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Finally, more people are recognizing the greatness of Melanie Lynskey

Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey in 'Heavenly Creatures'
Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey in 'Heavenly Creatures'

Melanie Lynskey is having a moment. Now, hopefully this turns out to be a lot more than just a moment, and she finally ends up getting her due after turning out fantastic work for decades. But a lot of that work has been in supporting roles or little-seen movies and TV shows, and so now, with the rousing success of Hulu’s series Yellowjackets, more people are finally coming around to recognizing the greatness of the New Zealand-born actor.

Careers go all sorts of ways for all sorts of reasons, but given where Lynskey started, it seems like she should have rocketed to stardom much earlier. Her knockout debut came when she was 16 years old in Peter Jackson’s 1994 movie Heavenly Creatures, about a sensational 1950s New Zealand murder case in which two teenage girls beat one of their mothers to death with a brick. Jackson, of course, would go on to make the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Lynskey’s costar in the movie, who was also making her debut, was an actor named Kate Winslet.

The thing is, Melanie Lynskey is every bit as good as Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures, and I’m not sure that Lynskey, Winslet, or Jackson has ever been involved in a better movie. The case at the center of the movie is well known in New Zealand, but the girls who committed the murder had generally been viewed as either purely evil or seriously mentally ill. Fran Walsh, who wrote the movie with Jackson and would go on to her own massive success, was more interested in the girls as people, and so this film sets out to realize the rich fantasies, passions, and worldview of the children, and how those might play into the other circumstances that would lead them to such a brutal act. And Heavenly Creatures is wildly creative, with Jackson at his most dynamic as a director, visualizing this imagined world the girls formed around them. It’s an extraordinary piece of work, and right there at the center of it is Melanie Lynskey.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.