Yes, we have been here before – exactly seven times previously. Glenn Close gives a peerless performance in a film, gets acclaim and is nominated for an Oscar. But for some reason, she has never been able to seal the deal and claim a statuette. Instead, this illustrious performer claims an unwelcome record as the actress with the most Academy Award nominations without a win.
But I have a feeling that Close has finally snagged a role in a movie that will warm the cockles of audiences’ hearts and persuade academy voters to finally give her the prize. That would be the character of Mamaw in Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” which is based on JD Vance’s best-selling memoir of his Appalachian family and the once-thriving steel town that became beset with poverty, addiction, domestic abuse and dead-end jobs. It lands on Netflix on November 24, just in time for Thanksgiving.
Amy Adams is right behind Close in the overdue column with six nominations and no wins. She plays Vance’s unstable mother Bev, an unrepentant drug addict whose wild mane of hair acts as a tell for the state of her troubled circumstances, and who has left behind a trail of ex-husbands and beaus. Adams tries to bring to life a woman rife with flaws and no apparent will power to improve her lot, but she’s not the most sympathetic figure in the film.
Close, meanwhile, is the film’s heart, soul and superhero when her feisty and no-nonsense Mamaw voluntarily commits to being a guardian for her adolescent grandson J.D. She encourages him to take his school work seriously and avoid harmful and illegal behavior. Due to her efforts, Vance would get degrees from Ohio State University and Yale Law School.
There are at least eight reasons why Close might finally win for this particular role.
1. She’s a big talent in a supporting role. Close has competed in the Oscar race in the supporting category three previous times for “The World According to Garp” (1982) “The Big Chill” (1983) and “The Natural” (1984) at the start of her film career. But taking a smaller part at this point is a smart move. Adams is on screen more, but Close’s performance is what lingers on your mind.
2. She glams down. With her permed gray hair, oversized glasses, liver spots and extra-large baggy T-shirts and ill-fitting jeans, Mamaw is far from a fashion plate. For her, a cigarette counts as an accessory. But that makes the audience love her even more as she sets aside any notion of vanity. The Oscars often love that too, giving trophies to unglamorous physical transformations by Nicole Kidman (“The Hours”), Charlize Theron (“Monster”) and Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant”), among others.
3. She holds the key to a happy ending. Close’s character is the one person to step up and make sure that her grandson succeeds in life and that his mother finally kicks her addictions. As she puts it, “Family is the only thing that means a goddamn.”
4. She is ballsy. Mamaw has no problem about speaking her mind with her middle finger or blasting someone with a stream of profanity such as, “Kiss my ruby red ass.” She also forces J.D. to apologize to the clerk at the local Radio Shack after he tried to steal a calculator that he needs for his school work. Her reaction? “Get out before I cancel your birth certificate.” Ultimately, his grandmother ends up buying it for him.
5. Mamaw loves her some Schwarzenegger. Vance’s granny can’t get enough of 1991’s “Terminator 2” and claims she has seen it 100 times. She can’t help but chime in when her hero says, “Hasta la vista, baby.” She also says there are three types of Terminators in life: good, bad and neutral.
6. The Meals on Wheels scene. Mamaw is definitely not made of money. When a young man arrives to give her her meal, she asks if he can scrounge up some more food for her grandson. He gives her some fruit and chips. It indicates that this humble woman is making huge sacrifices to ensure J.D. has a bright future.
7. The real JD Vance was blown away when he first saw Close’s interpretation. As Ron Howard told Deadline, when the Vance family visited the set, they were moved by what they saw. “Glenn has done everything in her power to create a character based on home movies and photos and conversations and whatnot, but she didn’t have a chance to meet Mamaw.” The clan, however, were moved to tears from what they saw. JD told Howard, “I will call every member of the academy and just tell them, if it means anything, that she has somehow captured the absolute essence of my grandmother and I can’t believe it.”
8. The pandemic Oscars are in her favor. At a time when everyone is separated from their loved ones, Close’s Mamaw reminds us of aging relatives. She is the good Terminator we need right now. If she is denied a trophy for the eighth time, it will be a high crime and misdemeanor.
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