“Hand me that tiny bottle of Perrier, I’m sweating,” Valerie Swinburg exclaims to her tired assistant Claire as they sit in the back of a white stretch limousine on their way to Hollywood’s biggest night. Just moments before she’d criticized the bottle for its size, inquiring outwardly to her entourage whether it had been made by woodland Keebler elves to quench the thirst of a small baby bird that had been shrunk Fantastic Voyage style.
“Who’s hosting again?” Valerie says as she snaps to Luiz who hurriedly re-applies her lipstick. Claire quickly replies with, “it’s Fallon, ma’am.”
“Oh, God. Turn this cab around.” Upon hearing this, the young limousine driver makes eye contact with Claire in the rearview mirror as she shakes her head, telling him to keep driving. “It’s a limo, ma’am,” Claire corrects as Valerie gives a “hm” of acknowledgement.
Valerie sits in a floor length sparkly golden gown with a deep V neckline, custom designed by Vera Wang. Valerie’s persistent insistence to arrive to the Academy Awards in a golden gown is rivaled only by the time she wore white to her sister’s wedding.
“Where’s my speech? Should I thank the other nominees or do we give a damn?” Claire hands her a folded piece of paper, as Valerie continues, “you know, I’m so sick of Jennifer Lawrence. I’ve been in this industry for 30 years, nominated five times, and she comes in at 16 years old and swipes up what I deserve.”
Claire hesitates correcting her on the young actress’ age, as Valerie tends to be touchy about her own age. Valerie just continues to try to fit her speech into her tiny gold purse. She pours out the contents revealing one tampon and one bag of peanut M&Ms.
“You can’t fit everything, ma’am, you’ll have to choose,” Claire offers as Valerie responds with, “alright, here, take the tampon, I only keep that in here to make people think I still menstruate.”
Valerie sits in the front row at the Dolby theatre seconds after the start of one of the final commercial breaks. She turns around and makes eye contact with Claire who is sitting up at the back. Claire gives her a thumbs up and she turns back around now wishing she had brought a date. Although she knows she’d rather show up alone than have to sit next to her ex-husband who’s “too busy screwing his yoga instructor” as she liked to put it. Ironic, coming from her as either of them barely keep in touch with their daughter ever since dropping her off at Harvard 4 years earlier.
As Valerie watches others in the crown mingle with each other, the phone placed neatly between her breasts buzzes and she quickly checks the message. Claire had texted her reminding her to thank the real Sasha and her mother – the duo on which Valerie’s film was based – as they were in the audience tonight. They were nowhere near the front, however, as common folk sit at the back. With Claire. But the cameras would be ready to capture their reactions when Valerie mentions their names in her speech.
Before Claire gets a confirmation, Guillermo Day, Valerie’s younger costar approaches holding his very own golden statue. “Valerie! I just wanted to wish you luck for your category tonight.”
“That’s very kind of you, Guillermo, and I suppose I should congratulate you on your win. Best Supporting Actor is quite the accomplishment.” A lack of genuineness and perhaps some disdain embellished her words. After all, Valerie hated everyone she’s ever worked with and often describes Guillermo as “giraffe-like.” Whatever that means.
Guillermo thanks her, adding, “I’m just glad the movie was such a success. I was able to purchase that home I was looking at with the money. You know, the one with the indoor pool?”
In disbelief, Valerie replies, “that must’ve cost you around $20 million.” Valerie shifts in her politeness, remembering she, herself, made a mere ten million in a much larger role.
Guillermo remains unphased, “yeah, well, a little more actually. I should get back to my seat,” he stops himself, “before I go, Hastings said he loved working with you and would love to do a movie adaptation of Bleecker’s Weekend, and he’s considering you and me for the leads!”
As the lights begin to dim, Guillermo runs back to his seat, all the while Valerie shouting, “but that’s a mother and son!” He turns back and gives her a “yeah” with a thumbs up and flashes his, now, award-winning smile.
Valerie sits back in her seat, “that giraffe-looking motherfucker is twelve years younger than me,” she says to herself, popping an M&M in her mouth.
The next presenters begin to walk on stage while music plays and an announcer says: “please welcome, from the upcoming film Rodeo Dog, Ellie Wheeler and Bradley Ortega.”
Valerie calms herself but tenses up again upon seeing the presenters. She turns to Claire looking for some answers. Claire picks up her phone and soon enough Valerie receives a message, saying: “they’re child actors, ma’am. Remember to Smile.”
Valerie attempts to laugh at the young presenters’ empty jokes but has a tremendously difficult time doing so. She had never softened to children. Her own daughter is studying to be a politician; she never understood how it could possibly appeal to anyone.
