‘Oppenheimer’: Should Emily Blunt Get an Oscar Nod for Her Wife Role?


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May 23, 2024

‘Oppenheimer’: Should Emily Blunt Get an Oscar Nod for Her Wife Role?

PHONE ACTING Blunt’s role plays like the Greatest Hits of clichéd, oft-mocked scenes given to the wife in a serious movie. Yet her acting is SO GOOD. We don’t know how to feel about it! Senior Editor,


Blunt’s role plays like the Greatest Hits of clichéd, oft-mocked scenes given to the wife in a serious movie. Yet her acting is SO GOOD. We don’t know how to feel about it!

Senior Editor, Obsessed

This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by editor Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.

It is a story that is foundational to every religious belief that I hold sacred and true, that guides how I live and lead every day. A prophet named Moses (Paltrow-Martin) ascended (the steps of) Mount Sinai (Hospital in New York), where God (Oprah Winfrey) presented him with a tablet (iPad mini) bearing the Ten Commandments.

The list of principles are unimpeachable: Thou shalt have no other God before me, unless she is Beyoncé. Thou shalt not turn into a meeting that which could have been an email. Honor thy Daddy (Andy Cohen) and thy Mother (Nicole Kidman). And, of course, the one that is most personal to me: Thou shalt not see any movie that is over two hours long, because there ain’t no reason for that nonsense.

Well, forgive me Daddy, because I’ve been a bad boy forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I saw Christopher Nolan’s new film Oppenheimer, in spite of the fact that its runtime is three hours, thus violating a core religious belief. Adding to the heresy: I loved it.

We have several pieces at The Daily Beast’s Obsessed detailing what it is about the film that is so good—read ’em all!—but the thing that I’ve been harping on this past week (beyond, you know, the intense trauma and message of the atomic bomb sequence) is the casting.

Cillian Murphy, a tiny-waisted Irish king with cheekbones that can cut through a movie screen, is exactly who I want to spend three hours staring at in IMAX. Aside from the smattering of big names in the most prominent roles—Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Florence Pugh—I was obsessed with the endless experience of “Hey, it’s that guy, from that thing!” that the film delivered with its parade of familiar character actors in the supporting cast. Mostly, though, I’m fascinated by the casting of Emily Blunt.

Blunt plays Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer, the wife of Murphy’s so-called “father of the atomic bomb,” J. Robert Oppenheimer. Kitty is ostensibly the film’s female lead, though still very much a supporting character. In fact, she’s so much of a supporting character, she epitomizes every cliché of the long-suffering wife in an Oscar-baiting film. The underwritten female role in a male-dominated “serious” movie, that a major Hollywood actress is supposed to be satisfied with, despite its meagerness: It’s a long-standing film tradition, but one that, in recent years, has been scrutinized and mocked. (There are some hilarious TikToks skewering these kinds of roles.)

There are few substantial female characters in Oppenheimer, and their material is sorely lacking when compared to what the boys get to do in the movie. Pugh’s entire character arc as Jean Tatlock is to, essentially, flash her boobies three times and then die. (It’s history, not a spoiler.) Olivia Thirlby shows up at the Los Alamos research center and delivers a few ultimately ironic lines about wanting to do more meaningful work, despite being a woman. Inevitable complaints about the presence and portrayal of women in Nolan’s movie are undeniable.

And then there’s the complicated case of Blunt and Kitty. Kitty meets Robert while still married to someone else. They have an affair and, after she gets pregnant, she divorces her third husband to marry Robert (her fourth). From then on, she is devoted to him—whether fiercely or begrudgingly depends on how many refills she’s had of the drink that seems to be permanently glued to her hand. She tolerates the fact that he’s a philandering piece of shit who constantly cheats on her. When his integrity is called into question during a hearing on his possible ties to communism, she insists that he fight—eventually battling on his behalf.

Blunt is one of the most impressive actresses working today, especially when playing emotionally complicated parts that require a nimble juggling of wounded vulnerability and decisive, unflinching power. That she manages both in Oppenheimer is something of a miracle. She makes a meal out of a role that’s a cinematic version of a Fyre Festival snackbox.

Were you hoping for any insight into why Kitty is so devoted to and supportive of Robert? The film’s borderline astonishing adherence to every single stereotype of the aforementioned dutiful wife character means that you don’t get it. Instead, you’re treated to a gauntlet of clichés that Blunt must act her way through. It’s the Greatest Hits, really: There’s a scene where she must silently react while listening to a phone call. There’s a scene where she drunkenly throws a glass at a wall. There’s even a scene where she silently gazes into the distance while bedsheets on a clothing line billow around her, the pinnacle of all potential Wife-in-an-Oscar-Movie scenes. My favorite critique of the role is that Kitty’s “a sentient martini glass.”

But then Blunt and Kitty break out of that mold. There’s a rousing showcase of Blunt’s unique talent near the end of the film, in which Kitty, with a sniper-like precision, exposes the farce of her husband’s—and now her—interrogation. It’s the moment you’ve been waiting the whole film for anyone to do, and it’s especially gratifying that it’s Kitty who does it—and Blunt who executes it so well.

It’s the kind of scene that gets an actress an Oscar nomination, and it very well could get one for Blunt. But should it? It’s almost embarrassing how exactly the role adheres to clichés and stereotypes, to the point that I wondered if we were all being trolled. Blunt, however, manages to be mesmerizing in spite of the material—in her big scene, yes, but also, quite surprisingly, in those eye roll-inducing ones too. It’s an interesting place to come from when endorsing an actor for awards recognition: I can’t believe how ridiculous this role is, but she’s so good that I want her to be nominated anyway.

I’d argue that this could—and maybe should—be Blunt’s fifth nod. Hindsight is 20/20, and we can clearly see now how outrageous it is that she wasn’t nominated for The Devil Wears Prada. At least twice, she’s come close to being nominated after a long awards season—for Young Victoria and Mary Poppins Returns—and I think we really undersell how brilliant her SAG Award-winning work was in A Quiet Place.

Sometimes you’re one cube of cheese a day and a stomach flu away from your goal weight. Sometimes you’re one almond a day away from the greatest role of your career. And sometimes you’re one clichéd, long-suffering wife from the deserved Oscar nod that’s eluded you for decades.

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Senior Editor, Obsessed

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