Oscars spotlight: Could Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy (‘Thoroughbreds’) be a modern-day ‘Thelma and Louise’?

Thoroughbreds” opened March 9 to strong reviews (76 on MetaCritic, 86% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes). The black comedy is especially noteworthy for the lead performances by Anya Taylor-Joy as Lily, a teenage girl full of resentment, and Olivia Cooke as Amanda, her friend who doesn’t feel anything. Together they plot to kill Lily’s domineering stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks). Could these youthful offenders be a modern-day “Thelma and Louise” at the Oscars?

Cooke’s star has been on the rise in recent years, starting with a breakthrough role on “Bates Motel” (2013-2017) as Emma, a friend of a young Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) who suffers from cystic fibrosis. Then she co-starred as the title dying girl in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (2015). So playing sociopathic Amanda is a significant departure, and it’s a deceptively challenging role. Expressing a lack of emotions is the opposite of what actors are typically asked to do, but to also make an emotionless character well-rounded and fully dimensional is doubly difficult.

Taylor-Joy has also been on a rapid upward trajectory, starting with her breakthrough role in the critically acclaimed horror film “The Witch” (2015), for which she won a Gotham Award for Breakthrough Actor. Then she had another leading role in M. Night Shyamalan‘s 2017 thriller “Split.” That year she also received a Rising Star nomination at the BAFTAs and won the Chopard Trophy for Female Revelation at the Cannes Film Festival. She also has a difficult role in this film, walking a fine line between Lily’s affection for Amanda and her cold calculation, and she has to express emotions opposite a character who has none.

Critic Peter Debruge (Variety) praises both Cooke and Taylor-Joy as “note-perfect.” Christy Lemire (RogerEbert.com) adds that Cooke is “a master of delivering brutal, low-key one liners.” A.A. Dowd (The A.V. Club) says Cooke “plays Amanda’s emotional blankness to a deadpan hilt,” while Taylor-Joy proves “that the bubbling cauldron of intensity she stirred in ‘The Witch’ was no fluke.” And according to David Ehrlich (IndieWire) Taylor-Joy is “captivating” and Cooke is “brilliant.”

Could they be Oscar contenders? The last time there were two Best Actress nominees from the same film was “Thelma and Louise” (1991), for which both Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon contended. That could be an apt comparison since both films in their unique ways are about female friends breaking bad. Or “Thoroughbreds” could campaign the actresses in separate categories as has been the case for other films with arguably two female leads like “Hilary and Jackie” (Best Actress nominee Emily Watson, Best Supporting Actress nominee Rachel Griffiths, 1998) and “Notes on a Scandal” (Best Actress nominee Judi Dench, Best Supporting Actress nominee Cate Blanchett, 2006).

The early release date could be a disadvantage for the film come awards season, but the Gotham Awards and Independent Spirit Awards could put the low-budget indie on the map in advance of later industry kudos. And this is the feature writing and directing debut for Cory Finley, who could keep the film as a whole on the radar with potential notices as a breakthrough filmmaker.

Do you agree that Cooke and Taylor-Joy are worthy awards contenders? And will they be remembered in the fall?

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