Clips from each movie begin to play as each actress is introduced. When they arrive at Valerie’s category, a clip plays of her in a hospital bed crying while holding onto her dying daughter. The clip ends and Valerie subtly pumps her fist as the crowd cheers a little bit louder for her than the other nominees. Everyone had predicted her win and she had won the Golden Globe. So she had this in the bag.
The two young presenters finish their bit and left a pause before: “and the winner is,” stated the young Ellie as she struggles to open the envelope. At the same time, her and Bradley scream: “VALERIE SWINBURG!”
Valerie takes a deep breath as Claire stands up, clapping uncontrollably from the back. Valerie shakes the hand of the seat-filler next to her and gives Claire a wave before making her way onto the stage.
Valerie accepts her golden statue and stares out into the crowd holding it up. She takes out her speech and begins.
“I want to thank the academy. My fearless director, Arnold Hastings. My daughter. My agent Rex Winter and my beautiful assistant Clai-“
She looks out into the audience and catches the eye of Guillermo. She folds up her piece of paper. This is usually taken as a sign that the speaker will now go off book, but it is only Claire who knows that putting away the speech was still part of said speech. It’s not until Valerie utters the words “you know what?” that Claire realizes this star has truly gone rogue.
“I’ve been in this game for years. You’ve seen me; you’ve worked with me. Some of you have even slept with me.” The crowd laughs awkwardly, still unaware of where she’s going with this. Claire puts her hand over her face, knowing this can’t be good for anyone.
“Moments ago I just figured out I made half the amount of money my wonderful co-star Guillermo made for a movie where I played the lead. Does that sound fair? Does it sound fair that I also just got offered the role of his mother?” Silence filled the room. “A year ago we were peers and now I seem old enough to look like I could have changed your diapers Guillermo.”
Guillermo stops smiling and is now staring straight at her with his eyebrows furrowed.
“Is it because I’m old? Is it because I’m a woman? What is it? Why is everyone telling me I need to change? Should it not be Hollywood that should finally evolve?”
After a brief moment of silence, Harriet Friedman, the 82 year old actress who had received the lifetime achievement award that night begins clapping. Soon enough, those around her begin clapping too. Valerie continues pointing out flaws in the entertainment industry and as she keeps going, more and more of the actresses in the audience applaud and cheer. They become more involved in the momentum. The music begins to play and as it usually signals the end of the speech, in this case it only serves as background music to a true Braveheart moment. As the song reaches its climax, Valerie lifts her golden man into the air and shouts, “this award tells me I’m the best actress, treat me like it!”
Most of the crowd rises to its feet as everyone gives her a round of thunderous applause. However, many, like Guillermo and Arnold, remain seated, unsure of how to respond to such a bold social statement. Valerie begins to walk off the stage and happens to catch a glimpse of Sasha and her mother. Despite their looks of disappointment, she shows them her winnings and shrugs as she’s escorted off the side.
Valerie enters the Vanity Fair after party with Claire slowly trailing behind. Immediately she is bombarded with people of all kinds: celebrities, people from the media, and “others” as Valerie likes to call them. This category included people like Claire. Valerie politely smiles and puts up a finger to indicate she’s busy as she makes her way to the bar where she orders two glasses of champagne. Claire is flattered until Valerie grabs both and downs them quickly.
“Now, I’m ready.” She exclaims. Harriet is the first to approach her. She congratulates her and says, “thank you for addressing this issue. I’ve been in Hollywood my whole life and I’ve never had the guts to stand up for myself.”
Valerie responds, “well, all in a days work, I guess?” Harriet squeezes Valerie’s hand before leaving. Valerie turns to Claire, “I didn’t think people appreciated my work this much!”
“You’re all over Twitter, ma’am. People who watched at home are saying you’re really making a difference for women in Hollywood!”
Valerie stops, “women in Hollywood? I don’t care about women in Hollywood, I care about ME in Hollywood!”
“Either way,” Claire finishes, “you’ve become a feminist icon.”
Valerie considers this, as her area gets flooded once again with people who have questions about her speech. Claire retreats and decides to head home for the night.
As the clock strikes noon, Valerie finally awakes in her penthouse apartment. She lifts her head from her pillow and pulls off her blankets to reveal her Oscar tucked in right beside her. He wears lipstick kisses all over his golden body while her lipstick had worn off well into the after party.
She reaches for her last peanut M&M but accidentally grabs her phone, which is full of messages. The only one that truly catches her attention sits at the top and had been sent a minute prior to her waking up. It was from her daughter.
“Congratulations Mom. My friends all loved your speech. Very proud. Talk soon x.”
For the first time in four years, her eyes swell with tears. She turns away as to not cry in front of her award.
She picks up her phone and calls Claire. “Hi Claire. It’s the new feminist icon calling. I’m ready for the press. Who do we call first?”