She's The Best Thing In It [SXSW 2015]
Other // Unrated // March 16, 2015
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted March 17, 2015
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The art of character acting is a special one that requires a massive amount of skill. However, most of Hollywood's actors become typecast, as they continue to play essentially the same character time after time. With a new generation of actors coming to the scene, it's important for older generations to pass along what they know. This means not only investing in new prospects, but the future of the art form. She's The Best Thing In It appropriately made its debut at SXSW, as Academy Award nominee Ron Nyswaner explores the future, past, and present of character acting from a unique perspective.

Tony Award winner Mary Louis Wilson returns to her hometown of New Orleans in order to teach acting to skeptical members of the digital generation. This is a documentary that captures the career of the award winner, the obstacles that women face in the industry, and the devotion required to truly become the part.

The tagline reads "She's Not Famous. She's Just Great," which perfectly captures the career of Mary Louis Wilson. She may not be an international A-lister, but she is a phenomenal actress with a skill level that goes through the roof. Wilson not seeing herself as a star feels refreshing, as the documentary paints her to be an ordinary person with an extraordinary gift in the arts. Nyswaner takes the time to explore her personal upbringing, as Wilson visits some familiar sites from her childhood. Filled with a wide variety of photographs, the audience gets a real sense of the time in which she grew up, and what it was like to be a woman with a passion for acting. As the documentary tells of the ups and downs in her career, Wilson discusses what has become of her after winning a Tony Award. She expands on numerous ideas within this topic that are absolutely fascinating.

There are plenty of documentaries out there that feature actors, but Mary Louise Wilson makes She's The Best Thing In It special. She's an intriguing subject that comes across in an incredibly personable fashion. This comes across in the more private moments had between Wilson and the camera, but we see another side of her when she accepts the teaching position. A couple of the students look up to her, while others don't even know who she is. However, not a single one of them understand what Wilson is trying to get out of them. The tension can often be felt within the classroom, as they struggle with the exercises. What may seem to be tedious routines to the student prove to be meaningful exercises that teaches them how to feel rather than act. While they initially appear uncomfortable, their performances progressively improve over the course of the picture. However, She's The Best Thing In It doesn't really bother to explore any of the young actors. They may not be the center of the documentary, but it would have added to the journey of it all. Wilson clearly developed a connection with multiple students, although it's presented in a fairly superficial way that could have been utilized further.

Director Ron Nyswaner has spliced various interviews with actresses Frances McDormand, Melissa Leo, Valerie Harper, and more in order to discuss the industry. Some of this material is absolute gold, although a lot of it feels out of place. She's The Best Thing In It doesn't necessarily organize itself according to topic, as it sporadically switches between the discussion of acting and women in the industry. The latter is a fascinating and relevant topic here, but it certainly could have been incorporated further. Fortunately, Wilson and the themes are so interesting that it makes the pacing move extremely smoothly. It's just a shame that it doesn't dig quite as deep as it could have, causing the film to feel a bit restrained. There's plenty to enjoy here, but this documentary could have used an extra twenty minutes or so in order to add a bit of extra volume to its message.

This is an absorbing experience that explores character acting from one of the masters, even though it feels as if its missing a couple pieces of the puzzle. Mary Louise Wilson is perhaps one of the most fascinating actresses that this film could have followed, yet she isn't necessarily a Hollywood star. We are in the midst of a new generation of experimental actors and filmmakers, and this is the film that bridges that gap. Wilson is passing along her knowledge to those who belong to the digital age. However, the film could have greatly benefited from adding a bit more material. She's The Best Thing In It is increasingly intriguing and uniquely informative on what it really takes to "feel" a role. Recommended.

She's The Best Thing In It will play at SXSW Film Festival 2015 on March 16th, March 17th, and March 18th.



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