Hollywood casts a bigger spotlight on young actors on account of their tender age. One never expects much of a child if for no better reason than because of their lack of experience and fundamental knowledge of the craft. When kids do nail their parts though, they momentarily become a sensation. And still, some truly mind-blowing portrayals out there seem to be taken for granted. Here are four transcendent performances by child actresses which were clearly robbed off their Oscar nominations.
1. Elle Fanning as Phoebe, Phoebe in Wonderland (2008)
Although the film itself is a bouquet of excellent performances, it’s the 9-year-old Elle Fanning’s brazen, electrifying acting that serves as a ribbon tying the flowers together. Portraying a creative girl who suffers from a neurological disorder, Elle has enough courage to appear vulnerable, damaged and borderline insane on screen. The interpretation comes across as daringly intimate. Fanning masterfully displays the inner turmoil of an artist as we see her struggle with fitting in, loving herself and accepting her uniqueness. All her actions look exceptionally organic and thus, suggest that the young actress may have experienced the same conflict in real life.
“I was blown away by that performance. Blown away. She should have been nominated for an Oscar. Elle Fanning is just so amazing,” Jodie Foster remarked after seeing the film.
It’s not surprising. Elle demonstrates two highly professional acting techniques over the course of the film: she plays with her eyes alone, and she carefully listens to her partner in a scene. Each look of hers is disturbingly meaningful. That’s precisely what helps the actress build an authentic emotional connection with the audience and win its trust.
All in all, Elle Fanning’s vigorously fearless portrayal in Phoebe in Wonderland is what fuels the whole film. And the least it deserves is a standing ovation.
2. Emma Bolger as Ariel, In America (2002)
Most viewers highly rate Sarah Bolger’s work in this film while turning a blind eye to her little sister’s phenomenal acting, especially given the fact that the kid was only 5 when the film was shot.
The most powerful ingredient of Emma Bolger’s performance here is undeniably her naturalness. As you watch Ariel pepper her parents with questions with a child’s innate curiosity, you forget you’re seeing a feature film. Emma’s laughter and splashes of excitement look so genuine and uninhibited, they give you an impression you’re watching a real-life home video.
In Emma’s acting it’s her short-lived emotional responses such as joy, fear or thoughtfulness that truly demonstrate the full range of her talent. More than that, she makes these otherwise difficult to perform reactions appear completely effortless. That alone should’ve been enough to earn her an Oscar nomination.
In America is a film on the nature of grief, coping and healing. Emma Bolger has the ability to transmit heartache and trauma-related restlessness to an audience like a professional adult actress. Take the scene where she sits at a café with her family after watching Spielberg’s E.T. The touching film makes Ariel conscious of her own pent-up feelings, and she reveals the pain she’s been storing up. It astonishes her parents who never realized their smallest child isn’t actually oblivious to the hardships their family had endured. Bolger perfectly passes on the director’s message: ‘Pay closer attention to your children’s emotional state. Even though they’re young, they feel everything just like you do.’
3. Dakota Fanning as Ray, Uptown Girls (2003)
Since melting our hearts in I am Sam (2001), this little genius has been celebrated year after year by critics and audiences alike. That being said, Dakota’s work in Uptown Girls is merely regarded as another gem in her repertoire of splendid performances. What people fail to notice though, is that it’s not just another jewel but a large first class diamond. And it sparkles undeniably brighter than all the other stones combined.
Dominant screen presence is one of the primary hallmarks of a great actor. Dakota’s screen presence in Uptown Girls is not only palpable but as massive and commanding as that of an accomplished grown-up actor.
Playing Ray, a bossy, controlling 9-year-old going on 29, Dakota manages to communicate a myriad of emotions with an entirely blank face as she teaches her immature au-pair Molly to act her age. She treats Molly harshly, at times even cruelly only to show us in the final scenes that it was pain and fear which drove her all along.
Fanning’s reserved behavior with occasional weighty, bottomless stares are a great build-up to the reveal of her character’s true nature at the end. As Ray’s façade of cynicism, bitchiness and indifference breaks down, we realize the girl had used it to protect her soft and lonely heart from getting hurt. Ray couldn’t get love from anyone. So in order to cope she convinced herself she didn’t need it.
Showing us a well-executed character arc, Dakota Fanning fulfills, by far, one of the most challenging tasks an actor can take on. She crafts a character with a riot going on inside them but who appears utterly coldblooded and aloof to the outer world.
4. Victoire Thivisol as Ponette, Ponette (1996)
Thivisol’s part in Ponette won her The Volpi Cup at the 1996 Venice Film Festival. Yet no awards seem to be enough to give her the amount of recognition she deserves. The girl delivered this magnetic performance probably before she could even read the script. At the time of filming, Victoire Thivisol was only 4.
“In the matter of child acting this is the most extraordinary picture I know,” Stanley Kauffmann notes. Surely, few will disagree with him.
What often puts child actors at a disadvantage is the fact that they look comfortable and undisturbed on screen when we’re supposed to believe they’re hurting. Victoire Thivisol, who stars as a girl coping with her mother’s recent death, looks racked with pain in nearly every scene she’s in. The actress gives all of herself to the part, acting beyond convincing as she deftly makes us suffer along with her.
Victoire is an exquisite example of how the magnitude of talent doesn’t necessarily have to correspond with age. She is a child and a grand actress at the same time. There is no trace of longing to show off her acting skills or be the center of attention. No energy of shyness, excitement or fear in front of the camera. Her relationship with the camera is earnest, candid. And the all-consuming commitment she makes to her job is just bound to take the audience’s breath away.
Victoire Thivisol emotionally exposes herself to us so much that at a certain point it becomes uncomfortable to watch. You are ashamed to be observing from the shadows how this little darling bleeds on screen specifically for you. It feels like invading her privacy.
The innocence and honesty she exudes make her unprecedented acting even more powerful. It strikes deep. That’s how true art is, isn’t it? Manipulative, poignant, overwhelming. It tortures you, but you don’t really mind.
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