Best Actress of the Decade, Entry No. 6: Brie Larson

To celebrate the last decade 2010-2019, we are counting down the best actresses and discussing some of their most notable and memorable performances of the decade. With the help of Film Twitter, the ITOL team has selected 30 actresses. Writer Tom Moore looks at Brie Larson’s best performances from the last decade.

By Tom Moore

Toxic fandoms can easily be one of the most unnecessarily cruel forces on social media and there’s no one I’ve seen be a stronger target for them than Brie Larson. From the flood of negative reviews that tanked the Rotten Tomatoes audience score for “Captain Marvel” before it was released, which caused them to change the entire process for audience reviews, to misconstrued quotes about her views on film criticism, Larson has become toxic fandom’s new favourite play-thing. Even seeing stories circulating lately about petitions being formed to replace Larson as the powerful Marvel heroine is truly fandom gone rotten – and it really sucks to see this because she’s one of my favourite actresses.

There’s no doubt that this backlash stems from a long-running misogyny that’s been latent in comic book fandom for quite some time that found a prime target in Larson for being outspoken about her desires for inclusion and diversity and joining one of the biggest film franchises in history. Honestly, it’s really unfortunate that this has had to be a big part of Larson’s career recently, but it’s easy to forget at times because she’s proved time and time again that she’s one of the best actresses working today.

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Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)

When thinking about where most people would point to big moments in Larson’s career, the two easiest places to point are her Oscar-winning performance in Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” and her debut in the MCU as Captain Marvel. “Room” was really what made everyone recognize Larson on a grand scale and her performance as a woman held captive in an enclosed room for seven years with her son. Throughout the film, Larson masterfully displays a balancing act of making sure everything is okay for her son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), while also trying to escape their captor.

Everything about her performance feels real and you find yourself connecting to the genuinely human struggles she displays – especially after she escape and returns home. The entire sequence of Larson experiencing everything that she’s missed out on and that happened because of her kidnapping is still heartbreaking and it’s mainly because she sells it so well. It’s easily still one of Larson’s best performances and her Oscar win is totally deserved.

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Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in Room (2015)

“Room” was really what made everyone recognize Larson on a grand scale and her performance as a woman held captive in an enclosed room for seven years with her son.

As for her big debut in the MCU, even though I was left pretty mixed by “Captain Marvel”, as a whole, Larson is still easily the best part of the movie. She brings a tough confidence that makes her fearless against any foe, a vulnerability in finding and figuring out her past, and the strength to overcome her internal obstacles, both past and present – all of the ingredients to become the iconic Marvel heroine. Personally, there are just some choices made, especially with the Skrull, that just didn’t gel with me and I thought the script lacked ambition.

However, Larson sold me that she’s definitely in the right place and, honestly, I couldn’t think of anybody that could bring Captain Marvel to life like she did. Now that a sequel is confirmed to be in development, I think a sequel with a fresh vision behind the camera could bring the ambition that I was looking for and give Larson more opportunity to bring out a bigger personality for the titular hero. However, just saying that “Room” and “Captain Marvel” are the only things that have made Larson’s career so strong wouldn’t be fair and you’d be ignoring some of her best work.

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Brie Larson in Free Fire (2016)

Before “Room”, Larson had a slew of supporting roles that might actually surprise you. Honestly, my mind was blown that Larson was a part of some big-name films like Edgar Wright’s adaptation of “Scott Pilgrim vs The World”. In the film, Larson plays Envy Adams, Scott’s (Michael Cera) callous, aggressive, and seductive ex-girlfriend, displaying her quick comedic talents and her killer singing skills. Larson also played another not so evil ex-girlfriend in “The Spectacular Now” and even was the main love interest for Jonah Hill’s Schmidt in “21 Jump Street”.

She also played the silent, but carefully observing sister Joseph Gordon Levitt’s titular character in “Don Jon”. Even after her Oscar win, Larson was a part of one of my favourite A24 films with Ben Wheatley’s “Free Fire” and she makes quite the impression being the only woman on-screen. In the film, she showcases the kind of toughness, charm, and strengths that initially made me think that Larson was perfectly suited to play Captain Marvel as she attempted to survive the longest shootout ever. Now, don’t get me wrong, no one’s perfect and as much of a Larson fan that I am, I can’t forget that Larson also played a supporting role in the incredibly dumb and disappointing “Kong: Skull Island” as a forgettable female lead. However, moments like Skull Island are easily overshadowed by the other incredible other performances she’s put out – especially when she’s with writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton.

It would be sheer negligence to me to delve into Larson’s best without looking at her work with Cretton as their careers have been heavily intertwined. I was actually first introduced to both of them with Cretton’s 2013 sophomore feature “Short Term 12”, where Larson plays a young supervisor of a group home facility for troubled teens. Together, the two bring out purely raw emotion that’s easy to connect to and understand as we see Larson’s Grace not only struggle in helping the teens are her facility, but also in dealing with her inner demons. It’s the kind of performance, and film, that everyone NEEDS to see as it puts both the genuinely human charm that Larson has and the patient direction of Cretton on full display.

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John Gallagher Jr., Brie Larson, and Rami Malek in Short Term 12 (2013)

Even for the all of Larson’s great performances, though, where I’d really like to see her again is behind the camera as a director as her directorial debut, “Unicorn Store”, is one of my favourite things she’s ever done.

The two would team up again for Cretton’s future films – “The Glass Castle” and last year’s “Just Mercy”. With “The Glass Castle”, Larson perfectly showcases her character’s, Jeannette, frustration and disappointment with her upbringing and how her father (Woody Harrelson) tries to maintain it in her adulthood. With every scene that passes, you can feel her building anger and resentment that’s just ready to boil over and eventually does in a heartbreaking heated argument.

It’s another performance that showcases why these two are absolute dynamite together as they are incredibly effective in delivering nerve-shredding and tear-jerking emotion. Even for the much smaller supporting role Larson has in “Just Mercy”, as a strong support system to legendary civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), the two prove once again that they are purely perfect when they’re together. Ironically, Cretton’s next film takes him into the MCU to bring Shang-Chi to the big screen and I think there’s a solid chance that Larson could make a fun cameo.

Even for the all of Larson’s great performances, though, where I’d really like to see her again is behind the camera as a director as her directorial debut, “Unicorn Store”, is one of my favourite things she’s ever done. As Kit, a young dreamer who struggles with letting go of her childhood dreams and moving towards adulthood, Larson delivers a performance that feels very cathartic and personal. Visually the film contains both the glittery glimmer of childlike innocence and the dull background of growing up and Larson navigates through both with ease. I actually really love that it’s a story suitable for any age and a new kind of coming of age story.

Throughout the film, I could myself deeply connecting to Kit’s struggles and growth and it’s all because Larson puts herself into her performance. It’s absolutely worth a watch and has a timelessness to its story that makes it perfect for any generation. Not to mention, it’s not only on Netflix, but it has Samuel L. Jackson as a unicorn store salesman and if that doesn’t make it worth checking out, I don’t know what will.

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Brie Larson in Unicorn Store (2017)

So, while I’m keeping my fingers crossed that “Unicorn Store” won’t be the last time we’ll see Larson as a director and anxiously awaiting to see what she does next – haters are still going to hate. Petitions to see her replaced as “Captain Marvel” are still going to circulate and toxic fandoms are going to do what they do best – be garbage. However, I’m still going to keep smiling knowing that Larson is also out there doing what she does best – fighting for inclusion and kicking ass on-screen.

What’s your favourite Brie Larson performance? Let us know in the comments below!

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