Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator
Best Supporting Actress at the 77th Annual Oscars (2004)
“That’s because I’m goddamn loud.”
If constant news updates about dudes like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk haven’t fully depleted your capacity to tolerate rich assholes, why not check out the tale of Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio), the OG awful billionaire? Wait, does that make Howard’s one-time girlfriend, Katherine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett), the original Grimes?
Katharine Hepburn is, so far, the only person who appears in this column as both an actress and as a character! Her greatest honor, I’m sure. Obviously, Katharine Hepburn is a legendary, venerated actress, and I find it hilarious that this movie kind of shits all over her. She’s presented as an obnoxious chatterbox who spews a livefeed of her thoughts at all times, and a faux intellectual with a snotty blueblood family. Most interestingly, the movie suggests that, as an actress, she’s lost the ability to exist in the world without putting on a performance, which explains why she comes across as theatrical and inauthentic. I appreciate that she’s not just a charming person, but is actually given some complications.
I also love that she doesn’t fall into the long-suffering girlfriend role that she could have been slotted for. So often, Oscar-winning portrayals of women partnered with “genius” dudes leave them stuck steadfastly dealing with a jerkish dude. But not in The Aviator. There’s a scene when Katharine fights with Howard because he’s constantly out with other women, and I’m like, here we go again – but then, she ends up dumping his ass, and it’s so refreshing, although I certainly miss her presence in the film after that scene.
Oh Cate Blanchett, I love you, but you have confounded me with this performance. Blanchett is incredible, let me state that outright. But she is doing something really wonky here. What is going on with her Hepburn accent?! It almost feels like a Saturday Night Live impression, it’s so over-the-top and goofy! It’s also very wobbly: Blanchett drifts in and out of what feel like a few different variations on the accent, and it’s genuinely distracting at first.
With that being said, Blanchett’s performance grew on me throughout the film. I love that she imbues this version of Katharine with so many unique vocal tics and gestures: she feels like a specific character developed for this film, not just Blanchett doing an impression. It’s a uniqueness that’s often lost in biopics. I even began to come around on the bizarre accent: since Katharine as a character has an inauthenticity, the wavering accent actually works to build out the idea that she’s constantly performing. Even though the performance doesn’t totally work for me, Katharine’s scenes are among the strongest in the film, and Blanchett gets credit for that.
If you’re counting, this is the second film about Howard Hughes to get someone a Best Supporting Actress award (the first being the delightfully bonkers Melvin and Howard). The Aviator is a sweeping epic that tackles old Hollywood, business, innovation, and mental illness. Unlike so many of the dreary biography movies that win Oscars, it smartly centers one exciting time in Hughes life, rather than dragging us from childhood to death. And yet, it left me hollow. That’s largely because in 2021, if I want to see an eccentric, man child billionaire that just wants to go really fast, I’ll head to CNN. Of course Scorsese shows Hughes’s dark side, but ultimately, he’s portrayed as a genius who fights against the man and pushes innovation forward (gee, I bet Martin sees himself the same way). But Hughes is an incredibly destructive personality to those around him: he treats his employees terribly, bugs his girlfriend’s house, and dates a FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD, JESUS. Forgive me if I’m sick of hearing the stories of this kind of powerful man, over and over again.
Was the Oscar deserved?
You tested me with this one Cate, but I’ll give it to you.