Geraldine Page received her eighth (!) Oscar nomination and her only win for playing Carrie Watts in The Trip to Bountiful.
It’s kinda strange that Geraldine Page is a bit forgotten today, unless you are a real cinema fanatic who is truly into appreciating acting and movies. Even though I have only watched three of her films prior to this, I am endlessly fascinated by her – her reputation as one of the greatest “method” actresses, her versatility, her contributions to the theatre, her brilliant, calculated acting style and her influence on so many of the greats today, including Meryl Streep. (I highly recommend this blog if you want to find out more about her). I know some people dislike her style, which admittedly is rather theatrical, but like the many others before me, I am taken by what a force she is on screen. If I was born earlier I would have killed to just watch her perform on stage. There’s something about watching a Geraldine Page performance that makes you feel as if you are going through a real acting masterclass – it’s like a pro telling you amateurs how to really act. Of course, I understand some people think that this can get into the way of fully appreciating her work (cause you want to see a character, not a teacher), but I have enjoyed everything of hers that I’ve seen, even the frequently criticized Summer and Smoke (1961). Page’s Oscar win is widely considered a proper sendoff for a very long career (she died a year after winning). I gather that she must have faced some real threat from Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple, who was also absolutely amazing, but at the end of the day, I guess it was still a relatively easy win (I don’t see Meryl as a threat, sorry).
The Trip to Bountiful is…a rather average film, I mean, I do enjoy simplistic and beautiful films but this one is just forgettable in my opinion. The supporting actors are okay, but none of them stand out and I don’t find the story that engaging. Actually, there isn’t much of story – It’s more than obvious to me that the story is a vehicle for great actressing since the main character is essentially the most interesting part of the film. Had a lesser actress taken on the role the whole thing would have turned into forgettable TV-movie fare, but thankfully, they had Geraldine Page to elevate it into something special.
I tried to imagine how actresses like Vanessa Redgrave or Jessica Tandy would have done with this role – I think they would have done amazingly as well, but it would have been such a different Carrie Watts. We would have seen a more vulnerable, soulful and poetic approach that may have been equally amazing as well (have not watched Cicely Tyson’s version). Nonetheless, right from the beginning of the film, we can tell that Geraldine Page was ready to take on this role and give it a 200%. Even though we see Carrie Watts being stuck with her horrible son and daughter-in-law, there’s just so much fire and power inside her that we instantly root for her. I think what Page succeeded in extremely well is making Watts such a likable and endearing character. Even though she is so “Geraldine” here with all those tics and mannerisms, it never becomes annoying. In fact, I like that she brought so much humour and heart to the part, like when she sneakily manipulates her daughter-in-law into leaving the house, or when she is hiding her pension check. You never find yourself irritated with Carrie’s headstrong attitude, or when she does stuff like asking whether she can use her pension check to pay for the bus ticket. Page successfully highlights that the hope of going back home is the very one thing that is keeping her alive and strong, and she makes it a goal that the audience instantly feels for.
Page makes use of the various opportunities to fully explore the character, and it is during these moments where you get to see some truly fantastic acting. Being a fan, I’m already all too familiar with these moments but it doesn’t make them any less impressive. The most famous scene would be the confession scene on the bus where she talks about how she never loved her husband. I know this sounds weird, but that part just got me so excited because you can sense that a breakdown scene is coming, which is essentially Page’s forte. But of course, outside of acting appreciating, there is no denying that Page was heartbreaking there. Watching all the horrible memories come back to her. like her children’s deaths and her father forcing her to break up with her lover, it all just spoke volumes about how much this character has gone through. And then there’s that famous train station scene where she breaks down begs the police officer to just let her visit her home – it’s as scenery-chewy and calculated as it gets, but it is so masterfully done at the same time.
It’s a simple character with only one objective of going home, but Page added so many layers, so much character, and so much fire but beauty at the same time. When she finally reaches her old, broken-down home, the happiness and peace in her eyes really said so much even though she had no lines. You can sense that Carrie doesn’t fear anything or anyone anymore because her greatest wish has been fulfilled – all summed up in that simple kiss that she gives her bitch of a daughter-in-law. Geraldine Page’s Carrie Watts is a proper farewell for a truly remarkable career, making her Oscar win truly deserved. 5/5.