Tribeca Film Festival Features Offer Darker Roles For Leading Ladies

Meadowland

Tribeca Film Festival

This year’s Tribeca Film Festival isn’t organized around a single theme, but dig deep enough (read: not even that deep!), and you’ll soon unearth a consistent ideal running through a number of the fest’s offerings: big, juicy, dramatic roles for actresses in need of these precise kind of roles. The festival is currently playing home to a number of dramatic pieces that not only center on women’s stories, but benefit from the casting of actresses eager for this exact kind of work.

In short, Tribeca isn’t afraid to get dark this year, and neither are these ladies.

Both Jessica Biel and Zosia Mamet topline Diane Bell’s intimate portrait of sisterhood, Bleeding Heart, but Biel takes on the true heavy lifting. The film casts Biel as May, a seemingly centered yoga instructor whose life is thrown into turmoil by the discovery of her long-lost half-sister, Shiva (Mamet), who is saddled with an abusive boyfriend and a dangerous career. May struggles with the concept of peace throughout the film – again, yoga instructor – but she appears to knowingly seek out the chaos that Shiva eventually brings into her life. Mamet has the showier role here, a far cry from her work as Shoshanna on HBO’s Girls, one that requires her to navigate between sympathy and a vague sense of villainy that her Shiva can never quite shake. It’s some of her most interesting work to date.

Still, Biel holds the film’s center, and May’s slow breakdown, one that places her in a number of dangerous situations, both mentally and physically, is a fine-tuned one. Biel has been a working actress since she was a teen, but this is the first dramatic role she’s really been able to make her own. She’s due for it, especially after the Nailed mess (a role that many believed would mark her as a talent on the rise), and even though the final product is oddly uneven and occasionally cliché, Biel is compelling to watch, and she seems interested in making bold choices. Bleeding Heart is a fine showcase for both Mamet and Biel, one that hints at their abilities to go deeper and darker than is generally expected from them.

Reed Morano’s Meadowland does something similar with Olivia Wilde. Like Biel, Wilde is a recognizable face in Hollywood, but she’s long been lacking a signature role that shows off her theatrical talents. While Bleeding Heart will likely not become a calling card part for Biel (it’s really more of a stepping stone), Wilde’s turn in Meadowland deserves to be talked about for years to come. Much like Bleeding Heart, Meadowland comes complete with a stellar supporting cast – including Luke Wilson, John Leguizamo, and Ty Simpkins – but Wilde is the absolute focal point.

Morano’s directorial feature (she’s best known for her prodigious cinematography career, lensing features like Kill Your Darlings and Frozen River, along with a TV work that includes Looking) centers on the heartbreaking (nay, wrenching) fallout from the disappearance of Wilde and Wilson’s young son, which happens during the film’s opening scenes. Both Sarah (Wilde) and Phil (Wilson) work out their grief in different, increasingly distant ways, but although the film pays mostly equal attention to their pain, everything hangs on Wilde. It’s a spare, unfussy performance, and a beautiful one to boot. It’s the best work Wilde has done yet – and, yes, that includes her humdinger of a supporting turn in Her — and it’s nothing short of remarkable.

Wilde also produced the film and, as a new mother herself, clearly feels a very strong link to the material. She could scarcely ask for a better role to use to proclaim her dramatic chops, and Meadowland will likely haunt viewers for years to come, though let’s hope it also haunts a few casting directors, so that Wilde can get more meaty work like this. (The film also features small turns from other ladies, including Elisabeth Moss, whose brief appearance is deeply intriguing. If Morano wants to focus her next feature on Moss’ Shannon, I’m all for it.)

Elsewhere at the festival, Amber Heard goes for darker material in Pamela Romanowsky’s The Adderall Diaries, which sets her a strong-minded newspaper writer on the crime beat who has some dark secrets to spare, a role that allows Heard to explore dramatic territory, though it’s clearly a supporting role. Heard also pops up in a far lighter feature – Robert Edwards’ very charming When I Live My Life Over Again — and that film’s mix of comedy and drama (plus Christopher Walken!) seems to suit Heard’s sensibilities far better. Yet, much like both Biel and Wilde, Heard appears willing and able to tap into characters punctuated by deep pain and grief, the kind of stuff we need much more of at the multiplex.