|Cornish in Somersault (2004)|
Only once in a great while does an actress come around that completely challenges the landscape of performance in cinema in that time. And just as Barbara Stanwyck or Glenda Jackson or Catherine Deneuve did in their generations, Abbie Cornish is accomplishing currently as a consummate professional and master of her craft. For all of the Kristen Stewarts, Keira Knightleys, and Mila Kunises of our generation there is quietly creeping up behind them a marvelous force that refines the idea of being a female on screen with great finesse and utmost integrity.
|Cornish in great confluence with her co-star Heath Leger in Candy (2008)|
Even though her salary is probably not close to half of what any of the aforementioned actresses tally, her legacy is what's really going to pay off in the end. I knew that Abbie Cornish was unique from maybe the first 5 minutes that I saw her on screen, and I mean really unique not just 'oh that's a new kind of sexy'. What Abbie maintains is a complete understanding of femininity which includes the struggle and irreverent power that comes with that. This is really what separates the actors from the 'stars' and what creates actual longevity in this business. Now, I'm not saying that stars can't be serious actors, nor am I using the term 'serious actors' in a pretentious, annoying, Yale drama school/Addison DeWitt kind of way. Cornish's performance reminds me of Gena Rowlands who is arguably the best actress in the English language, and also at the same time is completely reminiscent of someone like Liv Ullman. There's a quiet consciousness that is always self-aware and self-reflexive, and it's not just because she gets to play roles along those lines. Even when Cornish was in garbage like Stop-Loss (2008) she allowed for her vulnerability to carry the bullshit lines she was forced to say. Where the filmmakers had failed to give her character any compelling characteristics or even an arc, she was able to connect the dots and create a cohesive and endearing performance even though she was a supporting player.
|Cornish as the paragon Fanny Brawne, whom she played to nuanced perfection in Jane Campion's Bright Star (2009). Photographed in period costume she reminds one of Liv Ullman in Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers (1972)|
The way she carries herself boasts that she is all at once completely confident and yet spontaneous, sensitive to what any new situation or project could bring, which gives off the impression that she's fearless, and if you look at her CV, that's basically what she is. Everyone in this business has to do crap to pay the bills here and there, we can't all stick to Jane Campion films. Even Holly Hunter had to make A Life Less Ordinary (1998). Cornish is certainly not above that, no one is. But then she makes films like Bright Star (2009) or better yet she starts out with a bang in an unforgiving and devastating film like Somersault (2004).
|Still from Somersault (2004) with Sam Worthington.|
Somersault is easily the best film of that year, and the character Cornish plays is beyond memorable. Ironically, it's a character we've seen over and over and over again; a troubled teenager who runs away from home and slowly self-destructs from excessive drugs, sex, and alcohol eventually leading to a bittersweet redemption of sorts. And yet it's totally new and vital when Cornish plays this character and that's a gift very few people that young have. She plays a 16 year old with the mentality of a 35 year old, while herself only being 20. She understands what sexuality actually stands for from a feminine gaze in the cinema and instead of exploiting it or making it ironic by turning it into melodrama (I'm talking to you, Keira) she quietly guides you through her own journey of self-discovery and by the end of it, you walk out convinced. I was, and I know she's a home wrecker and everything, but as long as she keeps pushing out performances like she has been, it doesn't matter a bit to me.
Below some trailers to help illustrate my point.