I’ve always had a thing for Frances McDormand. It started for me when she played the heroine in the movie Fargo. That film came out in 1996 and my friend Tom, twin brother Brent, and I could hardly wait. We’d be studying the film, looking out for fond landmarks from our youth.
By the time we walked out of the movie theater, I felt almost sick to my stomach. It had hardly resembled anything about Fargo. Of course, if you’re a fan of the movie, you know that it mostly takes place in Minnesota but all of the characters have the midwestern accent. The movie has a lot more in it than bleak, snowy roads and nearly empty coffee shops with bad lighting. There’s kidnapping, bloody bungling with bad guys doing bad things, wood chipper “events” and tenacious police work accomplished by the sturdy and pregnant Marge Gunderson played by Frances McDormand.
As we hit the parking lot and headed to our cars, I knew I had to call my parents right away. “Mom,” I said. “I just saw the movie Fargo!”
“Oh, wha-cha think?” she said. I could imagine Mom holding the blond-colored phone while sitting at the breakfast counter with the avocado green kitchen carpeting and Harvest Gold appliances in our West Fargo house.
“Well, there was a lot of blood! I don’t think you’d like it. But the accents were pretty good, especially the woman who played the kidnapped wife,” I told her.
“Oh Babe,” Mom said. “Don’t ‘cha know her? That’s Kristin Rudrud. She’s from Fargo. She did a lot of work in the community theater here. She’s friends with the Coen brothers. She was married to one of the Anderson brothers. Remember Paul from your grade? Well, not him, one of the others.” Then she told me what they’d done for the opening of the movie at the Fargo Theater. They had a wood chipper in front of the theater and it was chipping red ice to make it look like blood. And Fargo has never been the same since!
Last winter I flew home in January to celebrate Dad’s 88th birthday. I landed in Fargo and drove to my folks’ Minnesota lake home through a blizzard. Everything was white and roads were icy and treacherous. It was very Fargo-like!
When I got back from that trip I was hanging out with two girlfriends, giving them all the gruesome weather stories. It never got above zero the whole time I was there. The freeways were closed and we mostly stayed in the house the whole time. Then Joan brought up Frances McDormand. “She’s my favorite actress! Isn’t she great?” And we sang her praises for her body of work but especially for her role in Fargo. “Oops,” I said, looking at my watch. “I have to be in Petaluma in forty-five minutes. Gotta go!”
Off I went to Petaluma for a haircut. Having just an extra five minutes or so, I dashed into Della Fattoria for some baked goods to bring home to my sweetie.
And there she was! Frances McDormand! In Della! What are the chances? We were just talking about her! And more than that, I’d just gotten home from snowy, bleak Fargo, her Fargo! As I approached the counter with all the goodies I could hardly speak. In my mind I was jumping up and down telling my friends Joan and Debra, “She’s here! She’s here, right here in Della! Our hero!!” There weren’t many people in the restaurant and I considered saying something to her but by the time I made my purchase and turned around, she was gone, which was fine. I probably wouldn’t have had the courage anyway.
On October 15th there was a great article about her in The New York Times titled “A Star Who Has No Time for Vanity.” Now I have more things to applaud her for, like her points about women and aging. In the article she responds to the fixation our society has on youth.
She says, “We are on red alert when it comes to how we are perceiving ourselves as a species. There’s no desire to be an adult. Adulthood is not a goal. It’s not seen as a gift. Something happened culturally: No one is supposed to age past 45 — sartorially, cosmetically, attitudinally. Everybody dresses like a teenager. Everybody dyes their hair. Everybody is concerned about a smooth face.”
“I’ve not mutated myself in any way,” she said. She has an alternate idea in mind. Frank Bruni, the author reports: She feels looking old should be a boast about experiences accrued and insights acquired, a triumphant signal “that you are someone who, beneath that white hair, has a card catalog of valuable information.”
Additionally, the actress learned at the start of her career not to care too much about appearances. “I was often told that I wasn’t a thing,” she said. “‘She’s not thin enough, she’s not fat enough.’ I thought, ‘O.K., someday you’re going to be looking for someone not, not, not, not, and there I’ll be.”
Two days ago the Bellas got together and we went to Della Fattoria for Sunday brunch. Della was packed. We were lucky and got seats outside on the sidewalk. The Bellas, three friends and colleagues, have been getting together once a month for well over a decade. We’re in our 50s, 60s, and 70s. We were laughing about how our conversations have changed over the years. We were talking about aches and bruises as well as the usual: admiring each other’s accessory choices. I happened to look up from Marj’s growing cluster of bangles and there was Frances McDormand, waiting in line to get into Della!
She was dressed in relaxed blue jeans, a crisp white shirt and a fabulous cotton coat that came to her knees. It was a red and green checked coat. The checks were probably six inches square so the pattern large-scaled and very playful.
Once again I couldn’t imagine interrupting her to shower her with praise, but I did consider passing her a note, which I didn’t do. If I had, maybe I’d have said, “Thanks Frances, for your artistic contributions which are phenomenal, but also for being a beacon of hope for Baby Boomers everywhere who are struggling with this aging thing. Thank you for offering an alternate view!” I’d have signed it, “An adoring fan from Fargo, Brenda.”
Enjoying the picture I took of the final sips of Sunday’s latte at Della Fattoria, I ponder this: Can we learn to love ourselves, just as we are? Can we be there for ourselves and each other with open arms and embrace the role of aging women? Let’s try.
Read the full New York Time’s interview with Frances McDormand and learn about her new HBO mini-series “Olive Kitteridge” and her views on the fixation on youth.