Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A. 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comEver since I watched the movie Mildred Pierce, I’ve always had a soft spot for fledgling femme fatales. Even though they’re on their way to being conniving, hard as nails and utterly ruthless adults, there is something adorable and vulnerable about them at this age, like a panther cub with clumsy, too big paws. Veda Pierce, as scheming, spoiled, grasping, and murderous as she may be, is just such a great damn character, so much more interesting than her long suffering martyr of a mother.

Rhonda Vollmer from Big Love looks and dresses like a heroine from one of those syrupy Janette Oke movies on the Hallmark channel, but within her beats the heart of Veda Pierce (with a little Bad Seed Rhoda thrown in. Rhonda is a sheltered teenager on fundamentalist polygamist compound, but she knows there’s a bigger world out there, one she desperately wants to be part of. Her fine pored beauty and exquisite singing voice have attracted the attention of the compound’s creepy patriarch and self proclaimed prophet, Roman. Even though he’s well into his 70s and she is no more than fifteen, he has chosen her to be his next 40th or so wife. It’s hard to pity the child bride too much - although she is repulsed by his reptilian advances, she clearly enjoys the power that being the patriarch’s favorite confers. She exploits it to get what she wants and, smug in her untouchability, delights in tormenting Roman’s malevolent son. It’s wonderful to see Roman’s son, a truly evil monster, so unnerved by a mere child.

She is be scheming and manipulative and steals what she wants, whether it’s a friend’s iPod or Hardrock Café jacket. After she escapes the compound, she soon snows some women involved in an organization for refugees of polygamist and becomes their poster child, using the organization to launch her singing career. Her peers, the daughter and friend of one of the women, see right through her, but Rhonda blackmails one of them into silence by threatening to expose her lesbian crush on her best friend. Whether the girl really does have lesbian feelings or not is unclear, but Rhonda is intuitive enough to know this accusation will destroy her. Sometimes she is less subtle. Like a nasty little brat, she runs up and kicks the shins of an officious judge who does not award her first place in a singing contest. (But who hasn’t wanted to do that before? While the judge was doubled over in pain, I hate to admit I was doubled over in laughter). But there is something touching and heartbreakingly vulnerable about her as well. She demonstrates how laughably naïve about the world outside the compound when she tries to impress some girls her own age from the suburbs by showing off her $25.00 in food stamps. But the desperate way her face falls when she is being forced back to the repressive compound and Roman’s brittle old arms is heartbreaking. Such is the complexity of her character that you can empathize and understand why she is the way she is. I just have to admire (from a safe distance) a survivor who gets what she wants.

Enjoy Rhonda's lovely rendition of Donna Fargo's Luckiest Girl in the World on Youtube.

oh man--
i love mildred pierce!
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