Under-appreciated: An Ode to Allison Janney

One of the great things about Awards Season is the mad scramble I make to catch up on all the nominated films. This scramble usually results in a 3-4 week stretch where I am able to see maybe four or five films before the big show, followed by another 2-3 months of watching the others I did not. Otherwise, it’s animated/family film central here in the grand Poobah’s lair (what with a 3-year old and 8-year old that have a penchant for being Night Owls like their Dad).

So, about two weeks ago, I capitulated to Mrs. Poohbah and we watched The Help. It was not tops on my list to see before Oscar Night, but it was a best picture nom, with three acting nominations to its credit – so why not? So there I sat, knowing it would be a decent film.  Without diving into a review of the film, I will give two brief notes:

  • I wasn’t expecting to like the film as much as I did.  There was a lot to like about it, but mostly it was a great story, rooted in a tumultuous time in this country, giving voice to niche that did not have one before. Oh, and actress Jessica Chastain is now on my kissing list*.
  • About 7 or 8 years ago, there was a popular argument being thrown about regarding the lack of quality female roles in Hollywood. It really wasn’t an argument as much as an angry lament, if I remember correctly. Well – this film is the exact opposite of that argument…dear lord, this is a film dominated by scene-chewing actresses.  There was not a single actress who did not deliver.

Which leads me to the topic of today’s post, as I was pleasantly surprised to see Allison Janney in the film. I first met her in 1999’s American Beauty as the tortured and quiet wife of Chris Cooper’s Colonel Fitts. With barely any dialogue, her silence and repression is palpable.

However, it wasn’t until the seminal television series The West Wing that I fell in love with her. Here, she had a seven year run as Claudia Jean “C.J.” Cregg…and what a run it was.

And that’s not even the best of what she can do.  After this series ended in 2006, seeing her is like running into one of your childhood friends. You don’t need to apologize for not keeping in touch, you just sort of pick up where you last left things.  What’s even more endearing is that when I can’t see her, I usually hear her from time to time when one of the Little Poohbah’s turn on Disney’s animated series Phineas and Ferb. It seems she does a little voice work for the series from time to time.

Playing Skeeter’s mother in The Help was a small role, but gave Janney plenty to work with – and she made the most of it in several key scenes. Her turn in this film reminds me again of what a truly gifted actress she is and I think, now that we do not see her on a weekly basis, an under-appreciated one too.

But the two clips, and a few hastily-written words written here do not provide the type of justification of Janney’s talents.  If you enjoy fine acting, that is both expressive and intimate, dramatic and comedic – do yourself a favor and find some her films, or pop in a few episodes of The West Wing.

I – for one – am looking forward to the next time we run into each other again, so we can pick up where we last left things…

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