This weekend the world will watch as some (but not all) of the brightest talents in Hollywood vie for cinema’s highest accolades. But will justice be served for Eddie Redmayne, OBE—not for his BAFTA-nominated turn as a trailblazing transgender woman in Oscar hopeful The Danish Girl, but for gifting filmdom with the pure unadulterated melodramatic sorcery that is his Razzie-nominated performance in Jupiter Ascending?
Recall how, months before The Danish Girl sighed its way through awards season and garnered four Academy Award nods, Redmayne mesmerized in the most underrated turn of his life. Coming off a run of relatably bland everymen in prestige flicks like My Week With Marilyn and Les Miserables, the Brit took a surprise and welcome detour: He signed on to play a villain.
Not just any villain. Redmayne was cast by sci-fi auteurs Lana and Andy Wachowski to play Balem Abrasax, a whispery-tyrannical aristocratic space capitalist just trying to take over the world in order to turn people into fancy skin product. (As you do.) With its $183 million price tag, Jupiter Ascending was one pricey blockbuster, but these were the minds behind The Matrix. What could go wrong?
The space-set oddity about a young woman who learns she’s the rightful owner of Earth was originally set to hit theaters in the summer of 2014, before Redmayne would be seen as a brilliant young Stephen Hawking in the Oscar bait drama The Theory of Everything. But when delays pushed the space opera into 2015, Jupiter Ascending landed at the perfect time to haunt not one, but two of Redmayne’s Oscar campaigns.
Critics widely panned the bombastic interplanetary opera, a truly bizarre blend of Star Wars meets Brazil meets Dune meets, uh, Maid in Manhattan. They skewered its kitchen sink plot, its daft toilet-scrubbing heroine, Channing Tatum as a half-dog alien who saves Jupiter with the help of space roller blades.
“Brimming with only bad ideas,” wrote Newsday critic Rafer Guzman. “The most expensive movie Roger Corman never made,” raved The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde.
And yet even the most crushingly negative reviews singled out Redmayne’s instantly GIF-worthy performance. It was truly a role only he, or Tilda Swinton, could play: Coldly disdainful and looking eternally pained from the effort, he conveys Abrasax’s utter contempt for everyone around him through languid bee-stung lips and seething eyes. His throaty Machiavellian hush commands those listening to listen harder. “I have not crossed the vastness of space for your pleasantries,” he murmurs, pinching his fingers in a delicate sprawl, gilded bling shining on his pinky.
Everyone else in Jupiter Ascending appears, to some degree, to be befuddled by Jupiter Ascending. But Redmayne seizes his chance to play to the rafters. When he’s not perched exquisitely in sequins and bejeweled high-necked robes with no shirts underneath, exposing impeccably chiseled abs, Redmayne is a study in controlled chaos. It’s ironic that before and after Jupiter Ascending he played individuals searching for their own humanity while trapped inside oppressive, fleshy prisons; here he wrenches himself wide open and lets loose like never before, achieving the most vibrantly alive performance of his career.
His work is so perfectly and exquisitely campy, one writer aptly described him as a cross between Golden Age qween Joan Crawford and Voldemort from Harry Potter. And it is worth celebrating precisely because of what he does here that other actors in Jupiter Ascending, and in most movies for that matter, do not: He takes one helluva risk.
Five minutes into the Wachowskis’ gloriously over-the-top sci-fi fantasy, Redmayne commences the screen performance of the year. His brown hair impeccably slicked back, he materializes out of the digital ether in the first of many space-goth ensembles to stroll along the banks of a utopian river alongside his beauty-obsessed sister Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and playboy brother Titus (Douglas Booth).
The three grown douchebag children of the intergalactic House of Abrasax are holo-Skyping in to discuss the family people-farming business. They exchange venomous passive-aggressive barbs. “You look so well,” Balem smizes at Titus, taking controlled and calculated steps, his every movement suggesting the deceptive detachment of a cobra. “Could it be that failure… agrees with you?”
