Posts Tagged ‘etc. River Phoenix’

Reel Infatuation Blogathon: Lili Taylor in Dogfight

June 25, 2017

I love Lili Taylor.Lili Taylor

With her unconventional looks and tiny stature (you may actually be sitting on her right now and not realize it), Taylor has proven herself time and again to be a genuine actress, and by that, I mean someone who submerges the actual person into her character. With a subtle change in her somewhat mousy, breathy voice, posture, and expressive eyes, she can easily become a doggedly determined heroin, plucky ingenue, or violent psychopath, fully convincing in her every role.

This is a performer who clearly loves to perform. You won’t see Taylor in some run-of-the-mill hunk of disposable movie junk (except 2001’s laughable The Haunting remake). Or, well … okay, maybe she has, and I haven’t seen them, but rest assured, no matter how bad it may have been, for however many minutes Lili lit up the screen, the film was a classic for just that long.

When discussing the merits and accomplishments of an artist such as Lili Taylor, the last thing I, a heterosexual male, want to do is bring up the issue of her physical appearance. This makes things a bit difficult, since I’m now going to discuss Taylor’s physical appearance. While looks may be a sad thing to judge a person on, in Taylor’s case, I find the subject particularly important. One look, and you know: This woman is not Hollywood pretty. I’m of the opinion that she’s unconventionally attractive, but the fact remains that if you look at Lalaland’s perspective of attractiveness, then Taylor’s in an entirely different category. But what’s wonderful about this is that, truly, she persists. She’s been working steadily since 1988, and not merely as the sidekick, best friend, or comedy interest. Huh-uh, she’s been the lead repeatedly, sharing room with the likes of River Phoenix and Liam Neeson, holding her own effortlessly.

You remember that Hottie McBody that was featured on the poster for that teen sex comedy back in the 90s? Of course not. She was there and gone, crushed by the wave of other flashes of skin that avalanched audiences one after the other. But you’d remember Lili because of her acting. This woman is clearly serious about her craft.
I know that when I see anything with her in it, Lili’s going to give it her all.

The first time I fell for Lili was also the first time I’d ever seen her work, an unexpected treasure called Dogfight, from 1991. The film featured the exploits of young, brash Eddie Birdlace (River Phoenix) late in 1963. Eddie and his pals are shipping off to Marine training come the dawn, eventually to be sent into the burgeoning conflict that was the Vietnam war. A night of carousing is in order, including the eponymous dogfight, that is, a bet between the fellahs that one can bring the ugliest girl – the dog – to a dance. Scouring the town, Eddie finds and invites a total stranger, Rose (Taylor), who works at her mother’s diner. Rose is the salt of the earth. Sweet, kind, thoughtful, and concerned about social justice and the environment, she should be the total opposite of Eddie, but, in fact, complements his rough-around-the-edges personality. Eddie even thinks of dis-inviting her to the dance, out of guilt, but does so just the same. Rose goes to the dance, and discovers the painful truth from Marcie, the winner of the dogfight (E.D. Daily in a terrific turn, and lemme tell ya, if you’ve ever wanted to hear Tommy Pickles cussing like a sailor, this movie you gotta see).

Rose is crushed, but her anger towards Eddie and da boyz is geared towards their cruelty towards the other women, not just her. Eddie is moved by this, and runs to Rose’s apartment after hours to apologize and go on an honest date. From this point, the majority of the film is dedicated to exploring the characters through their interaction. The scene toward the end, before Eddie inevitably ships off, is … man, it’s warm and touching, and the end-end, the part that goes just before the credits? Sweet, man,
just … Man.

What makes Taylor’s work in Dogfight so engrossing is Rose’s wisdom and tenderness. Capitalizing on her non-movie star attractiveness, Rose sports dowdy clothing, a conservative hairstyle that seemed to forget that the 50s ended a few years prior, and a few extra pounds (provided via fat suit, as the actress is rather thin). Taylor sells the charm, innocence, and warmth of this character so well, you’ve already bought her and signed up for six months of the newsletter without even realizing it. This woman is amazing, without a hint of pretentiousness, something Taylor excels at.

Dogfight is an excellent introduction to Taylor’s work (though it’s not her first film, and by far not one of the roles she’s famous for, which is likely Jojo Barbosa from Mystic Pizza (1988). You are gently eased and subtly swayed by her appeal, so that when you get to her mesmerizing turn as real-life increasingly-unhinged would-be murderer Valerie Solanas in I Shot Andy Warhol (1996), you’ll be jolted by how completely Rose has disappeared to be replaced by the hateful, psychotic, and genuinely pathetic Solanas.

Lili Taylor is comprised of three elements: Carbon, talent, and awesome.

KM Scott

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