This weekend at the Hamptons International Film Festival, I got a preview of some standout female leads in upcoming movies -- Jennifer Lawrence plays a manic widow in "Silver Linings Playbook," Sienna Miller disappears into Tippi Hedren in "The Girl," and newcomer Alicia Vikander plays a tragic queen in "A Royal Affair." The three roles could not be more different, but they share one thing: They are all must-see performances.
Jennifer Lawrence in "Silver Linings Playbook"
Does Lawrence, 22, still have to prove she's got major acting chops after shooting "Hunger Games" to megahit status and earning an Oscar nomination for "Winter's Bone?" I'm calling time: She will get another nomination, and possibly a win, for Tiffany, a guilt-stricken police widow with a penchant for revealing TMI. In David O' Russell's most crowd-pleasing comedy, she lures the bipolar hero Pat (Bradley Cooper), fresh out of a mental hospital and still shaky, back to life and love by recruiting him as her partner in a local ballroom dance competition.
Lawrence vibrates with life from every pore as a manic pixie dream girl who makes the hero whole again. But while I hate to kick the tires of a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed, there's a bit too much formula in how Lawrence's wacky character completes the fractured male lead. Also, the use of a dance competition to bring the movie to its rousing Dancing with the Stars conclusion is a bit too neat. I miss some of Russell's edge, the messy bits, like the crazy Greek chorus of sisters in "The Fighter," or the scene when Christian Bale's addict leaps out a second-story window to avoid his mother. Still, I can't hate Russell because he breathes life into a screwball Hollywood comedy, a film that deservedly won the Audience Award at this week's Hamptons -- and proves that Lawrence has got game for those few remaining skeptics who weren't entirely convinced by her Katniss Everdeen.
Sienna Miller in "The Girl"
While Julian Jarrold's chamber drama about the fraught relationship between director Alfred Hitchcock (Toby Jones) and model-turned-actress Tippi Hedren (Miller) will air on HBO on October 20, it made its world theatrical premiere over the weekend with Miller and Jones in attendance. Set during the filming of two Hitchcock classics -- "The Birds" and "Marnie" -- the movie can be seen as a rare drama about the pernicious effects of sexual harassment in the movie industry and beyond. Here's the story of this beautiful woman (and single mum) plucked from the many platinum blondes of '60s Hollywood to become the leading lady in films by the famous director Alfred Hitchcock. Made it, Ma -- but being Hitchcock's current muse has its price.
As horrifying as the re-creation of the scene of birds pummeling Hedren in an attic is, the backseat-of-the-limo sexual assault scenes are almost equally frightening in their psychological horror. Here is this woman who has no power other than her looks and morals fending off the director as he swoops from his side of the seat to hers to plant the least romantic of kisses.
Miller and Jones both disappear into their famous characters, and we are caught in that tangle of how Hedren can navigate the sexual undertow of her professional relationship while establishing herself as an actress. While the script, by Gwyneth Hughes, could have used a bit more conflict early on in setting up the story and could have been more ambitious in scope, the performances are peerless and involving. And, returning to the facts on which the drama was based, according to Miller, who talked to Hedren while researching the character, the star of "The Birds" remains bitter about Hitchcock's behavior to this day.
Alicia Vikander in "A Royal Affair"
The Danish entry for best picture is an intense costume drama about an enlightened British royal, Princess Caroline Matilda (Vikander), who travels to Copenhagen at 15 to become the queen to the crazy King Christian VII of Denmark. Once there, appalled by something that is rotten in the state of her husband's mind, she embarks on an intellectual and sexual affair with the king's doctor and chief adviser (Mads Mikkelsen). The movie echoes Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" in its treatment of the ways in which aristocratic brides may have been daughters of privilege but were still used as chattel in the European game of thrones.
Beneath all the stays and skirts and strands of pearls, there comes a night when a young queen is alone in bed with a man she hardly knows, and only by consummating the marriage and giving birth to a child does she achieve any power in the relationship. Vikander subtly conveys the ways in which the young queen engages in an act that is both consensual and entirely unwelcome, a duty and not a pleasure. "A Royal Affair" is a heady and tragic 18th-century romance based on a lesser-known (to Americans) chapter of Scandinavian history. Vikander, who can also be seen this fall as Kitty in "Anna Karenina" with Keira Knightley, brings to the role a depth and intelligence and a burnished beauty that we'll be seeing more of in the future.