Sunday, January 17, 2010

Class of 2009 Supporting Actress Blogathon: Bijou Phillips in Dark Streets

From the very beginning, “Dark Streets” never promised to be a satisfying experience for those looking for affirmation about life. Immediately, the ending is telegraphed by the opening shots as well as the somber thunder of our emcee’s throaty storytelling. Indeed, “Dark Streets” is what it is, a slice-of-life look into the darkness governing people’s hearts and ambitions as clouded by the smoky allure of jazz tunes and neon nighttime hues. So in a world full of dead ends and uncertainties, who can you look to for a sure thing, albeit at the back of your mind remembering human vulnerability to downfall?

Well then……. “Let’s make it all warm for Miss Crystal LaBelle…”

Bijou Phillips plays Crystal Labelle, the lead act in Chaz Davenport’s troubled nightclub. Things are not going well with Mr. Davenport’s club as bills are piling up which are all the more confounded by an inconsistent source of income, good and reliable people from the past disappearing and the erratic inability to see through an entire night’s worth of entertainment due to constant power blackouts. Chaz Davenport never claimed to be a strong man, just a guy running a nightclub, and this makes him an even more prime position to be a pawn in the power plays occurring in the city. So the heckled owner turns to drink and retreats into the arms of Miss Crystal LaBelle.

Crystal is that one constant in Chaz’s life. The other girls mock her for being above her carefree past but she doesn’t pay attention too long because she’s living and she gets to live not just for herself but also for Chaz. She’s his best friend and confidant, his lover and protector.

She’s his main act and damnnit if she didn’t earn it and will continue to make him see why she is so valuable to him by showing him how valuable he is to her with every song she belts out in each performance on his stage. All the more reason why when Chaz starts turning his attention to the new girl, Madelaine, it becomes so devastating to Crystal that she becomes her past all over again.

Bijou Phillips gives a surprisingly mature performance of the old character of the reliable lady. She always makes us see and feel what Crystal is thinking, communicating every vulnerable moment. When the girls berate her for being high and mighty, Bijou shows us that she knows where the barbs are coming from but responds with matched aplomb that she also knows she has risen above it. When threatened that she might be replaced as the woman in Chaz’s life professionally and personally, she’s not above giving a wry comment behind his back.

Most convincing with Bijou’s performance is how she believably anchors her character to Gabriel Mann’s Chaz Davenport. We clearly understand that her bottom line is Chaz.

He matters immensely in her life and this is simply what she wants him to understand. When he is lost, she shows pain in wishing she could rid him of all his troubles. Even when Chaz is confident enough to rise to his own defense, she stands up with him, wearing the same defiant expression.

She also wears it when protecting Chaz from himself (even without him knowing).

It would be best to think of their relationship as each other’s crutch. Chaz’s world knocks him around a lot but Crystal always pops up when needed, be it to be assured that his club is running just fine with entertained patrons or as the last person he can talk to once everybody has left, the club has closed and he must worry about how to keep his world together just for the next evening.

Meanwhile, Crystal runs a gamut of emotions in keeping Chaz hers.

She is mature, defeated, child-like, protective, forceful and “straightened out”, enforcing love and gratitude by being the only constant positive in Chaz’s life so much so that we are taken in with each mounting hurt that Crystal incurs, finally culminating in her realizing that she has to be “nice” to herself by herself.

In the end, it might be worrisome to most how total (but not blind) Crystal’s devotion is to her man that she deservedly gets what she gets almost inevitably but it is in this totality where Bijou Phillips gets to express a vulnerable and mature yet charmingly vivid portrayal of a woman we all wish we could have on our side (as long as we take care of her) at the darkest of times.

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