In a post earlier today Reid Rosefelt asked a good question about the nature of acting and the varied definitions that that different parties use to size up performances for awards purposes. Coincidentally this past weekend, after having watched two movies over successive days, “Love and Other Drugs” and “Tiny Furniture,” I ended up having an argument on the same subject.
A few of the people who watched “Tiny Furniture” with me were put off by the performances, and I found myself getting angry. I thought the characters were incredibly believable and naturalistic. In spite of the fact that I knew in advance that Lena Dunham had written and directed the movie in addition to starring in it, and that two members of her family basically play themselves in the film, I found myself forgetting those facts as I watched the film. And for those people who think it’s easy to take non-actors, even playing a version of themselves, and create believable characters, I’ve got news for you. I see tons of movies that attempt this and fail.
On the other end of the spectrum, in “Love and Other Drugs,” which is chock full of actors who have done good work in other movies, there was so much mugging and winking going on that I never believed for one second that any of the characters were real. After a while, Jake Gyllenhaal’s eyebrow movements and bug-eyed expressions started to remind me of Mr. Potato Head. In a scene where he is at a dinner table with his parents and siblings, I couldn’t believe them as a family for two seconds.
So to answer Reid’s question, I think good acting is when you forget that you are watching people act. “Tiny Furniture” is to my mind an example of a low profile film that does just that.