Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Forever Olympia

I’ve watched “Moonstruck” no fewer than half a dozen times through this pandemic. And each time, each time, it’s perfect. One of the greatest romantic comedies of all time — and indeed one of the great American movies of all time — it owes no small part of its greatness to Olympia Dukakis’s world-weary wryness as the matriarch of the Castorini clan. Almost everything she says in that film is quotable and, again, delivered perfectly. The way she says, “What you don't know about women is a lot,” well, you felt that one in your bones.

But then, Olympia did that with every movie she touched. “Steel Magnolias” was my sister’s favorite movie growing up and it’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve probably walked past a screen playing it about 100 times. Sometimes, randomly, I’ll just say “Take a whack at Ouiser!” out of the blue when the mood strikes. Everything Olympia did was that memorable.

And, lest we forget, she’s been a friend and ally to the LGBTQ community since before it was cool to be a friend an ally to the LGBTQ community. She took on the role of eccentric San Francisco landlord and transgender matriach of her chosen queer family Anna Madrigal in “Tales from the City” starting in 1993 and through all of its various further incarnations over the decades including the 2019 revival for Netflix. And she starred as half a longtime lesbian couple in “Cloudburst” with Brenda Fricker. (In fact, you can watch it now, for free, on Tubi.)

She’s also a reminder that success can strike at any age. Hers came after making her so-called “breakthrough” at age 56 in “Moonstruck.” If in the end all we leave is the work, kindness and wisdom we can impart on those still on this crazy blue marble, then Olympia will be with us forever. I know I’ll watch her performances for the rest of my life, and enjoy them as if anew each time. Rest in Peace, legend.

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