss MacLaine’s onscreen antics. There once was a time in my life when I thought she was funny and zany and a real free spirit. But that was back when she was doing movies like “Sweet Charity” and “Around the World in 80 Days.” Or even during “The Turning Point” or “Terms of Endearment.” Those were great performances. Except then she seemed to settle into the “Terms of Endearment” role for the rest of her career, until she’s finally become sort of a punch line to her own joke. Now she only appears in movies in small doses, as the wise and smart aleck older woman who dispenses politically incorrect advice or sassy repartee. Someone who can not only “stir the pot,” but also looks like she might have been smoking some as well.

After all, this is the woman who gave us “Out on a Limb,” a book which not only changed my life for a brief period of time, but also caused me to become obsessed with the idea of astral projection. My mom had read the book and passed it along to me, and though I was skeptical at first, there was a lot of what she said that made sense. (Granted, I was still in my late teens and naively optimistic when it came to the ways of the world.) But once I read the part about Shirley lying in a hot tub and then suddenly being pulled out of her body and sent into orbit, I wanted to sign up for classes on how to do it.

Unfortunately, my college did not offer such a course at the time, so I decided to practice on my own. I can still remember lying in my college dorm room at night and imagining myself flying out of my body and into the unknown stratosphere above me. I would even chant the word “levitate, levitate” in my head, which as you may have gathered, is not really the same thing as astral projection. Nevertheless, the only thing I ever managed to do was get my feet to rise about two feet in the air, an involuntary act that might have been caused more from a charley horse, rather than actual mind control. So though I still read the next few books Miss MacLaine wrote, I began to get more and more lost as to what the point of all this drivel was. Eventually I came to the conclusion that Miss MacLaine must have had access to some pretty powerful drugs to get her to go flying in the air like that. Either that, or a really good broomstick.

But that’s just me. What are your thoughts on Shirley MacLaine?


desperateblogger said...

oh, i love shirley mclaine mostly because she is warren beatty's sis. kidding! i like "terms of endearment" too but then again you're right in saying her recent movies have more or less have the same genre. i have not seen her latest movie but if she was terrible in her acting,isn't the director to blame too? after all. he/she/it was supposed to be directing and note merely watching.

re your astral projection obsession of long ago, i was in the same boat. my bf taught me the rudiments but dang it!, nothing came out of it. oh, yes, that particular bf astral-projected himself out of my life.

anyway, i like reading your blog- so personal and refreshing.

Lidian said...

I liked her in "The Apartment" with Jack Lemmon (1960, I think) but that was way before the astral stuff and the ageing-firecracker roles. I've tried to avoid her later incarnations - cinematic and otherwise.

I really like your blog BTW... said...

I think she is a bit on the weird side, if you ask me.

dj said...

I did watch that movie because I was hoping for some insight into Coco Chanel. It was a bit disappointing. The young Coco did a good job though and the scenery was beautiful, but McClaine was almost a bit part and I did like her early movies too.

Sue said...

I didn't watch the Coco movie. I love Terms of Endearment. But Shirley McClaine is certifiable. I saw her on a talk show recently and they asked her specific quest. right out of her own book - and she couldn't even explain it. I don't even think she understands the drivel she writes!

Lynda Lehmann said...

Never mind Shirley. Your post is well written and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I do still think of her in "Terms of Endearment," though, so I guess that says something about her current persona or the lack thereof.

As for the aspirations of our younger days, I've been "willing" world peace for about three decades but so far, that hasn't happened!

TheSnackHound said...

Maybe she really peaked in "The Trouble with Harry."

But seriously, I guess they threw out the idea of choosing actors with keeping the rest of the ensemble in mind.