It takes half the movie to get to the crown jewels of Redmayne’s performance: his epically overblown line deliveries. “I CREATE LIIIIIIFE,” he bellows, lowering his voice to a whisper mid-exposition, where lesser actors wouldn’t have dared, “… and I destroy it.”
Redmayne’s dramatic pauses—inserted before, during, over, around, and after sentences of Abrasax dialogue—account for some solid percentage of Jupiter Ascending’s 127-minute runtime. As the film space-skates on, he becomes more and more deliciously unhinged. By the time he faces off with Mila Kunis, the impeccably coiffed Abrasax’s hair has been shaken out of place. Sweat glistens on his formerly flawless skin, and his entire body quakes with fury.
He opens the floodgates. “Is this familiar, Mother?” he mutters, chasing Kunis around with a lead pipe as the world comes down around them. “You said you hated your life, and you begged me to do it. YOU BEGGED ME TO DO IT!” The spittle flies. Sweat and blood comingle on Abrasax’s once-dewy skin as Redmayne achieves what Chris Rosen dubbed the “full Oldman.”
Swathed in his ornately bedazzled cowls, his kimono sleeves, and black pleather sheen and traipsing the line between entrancing and ludicrous, Redmayne’s Abrasax is an oddity within an oddity, but he’s also the only part of Jupiter Ascending that feels remotely alive. At least he’s making a balls-to-the-wall run for transcendence. His performance is a reminder that one cannot grasp greatness if one does not take the greatest of leaps.
And what a leap it was. If there’s any justice in Tinseltown, Redmayne will be rewarded for taking the biggest acting risk of 2015—the biggest of his career. Sure, Leo devoured a raw fish in the freezing cold and tangled with a CG bear. Yawn. Could Leo devour every bare inch of scenery in the galaxy while running a people factory in space and whisper-SHOUTING every other line? I am sure that he would never (although perhaps he has come close).
When Jupiter Ascending hit theaters last year amidst Redmayne’s 2015 Best Actor campaign, pundits wondered: Was this his Norbit, destined to curse his chances at winning an Academy Award? Nope. Redmayne not only won the SAG award, he then took home his first Oscar as Jupiter Ascending bombed its way into the box office history books.
This year, Redmayne has the dubious honor of being nominated again for Best Actor, for The Danish Girl, while also being nominated for a Razzie for Jupiter Ascending. I say give him the Oscar for Best Did Not Give A Fuck Performance of the Year. At least it was a break from the same old boring Oscar bait roles, a huge achievement in itself.
Besides, Redmayne’s not the only 2016 Oscar nominee also vying for 2016 Razzie (dis)honors. Rooney Mara, Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her finely understated turn as a 1950s shop girl in Carol, is also up for Worst Supporting Actress for her performance as Native American princess Tiger Lily in the widely panned Pan. Screenwriter Simon Kinberg, one of four producers on Best Picture hopeful The Martian, earned a Razzie nod for writing Fox’s chopped and screwed reboot dud Fantastic Four.
Redmayne’s got some stiff competition for Worst Supporting Actor, competing against the likes of Kevin James (Pixels), Chevy Chase (Hot Tub Time Machine 2 and Vacation), Josh Gad (Pixels and The Wedding Ringer), and Jason Lee (Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip). But if he does win a Razzie to place on his mantel next to last year’s Academy Award, he’ll be joining pretty good company in the annals of dual Oscar-Razzie winners. Six actors before him have achieved that milestone, including Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball/Catwoman), Roberto Begnini (Life is Beautiful/Pinocchio), and three-time Razzie champ Kevin Costner (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Postman, Wyatt Earp), who has a Best Director Oscar for Dances With Wolves. Hell, even Sir Laurence Olivier scored a Razzie for The Jazz Singer.
Sandra Bullock accepted her Razzie in person like a goddamn boss, gifting everyone in the audience at the 2010 awards with their own personal copy of All About Steve. And you know what? Those karma points paid off; she won her Oscar for The Blind Side the very next day.