The JOHN ADAMS movie serial—or whatever they’re calling it—on HBO, continues to impress me, despite its flaws (e.g. Paul Giamatti’s John Adams is a valiant effort but still seems to me miscast, and the historical accuracy though obviously taken seriously and sometimes brilliantly portrayed is also sometimes questionable, as in the scenes in bed when Adams is seen bareheaded and bare-hairy-chested—didn’t they always wear nightshirts or nightgowns and even often night caps back then?).
One of the best things about it is Laura Linney’s performance.
She’s an actress I don’t always dig. I can always see she’s impressive, but much like Meryl Streep and the ballyhoo about her back when she was first impressing us in movies, Linney comes off to me as often being more about “acting” than about “being,” as they say in the acting world (though professionals can, and obviously often do, disagree on whose doing which in various performances).
I was always arguing with Streep fans about her work, finding it, for instance in the deeply flawed film (to me) THE DEER HUNTER, more like acting-class exercises than real life.
With the exception of SOPHIE’S CHOICE, in which her take on the character had some real juice, I found that her “serious” work often left me cold, instead of moving or engaging me in ways the script obviously intended.
It may have been the director, but remember her character in THE DEER HUNTER cringing and hiding from her drunken father as if she were a child rather than a woman who had grown up with this same drunken raging father, in which case her reaction would have been her own rage or scorn or at least better ducking of the flying beer cans etc. than the “oh my god I can’t believe this is happening” childish cowering? (And I know it may have been in the script and part of the direction, but a really great actor overcomes those kinds of problems, see Vanessa Redgrave in anything she’s done.)
Linney’s acting often strikes me the same way, “actor-y.” But then there are times when she nails it and moves me as I think the script intends. Streep mostly does this for me when she does comedy, which I find her terrific at. Linney less so. For instance I didn’t vote for her during this year’s award season for her work in the partly comedic THE SAVAGES—though it was good, I also found it way too mannered.
(By the way, the one time I ever had a conversation with Streep, she seemed like a completely unpretentious, lovely person, as she did whenever else I was around her. And though I don’t think I ever met Linney, she’s good friends with good friends of mine who adore her and find her refreshingly unpretentious and a great person as well. This isn’t about them as people, just my opinion of their acting, obviously.)
But Linney’s work in JOHN ADAMS is completely engaging and moving me, and—though in probably an anachronistic kind of way—embodies, for me, the intellect and spirit of Abigail Adams.
Linney may now be a bit too glamorous, at times, for the role, but she somehow transcends her contemporary movie-star aura and makes you believe she is of Adams’ time and perspective. I’m thoroughly impressed and only wish TV movies— or mini-series, or however these things are categorized these days when the forms seem to be melding from shorts to feature lengths and the venues seem to be melding as well from theaters to handheld devices—counted as regular movies, because I’d definitely vote for her in this role.