Every year, we find ourselves at the mercy of Oscar voters and Oscar campaigns. Trying to navigate these waters, when trying to figure out who will be nominated where can be a bit challenging. For a while now, I’ve maintained my belief that Michelle Williams will end up in the supporting category for The Fablemans, and not lead.
First off, having now seen the film (which I have to still review), I can say that her screentime is not much more than Paul Dano’s, despite the fact that Dano is being run in supporting. more importantly, Dano is running in supporting in a crowded campaign from universal, who has For your Consideration ads for Dano, Judd Hirsch, and Seth Rogen. Some believe hirsch is capable of getting his monologue to an Oscar nomination. With that much crowding, why isn’t Dano in lead?
Certainly, it can’t be because they think Gabriel LaBelle can still squeeze in the top five. Did they move Williams because they believed the Best Actress race to be less competitive? Did they move her to help her get nominated? Before the campaign was announced, Williams was a front runner in Supporting Actress, because back then, we had all accepted that this was a supporting role. Those who saw the film at the festivals didn’t argue with the idea that Williams would win her first Oscar for Supporting Actress this year.
Instead, she’s gone to “most likely to lose to Cate Blanchett”, making Universal’s move even more odd.
There’s no real reason to campaign her in lead. She’s the only notable female with a shot at a nomination in the film, so unlike She Said, which split up Zoey Kazan and Carey Mulligan, sending a lead performance to supporting to better their chances, Williams was just moved… because.Into a category she’s unlikely to win.
The film does not revolve around her. She is not the protagonist whose eyes we see The Fablemans through. She’s the mother to Sammy, who we see the story through, not just his family, but his interpretation of cinema, his shooting of home movies, his editing process, and even anti-semitism. The film is experienced through him, not Williams. Not the mother.
he has scenes with his mom, but he also has scenes with his dad. The camera follows Sammy, whether at home, showing one of his films, or getting punched out at school. We experience Williams through Sammy, not the other way around. He’s the one who witnesses her wrongdoings, and he’s the one who passes judgement on the parties involved. he sets up the film for her to watch, and he gives her that “Oscar moment”.
Typically, when you consider lead versus supporting, you consider who is telling the story, and in some cases are they equally matched? For example, often in romance angled films, the male or female actually telling the story may be equally matched by their counterpart. obviously Silver Linings Playbook is about Bradley Cooper, but Jennifer Lawrence is also a lead, because the film becomes about their relationship.
The Fablemans is not about Sammy’s relationship with his mother, it’s about his relationship to film. Film is his co-lead, and the rest of The Fableman family is there to lend a hand, or provide emotional authenticity. But, just like Marcia Gay harden was supporting Ed Harris in pollock, or Laura Linney supported Liam Neeson in Kinsey, when a film is often about a man and his dream, the female counterpart is submitted in supporting.
So, why then is Williams in the lead category? Because it was less competitive for her to get a nomination?
Oscar voters do not always follow the studios campaigns. They saw through the attempt to get Kate Winslet two Oscar nominations in the same year for Revolutionary Road in lead, and The Reader in Supporting. However, the voters could tell The Reader was about her, and that Winslet just happened to be a lead in two different films that year. So, she was nominated in lead actress for The Reader, and we know how that turned out.
Then, just a few years ago, Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluyaa were separated for campaign purposes, much like the aforementioned Kazan and Mulligan are this year. Except that year, voters decided there was no lead actor in Judas and the Black Messiah, and nominated Stanfield in supporting opposite his co-star. So, neither Judas, nor the Black messiah were the lead of the film called judas and the Black messiah.
There’s precedent for Williams to be shut down and find herself Oscar nomination morning in the supporting actress category, which I still am alone on the hill. But, as these actors are asked to fill out their ballot, and look at the film, which is about Sammy Fableman and his growing love of cinema, how can they vote for Paul Dano as the father in Supporting, and the person he shares the screen with, playing his wife, Michelle Williams, in lead? How is anyone?
Some voting bodies lock people into certain races. So, if someone is being campaigned one way, it’s likely the Globes never allowed their voters to consider her for supporting. But for the Oscars, which is wide open, the question remains…. Why vote for her in lead actress?
Regardless of how this turns out, even those who might disagree with me can agree on one thing. If she had remained in supporting, she’d likely be the front runner right now, a spot Carrie Condon seems to have slipped into only out of sheer consistency in a wide open category. This may end up being a decision universal regrets, and even if enough voters put her in supporting, there’s a chance she ends up in neither because she couldn’t garner enough votes in either category.
Is she terrific in the film? Sure. But in my opinion, she is not the lead of The Fablemans.