Uglification of Beautiful Women Proves Winning Formula For Theron in Class-Action Triumph
By LIZ SEAGRAVE
Monday, October 24, 2005
usual spoiler warnings for reviews
While her "North Country" character Josey Aimes may be excavating iron from the quarries of Northern Minnesota, Charlize Theron herself has struck a gold mine with this simple recipe: Take one stunning starlet, give her a goofy hairdo coupled with a wardrobe entirely from the sale rack at Sears, then plunk her down in a socially difficult, based-on-fact story. Nothing spells moolah for Hollywood fat cats like the uglification of a beautiful woman.
If Charlize didn't prove this in her Oscar-winning performance in "Monster" as the homicidal lesbian prostitute Aileen Wuornos, complete with pounds of deglamorizing makeup, she does so unequivocally in "North Country." Although her physical transformation is not as drastic as it was for "Monster," she sports an 80s mullet and rural trash look a far cry from the images of her on the red carpet.
Set in 1989 during the Anita Hill trial, the film is based on a milestone class-action sexual harassment suit filed by a female miner in Minnesota. Desperate for money and dreaming of a better life for her children, Josey takes a job as one of a handful of women in the male-dominated mines after fleeing from an abusive husband.
Yet another oppressive environment awaits Josey in "the shit pit" in the form of the crude and derogatory antics of her male peers. At times, these antics seem sensationalized by the filmmakers, but they're not entirely unbelievable. Every day, Josey faces an entire workforce of men who feel threatened by female presence in the mines-they react by smearing the C-word with their feces on locker room walls, and terrorize the women with the constant threat of rape.
As if that weren't enough anguish, screenwriter Michael Seitzman and director Niki Caro ("Whale Rider") load Josey up with even more emotional baggage-a son (Thomas Curtis) enraged by the lawsuit's negative attention, an unsympathetic father (Richard Jenkins, "Six Feet Under,") and a docile, anti-feminist mother (Sissy Spacek.) Most heartbreaking are her female cohorts who refuse to take a stand for fear of losing their hard-earned jobs.
Against all these odds, Josey rises up from luckless loser to crusading, believable heroine. Even as the best-lookin' miner ever, Theron's skill as an actress overcomes the conditioned response to equate pretty with dumb. In a climactic scene at a miners' union meeting, when Josey courageously stares down a room full of angry men, we appreciate the filmmakers for giving the role to an actress capable of portraying such brilliant character development.
"North Country" provides interesting role-switching for its bill of big names-some lend refreshing dimensions, while others are a case of miscasting. Sean Bean, as the husband of Frances McDormand's character Glory moves away from previous villainous parts toward an impressive performance of the film as a quiet, unconditionally supportive mate. On the other hand, Woody Harrelson as Josey's potential love interest and lawyer is an awkward contrast to his roles on "Cheers" and in "Kingping," and Sissy Spacek's meek housewife will confuse viewers who knows her best for her strong, intelligent roles.
Like other movies of its ilk, such as "Erin Brockovich" and "Norma Rae," "North Country" is appropriately heavy and somber as it highlights the gross indignities suffered by the protagonists. Prepare for this movie with your favorite pack of tissues and the knowledge that given the subject matter, even the triumphant conclusion may not elicit a smile.
File class action lawsuits with Liz at email@example.com.