Thanks to the stunning turns of Leonard DiCaprio, Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett, and Alan Alda, The Aviator (2004) was nominated for a SAG award, Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Unfortunately, this meant Razzie-nominated Kate Beckinsale was included in the honor for portraying Ava Gardner in the biopic. Unfortunately because I’ve seen better acting from beauty contestants in Toddlers and Tiaras. Watch the film on Netflix this month, and see if you can disagree.
Embarrassing Poses Do Not Equal Sensuality
Let’s try to forget that this lean actress only resembles the curvaceous screen siren in terms of hair coloring. But any frustration at the lack of resemblance is soon lost in concern over Beckinsale’s acting. Have you ever seen a little girl posing as a sexy movie star for the camera? Yeah? Does it look kind of like this?
Perhaps Beckinsale prepared for her performance by watching Showgirls’ Elizabeth Berkley, who also mistook exaggerated gestures for seduction. Look, I understand that it’s intimidating to play one of the sexiest women of all time. How do you live up to a woman with that form?
And that face?
And how do you convey her magnetism, especially when your biggest role is in Underworld and your only good performances are as a no-nonsense matchmaker in Cold Comfort Farm and a scheming wannabe in The Last Days of Disco?
Beckinsale’s challenge was a big one, I admit. But her solution was so embarrassing. Could anyone find the self-conscious poses the actress adopts in The Aviator alluring? Past the age of 11, I mean, when tweens believe their primping a match for that of Britney Spears or Beyoncé or Margot Robbie or the current siren of the month?
Whatever Beckinsale was thinking, the result for viewers is painful; there’s such a jarring contrast between Leonardo DiCaprio’s honest, Oscar-worthy portrayal and her amateurism. Gardner might not have been a great actress, but she was riveting onscreen, with the kind of sensuality that simply can’t be faked. Was it really so hard for Martin Scorsese to find a sexually exciting, competent actress—in Hollywood?
Marilyn Monroe’s Purr + WHAT?
No one who has actually listened to Ava Gardner’s deep tones could mistake them for Marilyn Monroe’s kittenish simpering. But Beckinsale does–for a few minutes. Then she suddenly drops this girly inflection–for no apparent reason–and takes on a Southern drawl for a word or two. She then moves on to a highly affected faux-voice that has only been heard in bad screen tests. I’m not sure if Beckinsale’s ability to drop her British accent only takes her so far, or if she actually thinks this is how people talked in the old days. Most alarmingly, she apparently did listen to Gardner’s real voice, so perhaps her hearing should have been checked.
Does Gardner’s voice occasionally seem affected onscreen? Oh yes. Gardner herself admitted she could come across as unconvincing (though never close to as wretched as her 21st century imitator). But this is supposed to be Beckinsale playing Gardner in her real life. The fun-loving, broad, frank, boozing, matador-seducing Gardner was reckless in love, and careless with her career. But she was–if nothing else–authentic and funny and bawdy, not stilted and fake.
You might ask why I still care 12 years after the film’s premiere. Maybe because it’s difficult to witness such a bad misstep in an otherwise impressive film. Maybe because I’ve always admired Ava Gardner for her spirit, for a brand of feminism and bold living that wasn’t easy to sustain in the sexist age in which she lived. Maybe because in her rawest roles, as in The Night of the Iguana, there’s something breathtakingly real and honest about Gardner onscreen that seems to echo the kind of life she lived. Maybe because Scorsese himself, an appreciator of the classics, should have known better than to portray one of its legends so poorly. But I think my biggest irritation is this: Beckinsale’s tepid, false performance may mean that moviegoers first exposed to Gardner in this movie had no desire to look further. And that is something worth griping about.