Ann Dowd famously financed her own Best Supporting Actress Oscar campaign after she earned glowing reviews for her performance in “Compliance” (2012) but the indie film’s distributor, Magnolia Pictures, which picked up the title at the Sundance Film Festival, didn’t have the budget to send out screeners to academy voters. Despite winning Best Supporting Actress from the National Board of Review and receiving nominations from the Critics Choice Awards, Independent Spirit Awards and various other regional critics’ groups, the actor did not end up with an Oscar nomination. Now, almost a decade later, Dowd finds herself in the Oscar race yet again, thanks to another indie film that had its world premiere at Sundance: “Mass.” With Oscar voting commencing on Thursday, January 27, as of this writing, I ask of you, dear voters, to consider Dowd for her career-defining turn in the Bleecker Street release.
Written and directed by debutant Fran Kranz and released in theaters on October 8, “Mass” focuses on two married couples: Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton portray grieving parents whose son died in a school shooting, while Dowd and Reed Birney play the parents of the perpetrator. In the serene setting of a rural Episcopal church in Sun Valley, Idaho, six years after the shooting, the two couples try to make sense of how and why such a horrifying tragedy took place while their emotions ebb and flow. Although they have angrily confronted each other before, this intimate setting allows them eventually to go beyond a blame game.
SEE Ann Dowd (‘Mass’): Will she finally get her due a decade after financing her own campaign?
In the film, Dowd gives a fully lived-in performance as Linda, a mourning, guilt-ridden mother who was willing to continue her life in the face of the aforementioned tragedy. Upon Dowd’s entrance as Linda, the actor not only carries the weight of her character’s guilt on her shoulders but simultaneously radiates immediate compassion for and a respectful yearning to connect with the victim’s parents. “What would you like to know?” a soft-spoken Linda poses in response to Plimpton’s Gail asking to learn more about Linda and Richard’s son, Hayden. In her delivery of this line, Dowd encapsulates Linda’s discernible willingness to offer whatever clarity is necessary to alleviate any pain that was caused by her son’s actions.
At the same time, Dowd doesn’t conceal the scars that the tragedy has left on Linda herself, who completely broke and whose marriage seemingly didn’t survive in the wake of it. The actor wears six years’ worth of her character’s grief on her face — grief caused by not only the loss of other people’s lives owing to her son’s actions but also the loss of Hayden himself to suicide. Enveloped in Linda’s grief is also her self-reproach for having missed her son’s despair, which she doesn’t allow herself to express until the end of the film. That’s when she recounts one of Hayden’s outbursts during which he threatened to beat her upon her confronting him about his behavior. As Linda expresses to Gail her wish that Hayden had followed through with his threat, so that she could have seen exactly who her son was, Dowd unloads her character’s regret in unfettered fashion. Though a moment of release for Linda, it’s a heartrending one to observe and one that will surely stick with audiences long after the end credits roll. It certainly did with me.
SEE Ann Dowd (‘Mass’) on the ‘remarkable’ and ‘spiritual’ experience of mining her character’s grief [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]
For her performance in this film, Dowd has accrued a Best Supporting Actress Critics Choice nom as well as various citations and victories from critics’ groups. While her awards run for “Mass” so far has thus been akin to that for “Compliance,” it’s worth noting that Dowd has become much more of a household name since competing for the latter. In 2017, she bagged not just her first but first two Emmy nominations, for Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and HBO’s “The Leftovers,” surprising us all by winning for the former. Since then, she has raked in two additional bids for “Handmaid’s,” which she earned in 2018 and ’21. Her spine-chilling turn as Gilead partisan Aunt Lydia in the hit series — which is as popular as ever, having just racked up a whopping 21 noms at last year’s Emmys — could give her the additional boost she needs (and didn’t have in 2012) to crack the coveted Oscar lineup.
At present, she is in sixth place in our Oscar odds for supporting actress, behind Ariana DeBose (“West Side Story”), Kirsten Dunst (“The Power of the Dog”), Caitriona Balfe (“Belfast”), Aunjanue Ellis (“King Richard”) and Ruth Negga (“Passing”).
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