Despite its levity, Hugh Grant’s role in “Paddington 2” is an Oscar-worthy role
The Santa Clara
February 21, 2019
As far as film awards go, the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor is a bit of an odd duckling. Along with its Supporting Actress counterpart, this contentious category often feels like a dumping ground for roles the Academy simply doesn’t know how to handle.
Sometimes the nominations go to essentially lead roles deemed just not competitive enough for the top acting prize. Other times they feel like mere participation trophies. Only rarely do clear and memorable supporting performances emerge from the pack but this typical lack of clarity is part of what makes this category so exciting to watch.
This year, the actor most deserving of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar most certainly will not win—in fact, he wasn’t even nominated.
Nevertheless, Hugh Grant deserves the award for his playful turn in last year’s utterly lovable “Paddington 2.”
Taking over the villain role from Nicole Kidman, who delivered a sharp and campy performance in the first “Paddington” film, Grant steals the show as the delightfully named Phoenix Buchanan, a washed-up actor who interferes in the unassuming life of the titular bear while hunting for hidden treasure.
Besides adhering to the mold of a true supporting role (Grant’s scenes are unfortunately few and far between), the scrumptious Buchanan character allows Grant to make the most of his limited screen time—a phenomenon that should be a prerequisite for any supporting actor nomination.
Early scenes in his palatial English townhome provide Grant the perfect environment to explore his character, as he desperately attempts to entertain houseguests with unwanted career highlights or narcissitically applies makeup in a private room surrounded by the costumes of bygone roles (lovingly crafted by expert costumer Lindy Hemming).
Unlike performances constricted by the shallow focus cinematography—like frontrunner Mahershala Ali’s in “Green Book”—the deep focus of “Paddington 2” grants Grant the opportunity to move freely and expressively. As a result, his character’s nervous, defensive ticks feel memorable and natural—the sign of a finely-tuned actor.
Grant’s madcap performance also recalls the physicality of Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” a film showered with Academy-Award nominations (and wins). Echoing Ralph Fiennes’ work as the coiffured hotel concierge M. Gustave in pursuit of a rare painting, Grant brings a similar silent-filmera energy to his kinetic quest for clues to a hidden treasure—especially during a humorous bike chase.
In one scene set at a religious ceremony (with striking resemblances to a church-set scene in the Anderson hit), Grant disguises himself as a nun and without words, communicates his character’s introversion using only some paranoid eye movements, a mirthless chuckle and a signature, disarming smile.
This whimsical physicality feels increasingly foreign in today’s static, TV-style acting, where actors simply stand in place and recite lines rather than move about and express themselves through the motion movies capture so beautifully. Grant’s restlessness as he sets about his caper breaks this current mold, eliciting wry snickers from audiences by reminding them of the pleasures of movement and nonverbal acting.
While not quite on-par with his career-best work as a self-absorbed bachelor in “About a Boy,” Grant’s delightfully droll work as Buchanan undoubtedly marks a career-high and the culmination of the personality Grant has carefully crafted as a distinguished veteran of the romcom circuit.
The narcissistic and disarmingly charming characteristics of his previous roles coalesce in Buchanan, who—like Grant—has seen better days. With these shades of self-criticism, Grant also wields the experience gleaned from his steady career with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, fluttering about the frame to the delight of audiences young and old.
Standing out amongst more serious-minded Oscar contenders and even the disinterested characters of his past, Grant simply seeks to entertain in “Paddington 2.” And to top it all off, he leads an end-credits musical number with more panache than any scene in Oscar darling “La La Land.” If only we rewarded him for it.
Contact Brandon Schultz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.