Claire Danes and Julia Ormond give masterful performances in Temple Grandin. If Temple Grandin had been released in movie theaters, both would be a shoe in for Oscar nods but they will have to settle for Emmy accolades instead. It is wonderful when a character is created in front of the viewer from the ground floor up the way they are in this film. Like Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby, Clair Danes pulls out all the stops and throws herself into her character, digs deep while diving head first into autism. As her stout mother, Eustacia Grandin (Julia Ormond) is unrelenting in her determination to make her child everything she can be. Continually battered by the outside world and assumptions about autism and its possible causes, she has only herself to rely on. Her husband, though mentioned, is never seen on screen nor our Temple Grandin (Clair Danes)’s siblings. The struggle is at all times levied on Temple and her mother’s shoulders, even though others look out for Temple’s well-being during her struggles as well.
The sped up speech, the forced courtesy, her fear, frustrations about being around other people, are pieces of the young Temple Grandin that make her unique and sympathetic, not only is her affliction harsh but its social ramifications almost force her to be an introvert. It’s her mother that forces her to get out and interact with people. Though she has no idea at the time (its pure maternal instinct), this is the first step to Temple becoming a fully functioning human being and a possible member of society. Temple knows she is different but is never treated as such by her mother or her mentor, Professor Carlock (David Strathairn).
Julia Ormond emotes authentic emotion – as Christopher Walken was able to conjure in The Deer Hunter – acting with her facial reactions. This is a very similar feat achieved by Catherine Hepburn in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner during the pivotal scene when her husband is talking about love and she is in the background. In a similarly emotional scene in Temple Grandin, Temple denotes observations her mother did not know she had made, causing an onslaught of gratification (emotions playing across her face) she never looked for and assuredly never thought would occur. She is continually caught off guard by the instances of Temple’s gradual evolution and so is the viewer, as Temple makes more strides forward than others would have in her place. Her mother’s reactions are real and the viewer has an emotional reaction because of them, nowhere near as profound as the ones drudged up by Million Dollar Baby but they are there.
Claire Danes redefines how people will view her acting ability in Temple Grandin as Philip Seymour Hoffman did in Capote and Johnny Depp did in The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Danes’ performance is not quite as magnetic as Johnny Depp’s performance but his character was flamboyant and brought to life as such.
Many of the highlights of Temple Grandin are when Danes and Ormond are on screen together. One causes a reaction in the other for the amelioration of the scenes they co-habitat. They emotionally work off of each other and make each other perform at a higher level because of it.
Mick Jackson’s Temple Grandin is an inspirational film that delivers on all emotional and thespian fronts while giving an inside look at a disease the effects people all over the world.