Peg the Avon Lady Gone Wild!

I’m not a massive Woody Allen fan. Sure, he makes some good movies, but I don’t rate everything the guy does like some people who are obsessed with him. Plus, Mia Farrow seems like such a nice lady and that whole debacle was a bit off-putting. He’s a bit creepy in my eyes now. It only makes sense then, that one of the films that I like best by the man is one he’s not actually in…

“Bullets Over Broadway” has a lot to like.  Allen’s script is a fantastic farce.  The setting and costumes are delightfully period as is the olde timey radio jazz soundtrack.  The casting is just about perfect from Chazz Palminteri’s brusque but gifted gangster, Cheech, down to Harvey Ferstein’s minor role as a talent manager. But, I’m going to hone in on what I think is the best performance in this hilarious film for today’s great thing:

18: Dianne Wiest in “Bullets Over Broadway”

She took home one of her two Academy Awards for her performance as Helen Sinclair– a celebrated theater diva on the rapid descent to ‘washed up’ territory (she just doesn’t know it yet). The roster for this farce included John Cusack, Palminteri, Jim Broadbent, Tracey Ullman, Mary-Louise Parker, Rob Reiner and Jennifer Tilly (who was also nominated as a supporting actress for her hilarious turn as gangster’s moll, Olive). With a cast this outstanding, it would be difficult to stand-out, but Wiest managed to do that. If you’ve never seen this one, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Even if you’re not a Woody Allen film, check it out. Seriously. That’s an order.

This role was a major departure from what Dianne Wiest (pronounced ‘Weest’) was really most famous for playing–squinty-eyed and warm hearted ‘Mom’ type characters. See her parade of characters in “Edward Scissorhands”, “Parenthood”, “Little Man Tate” “Footloose” and “The Lost Boys”. It was so nice to see her in a different light. It was one of those opportunities where an actor can prove themselves against typecasting.

Nice and squinty, please.
Perfect!  Just how I like it.
Perfect! Just how I like it.

As Helen Sinclair, she was a tantrum-throwing, attention-seeking, Clytemnestra-playing cougar who sinks her teeth into John Cusack’s insecure ‘artist’ playwright character, David Shayne.

In reality, she actually is a well-respected theater veteran but with no accusations of diva behavior attached. She’s performed loads of Shakespeare–memorably as Othello’s wife Desdemona alongside James Earl Jones. She’s also played the title role in “Hedda Gabler”. There’s a scene in “Bullets Over Broadway” when Helen Sinclair first steps onto the boards at The Belasco theater–where the cast is rehearsing Shayne’s play–all of the classic roles that she’s had the honor of playing come flooding back. Helen Sinclair takes a self-indulgent moment address all these characters…lost in her own resume…”There’s Ophelia, here’s Cordelia…CLYTEMNESTRA!” It’s hilarious.

I first saw this film when I was a freshman at NYU. I was an acting student, both intimidated by and judgemental of those around me as you are when you study that sort of thing. Everything about “Bullets Over Broadway” rang true to what I was enduring in my classes. The actors bigging themselves up, the directors and writers trying to protect their ‘vision’, the constant onanistic debate about what it means to be an ‘artist’, the incessant name-dropping of respected playwrights… Better still, there were rumors at the time that Sinclair was based on Stella Adler, the method acting teacher and founding member of ‘The Group’ theater experience. As it happens, I was studying at the Stella Adler conservatory through my university. Stella didn’t teach there anymore, on account of her being dead and all, but even the whispers of the association made me like Wiest’s performance even more.

Here’s her bombastic entrance into the film:

It’s no wonder she’s Brad Pitt’s favorite actress! (As reported by the March 1996 issue of respected teen-lifestyle magazine Tiger Beat)

Respected source!
Respected source!

She was on “Law and Order” for awhile. One of the offshoots maybe like “Law and Order: SVU” or “NBA or “NWA” or “LSD” or something…Anyway, one of the best little bits of trivia from that research is that Elisabeth Rohm, one of her co-stars at the time gave Dianne a very cool compliment. She actually said that she (Dianne) and Sam (Waterston) can really knock it back at the bar! Excellent! I like an old lady who can keep up with my mojito consumption.

You generally get the impression that Dianne Wiest wouldn’t disappoint in real life. Unless she was drunk on mojitos. In her Oscar speech, she comes across as–get this–a nice normal person. I’ve embedded it below. Since it’s the Oscars they show all the nominees for Best Actress that year. That means you also get to see Jennifer Tilly’s clip! Before you watch it, here’s an interesting quote from IMDB about how Dianne prepared for the dialogue in the scene that The Academy chose to highlight–dialogue that the movie may be best known for…

  • Dianne Wiest said that she initially had trouble playing Helen Sinclair. She said she really struggled saying her character’s signature line. She then decided to lower her voice when she said the line “Don’t Speak” and that made all the difference. The lower she said it, the funnier it became.
  • Here it is. After this, go on to Amazon and order the whole movie. You can get it for…like six bucks.

    3 responses to “Peg the Avon Lady Gone Wild!”

    1. This is an awesome movie. An I tell ya if it were a perfect world, everybody should have a copy of this movie.

      Dianne Wiest made me laugh alot in this movie, so to did Jennifer Tilly (who looked pee’d off that she didn’t win). Its the taking part and the nomination that counts.

      1. So true. And loosing against Dianne Wiest is really nothing to be ashamed of. She is one of the greatest actresses of her time. Though Jennifer Tilly was really great as well, no one can keep up with Dianne Wiest, when she’s been given a role like this one.

        1. I agree Chriss. It wouldn’t have been easy to be an Academy voter that year. Both of those Bullets Over Broadway performances were ace. Entirely quotable. I’m still annoying my friends with lines from that film.

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