Monday, July 31, 2017

Michelle Pfeiffer: Batman Returns


Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

Sometimes in movies, an actor or actress gives such a charismatic and fully realized performance that it rises to the level of high art itself. Case in point: Michelle Pfeiffer's legendary performance as Selina Kyle/Catwoman in Tim Burton's Batman Returns (1992). Burton's second Batman film is delightfully weirder than his first—it's chock-full of a deliciously twisted black humor and everything feels more loose and assured. Make no mistake though: twenty-five years on, it's Pfeiffer's embrace of that weirdness in her quintessentially fierce and sexy turn in the catsuit that remains the movie's most lasting legacy.

What's most rewarding about Pfeiffer's work here is how much nuance she brings to Selina's arc, from meek and mousy secretary to ferocious and extroverted antihero. Early on, while establishing Selina's depressing life, she's endearingly funny while also making us keenly aware of her loneliness, vulnerability, and self awareness. We're not laughing at Selina; we're just laughing to keep from crying. Then, after her transformation—"I am Catwoman. Hear me roar."—she's pure animal magnetism, prowling seductively through the rooftops and streets of Gotham. One moment she's licking herself clean like a cat (such a fantastically funny moment) and the next, she's besting every man in her path. The feminist commentary is unmistakable throughout—Selina is abused by the patriarchy, gets woke, and then spends the rest of the film equalizing the playing field between her and a cast full of (mostly bad) men. It's glorious to behold, with Pfeiffer reveling in every minute of it.

There's a lovely and tender scene late in the film, where Selina and Bruce (Michael Keaton) realize each other's costumed identities at the same exact moment. It's exquisitely intimate, with tight closeups and real heat generated between Pfeiffer and Keaton. Her reaction to this sudden realization is devastation: tears welling in her eyes, she looks shocked, shaken to her core. After they embrace tightly—as if holding one another will make them forget the truth—Pfeiffer asks, with a flawless mix of dry humor and heartbreaking sadness, "Oh my god. Does this mean we have to start fighting?" Moments like this make Pfieffer's performance one for the ages.


2 comments:

  1. Batman Returns is one of my favourite Pfeiffer pfilms, and having Michelle, Michael Keaton, Christopher Walken and Danny DeVito in the same film is almost to good to be true.
    I enjoyed the approach to Batman, loved Burton’s exaggerations, Pfeiffer’s whip, Elfman’s operatic score and the dumb blonde falling into the gift box to unleash the colonies of bats. And the scene at the costume ball. Wow, that moment when Bruce and Selina realise each other’s identities never fails to give me chills.
    Pfabulous post!

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    1. Thanks! Couldn't agree more, Paul. I also love this film for all the reasons you mentioned. Pfeiffer is phenomenal here, definitely one of her best performances, which is really saying something!

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