I would never write anything uncharitable about Allison Janney. It’s unthinkable. But since I began writing this article there have been three rolling blackouts at my house, which is not usual at 5 AM so I have to wonder if I should be doing this at all.
But for the not-superstitious among us, what I had been saying before my documents were rudely eaten in the ether was that Janney is, in a word, unimpeachable. She’s almost superhuman. She can do Sorkin, and she can do Chuck Lorre. She’s stately and elegant, and glamorous, and somehow a bit casual, like she doesn’t look like she spent four hours getting ready even though we know she did. Her dress was great, and she’s not above wearing a bird as a gag. And actually, just to digress on the bird for a minute…
Nowhere on my timeline did I see the words that would have been leveled at absolutely anyone else – words to the effect of “wearing a joke bird on your shoulder, in reference to a film you are CURRENTLY INTRODUCING and have the win on lock for is a LITTLE extra, don’t you think?”
But nobody said them. Nobody said anything even resembling ‘try’. This is because Allison Janney is just that good. I have complicated thoughts about I, Tonya that I’ve already mentioned in the Margot Robbie post, but her performance as LaVona Golden is flawless. She is hard, and Janney plays her with the relish everyone does when they get to dig into an unadulterated villain – but she’s not one dimensional. Janney never punks out and implies LaVona has softness underneath – not once – but she does let us see LaVona’s intelligence, which she both does and doesn’t want to pass on to her daughter. I know a lot of really skilled actors, but they would give me side-eye if I told them “play it both ways simultaneously but don’t actually let on that you’re doing either.”
So. Now what? She’s going to get an Oscar nod. She’s probably going to win. (I paused after this sentence to see if the power would come back on and give me a sign here, but… nothing.) So what does this change her career into?
Like sure, she could get the ‘grand dame’ film roles. The roles playing eccentric luminaries of a certain age that go to Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep and so forth –but she’s a bit quirkier than that, and has a bit more… surprise factor. Like did you know she used to figure skate until she had a career-ending injury at 17? I will pay you five dollars if you weren’t surprised by that. Yes you were.
So… what? Stage roles adapted to the screen? That could be a thing. Odd, stiff mothers are in her wheelhouse, but if the wheelhouse gets a lot bigger? I don’t know. I feel like she could play an extra-terrestrial and make me care. A human set of nesting dolls. A fisheries worker determined to have the best fishery in the world. I would watch her in any of these things. I am excited for her for the next few months. And I would greatly appreciate if she would turn my lights back on.