Christmas has become complicated in a new way for me, this last year. For more than twenty years, my go-to Christmas movie has been The Ref, made difficult by the Spacey factor. I still think he gives a brilliant performance, in fact, which arguably makes it worse—if he were bad, I could just decide not to watch it. But in among his performance and Denis Leary’s rantings, Christine Baransky’s snark and Glynis Johns at her most evil, there is also a quietly moving Judy Davis performance as the frustrated and flighty Caroline, a woman trapped by her own privilege. And every time I decide that Spacey is enough to make me Just Not Watch It Again, I think, “Okay, but what about Judy Davis?”
In fact, you could miss a fair amount of Judy Davis performances by deciding to avoid the problematic, I’m afraid; she also did work I’ve never seen for Woody Allen. Then there’s things like Passage to India and Naked Lunch. She’s played Golda Meir and Hedda Hopper, too. It’s honestly a little frustrating to me, because while I fully support giving up on any movie you want to for any reason you want to, it does mean that it would be easy to miss most of the best work from Davis, who seems to excel in the complicated.
But of course, you’d still have Barton Fink. I don’t know anything untoward about her breakout performance in My Brilliant Career. Children of the Revolution is darkly satirical, if that’s your jam, but of course it isn’t everyone’s. Heck, back in ’82, she was Mistress Ford in a pretty decent made-for-BBC production of The Merry Wives of Windsor with Sir Ben Kingsley as her husband and Richard Griffiths as Falstaff. I’m honestly not a huge fan of the play, but at bare minimum it’s a worthwhile production of it.
In a just world, more people would be talking about her. If you want to know, this is part of my problem with Meryl Streep; she gets all the attention. She’s only six years older than Davis, and she gets all the attention of a Woman Of Her Age. I took a quiz some years ago about “who would play you in your biopic,” and one of the questions was, “has this actress won an Oscar?” I said no, even though I felt this was something the quiz should answer for me,and it gave me Streep anyway. I’d much rather be played by Judy Davis.
For one thing, you could watch any number of her movies and believe she’s American. Meryl Streep gets attention for her accents, even though she hasn’t done much accent work in years, but when I saw The Ref, I didn’t realize that Judy Davis was Australian. I’m honestly not sure when I discovered it. She’s one of those working actresses who just quietly uses the voice needed for the character without making up a big production about it. There’s really something to be said for that, and I suppose it’s pretty well my job to do that.
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