I watched part of “Recount” yesterday but couldn’t stand to watch the whole thing.  I won’t go into all the reasons I didn’t like it, but I do want to get on one: the portrayal of Katherine Harris.

To me, Katherine Harris is a really interesting figure.  She’s motivated by deeply held religious beliefs, but she’s also clearly a little tyrannical, and a little in over her head, but with some core of shrewdness.

It’s a type of women you come to know well living in the South, the “I’m not a feminist but…” chicks who aren’t feminists, but they want to be in charge, based not on some belief in their own value as human beings, but based on their core belief in their own exceptionalism as women, granted by God.  They are not like those other women, thank you Jesus.

I’m not sure that I could have done a better job writing Katherine Harris for Recount, but I watched it thinking that they got her all wrong.  They had all of the ingredients right, but somehow all in the wrong proportions.  She came off looking like an easily manipulatable fanatic.  And not that that’s not true, kind of, but it’s not right.

And it’s too bad, I think.  Because she does seem to me to be a really rich person to base a character off of, so particular to a certain place at a certain time, that I was sorry to see them so miss in their characterization of her.  And this is not to say that Laura Dern was bad in it. 

In fact, I thought she did an extraordinary job with what she was given.  I saw repeated hints that Dern got what Harris was about–the precise, almost hypnotized way she put on her make-up, the way she delivered her Queen Esther speech–but I still think the writers didn’t get Harris.

15 thoughts on “Recount

  1. I haven’t watched it yet…but what do you base this on? I mean, I assume the writers painstakingly researched the major players, so what don’t they know that you do know?

  2. I’m not sure it was the script’s fault, completely. I love Laura Dern, but I thought she was condescending to the character a little bit. As if she was saying: “Look at how this woman is unaware of her own motivations — look at how she isn’t transparent to herself” instead of just playing the character as someone who isn’t transparent to herself. Then contrast that with Bob Balaban, who was also playing a character who was fairly lost in self-deceit, but didn’t condescend to him or do the “looky, looky” thing.

  3. I love Laura Dern, but I thought she was condescending to the character a little bit.

    That happens often in Laura Dern’s performances if she doesn’t like the person she’s playing. She can’t disguise it.

    She gave an interview in this week’s EW where she talked a bit about the part and the makeup job which transformed her into a facsimilie of Harris. Her antipathy for Harris–and her basic assumption that the woman is a joke–was pretty obvious throughout the interview.

    It’s fine not to like someone, but if you’re going to portray them as an actor you need to set aside your personal views and try to literally walk in their shoes. If you do it right and do it well you not only convince the world of your peerless acting skills but you also come to a degree of understanding of the other person.

    Anthony Hopkins’ Nixon is a good example of how it’s done. Helen Mirren’s Queen Elizabeth II is an excellent example.

  4. And therefore she should know better. I mean, I’m on her side in this matter, but I was struck by a certain not-rightness about the performance.

  5. Yeah, see, I think viewing Harris as a joke as a person is fine. I do think she’s kind of a joke. But… as a character, I’d think she’d be fascinating to play, with lots of layers.

  6. Wow. Laura Dern has displayed such range in the past.

    Between her cartoonish portrayal of a nympho in Wild at Heart and her cartoonish portrayal of Citizen Ruth, I just couldn’t believe she didn’t play Katherine Harris as a three dimensional person.

  7. Any club that has as a requirement for membership the belief that:
    a) Laura Dern is somehow the feminine ideal
    b) Laura Dern is an exceptional talent

    is a man club in name only. A better description would be Lonely Guys Who Beat Off to Ramblin Rose Club.

    You can go ahead put me on the Do Not Call list for that one.

  8. “A better description would be Lonely Guys Who Beat Off to Ramblin Rose Club.”

    There aren’t dues, are there?

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