The Year of Living Dangerously
What you should set up at home, ideally, to do the video appreciation of Sigourney Weaver justice is a wall of screens. Stacked so that the stretch of her magnificent length is visible in every square. Even a couple of TV sets would do, one on top of the other; what you’re after is an arrangement that pays homage to Weaver’s awesome longitudinousness.
Was ever an actress so strappingly vertical? I never really understood what Virginia Woolf meant when she described her special friend Vita Sackville-West’s legs as beech trees, but Weaver’s glorious gams are what come to mind. My, she’s long! And lustrous! And all-American! The 48-year-old star’s native, feminist strength, capability, and I-went-to-Yale-drama-school intelligence are what have made her such a great action heroine for nearly 20 years. (Powerful deltoid muscles alone do not make the modern woman.) Back for a fourth whirl as Lieut. Ellen Ripley in Alien Resurrection, Weaver battles slimy monsters with a command only enhanced by middle age. This time, 200 years after Alien3, Ripley is a genetically reconstructed mix of human and alien DNA. She gives birth to a baby monster. She wears glamorous metallic nail polish. She can knock out a man with a single blow. Even shrunk to TV-screen size, the actress’ heroic proportions give the movie a kick: Watch the camera start in close on her toned arms and pull back to take in her full measure as Ripley faces down a bully on her basketball court for a catalog of the dame’s assets.
But imposing stature and a face that, in repose, may suggest hauteur can be a drawback, too: Weaver sometimes comes across as too smart for the room, like she’d rather be at a cabaret with her playwright friend Christopher Durang than sitting in a hair-and-makeup trailer. Still, when Weaver lets an audience in behind that composed exterior, she does wonderful work.
In the category of Serious Drama (the entries include 1988’s Gorillas in the Mist, for which she was nominated for an Oscar, and 1994’s Death and the Maiden), for instance, she’s electric in The Year of Living Dangerously, Peter Weir’s engrossing 1983 political drama set in a mucked-up Indonesia in the mid-1960s. It helps, of course, that Weaver’s costar is a young, sexy Mel Gibson playing a restless journalist, one of the few men whose on-screen virility thrives, rather than retreats, in the presence of Weaver’s imposing size. But Gibson’s power alone is not enough to account for Weaver’s intensity as a British attache juggling government duties with a sexual passion that leads her to leak sensitive information.
Nowhere, however, is she more at home than in comedy. It’s the place, I think, where her heart lies, probably because in comedy she can loosen her limbs. Parodying her own patrician tendencies as well as her Alien-centric self in 1984’s Ghostbusters, Weaver charms as a woman possessed (and again in 1989’s Ghostbusters II). (Sigourney and Bill Murray, what sparring partners!) Indulging her sharp satirical skills, she does a dead-on imitation of a Marianne Williamson-style guru in 1995’s Jeffrey. For my video-rental money, though, there’s no greater distillation of the woman’s talents than in her great performance in Working Girl, Mike Nichols’ zeitgeist-savvy 1988 romantic comedy about what can happen to a secretary if she trusts her instincts and tones down her eye shadow. The movie was a major success for Melanie Griffith, sure, but it was as the secretary’s boss — an ambitious Reagan-era yuppie, sisterly and competitive, acquisitive and unaware of her own real needs, armored and vulnerable as she clomps around with crutches after a ski injury — that Weaver combined all of her star qualities, pulled in laughs, and took home an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
It would be all too easy for the performer to mock the worst in this unfortunate, me-generation boss, to do one of her subtle ”Do you believe this bitch?” winks to remind us that she knows that we know that she’s not really like that. Instead, Sigourney Weaver proudly inhabits her character. She unfurls to full height. And she as good as throws flames. A-