The Best of Laura Dern
A list of Laura Dern's best roles - from 'Wild at Heart' (1990) to 'Marriage Story' (2019).
It's safe to say that 2019 was a year in the film industry that belonged to Laura Dern. Starring in two of the most highly-praised films of the year, Dern proved to the world why she continues to be a titan in the acting business and schooling the children in how best to represent strong female characters onscreen. Winning an Oscar on her birthday for her portrayal of no-bullshit lawyer Nora Fanshaw in Noah Baumbach's moving flick 'Marriage Story', Dern's academy award success was deserved, but long overdue.
Beginning her career in the '80s and becoming renowned through her film collaborations with eccentric director David Lynch, Dern should never be underestimated when it comes to performance. She is a powerhouse, and has demonstrated this through a number of well-received cinematic appearances.
In honour of Laura and her win earlier this year, I've compiled a short list of her best performances from throughout her glittering career. Hopefully this list will stand as testament to the fact that Dern is of an acting ilk that is hard to find. Always unfairly underrated but recently and rightfully praised, here is the best of Laura Dern:
1. Wild at Heart (1990) | dir. David Lynch
I'll just come out and say it: 'Wild at Heart' is Laura Dern at her very best. With her southern twang, crimped hair and late '80s fashion, Dern's Lula is a tornado tearing through scene after scene. She completely owns the film. From moshing wildly with Nic Cage in the desert to that more than intense scene with Willem Dafoe as the slimy, unhinged assassin Bobby Peru, Dern is as adorable and endearing as she is crazy and slightly disturbed.
Much like 'Blue Velvet' (1986), Lynch's 'Wild at Heart' is an array of emotions, with every actor giving their all. No one more so than Dern, who swerves from being feverishly lustful for her boyfriend Sailor, devastated at his incarceration, forlorn at her traumatic past and gleeful in her anticipation of reaching California to start a new life, and does so with vigor and ease. This spectrum of emotions she conveys with the utmost commitment, so much so that even in the most bizarre of Lynch's scenarios, she remains believable. It is a sad and somewhat inconceivable fact, therefore, that Dern received no nominations for her role.
'Wild at Heart' may not be the most known or even most successful of Lynch's cinematic works, but it is weird, fun and held together by an astonishing performance by Dern.
2. Little Women (2019) | dir. Greta Gerwig
In my opinion, and this may be controversially so, 'Little Women' is the film that should have earned Dern her Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Anyone who has seen the film will know which scene I'm referring to when I say that Dern's ability to break your heart into tiny fragments with a single look is astounding. It is also testament to her strength as an actress. Much like Leonardo DiCaprio in the lake scene in 'Shutter Island' or Emma Thompson's tears of betrayal and frustration at the discovery of her husband's infidelity in 'Love Actually' - the way Dern reduces an audience member to empathetic tears through the most honest and authentic emotional display deserves not merely to be noted, but praised.
Stoic, sad and sweet, Dern's performance as the March matriarch is understated, but provides the film with a strong backbone. Her character's immovable strength, despite its occasional wavers in the film's more melancholic moments, permeates throughout the film and knits the more erratic performances of Florence Pugh and Saoirse Ronan together. Always, she brings us back to the warm hearth, despite the turmoil.
Where her roles in Lynch's films require a no-holds-barred approach, 'Little Women' demonstrates the extent of her acting range, with a subtlety and feeling that, despite its quiet nature, is equally as powerful.
3. Jurassic Park (1993) | dir. Steven Spielberg
Perhaps her most famous role and an inclusion on this list with personal importance for me, we cannot continue without mentioning the role Dern is most famous for - 'Jurassic Park'. But it does not appear on this list merely because of its blockbuster status, but because Dern's performance is a genuinely excellent component of the film.
It is hard not to be overshadowed by on-screen personalities like Jeff Goldblum and Richard Attenborough - both of whom provide legendary performances - but Dern manages it, and does so with verve and style. Her Ellie Sattler was something of an icon for me in my dinosaur-obsessed childhood. Seeing her being a successful paleontologist in the throws of raptor attacks and the danger of an escaped T-Rex made her a personal hero of mine.
Not only does Dern convey Sattler in a manner of both childlike-wonder at the possibilities of the park, but she appears also grounded in fact. She confronts people when the puzzle pieces don't easily slot together, and is quick to discover the reason for the ill triceratops in that famous 'dung' scene. She is witty, smart and brave without becoming something of an annoyingly perfect 'all-round' character we see too much of these days. She's a realistic hero and Dern gives her that substance.
4. Blue Velvet (1986) | dir. David Lynch
With her bouncing blond ponytail and baby-pink dress, Laura Dern dazzles as Kyle MacLachlan's suffering girlfriend, as the two of them uncover some strange behaviour in their idyllic neighbourhood.
While the film arguably belongs to Dennis Hopper in a career-defining role as 'baby/daddy' Frank Booth, Dern's Sandy, the detective's daughter, contributes to the raw, emotional energy that has been hailed by critics as the key to this film's brilliance. The final scenes, in which Sandy bawls her eyes out at the sordid revelations of the film's plot, shows what a powerhouse of talent is and would be in future films to come.
Dern fits well into the surreal nature of the film - a token offering in Lynch's directorial style - and puts everything into it. Her energy rises to match the tone required by the film, and her performance is as vivid as the roses in that infamous opening shot.
5. Marriage Story (2019) | dir. Noah Baumbach
The role that won her the Oscar, no list of Dern's greatest hits would be complete without 'Marriage Story'. Dern's fierce Nora Fanshaw is the undoubtedly highlight of the movie. She cuts through the moping air of bitterness between Scarlett Johansson's Nicole and Adam Driver's Charlie and is a breath of fresh air for the viewer. Despite their spectacular performances, the two are ultimately eclipsed by Dern's effortless take as a successful divorce lawyer aiding Nicole in her cross-country battle for child custody.
Personally, I quickly grew tired of the endless friction between the two main characters, and Laura Dern's cynical L.A. bitch made up for it. Her iconic speech describing the long-running double standard between men and women is masterfully delivered, and her brisk, determined manner is a brilliant and interesting antithesis for Ray Liotta's doubtful attorney Marotta.
Dern has that immeasurable skill of brightening the film when she walks into a scene. It is undeniable that she brings Baumbach's character to life, and while his screenplay should not be without credit, Dern pools years of excellent performances into a handful of winning scenes by delivering the very essence of her character's core. She does so with an expert breeziness that takes the otherwise hard slog of a film to the next level and is instrumental in its overall cinematic success.