After venturing out to see The Duff for the second time, I have come to the realization that actress Mae Whitman has been a permanent fixture in the background of my 22-year-old life. As this week marks International Women’s Day, Whitman should be recognized for her outstanding acting in both television and film – and the characters she has chosen to portray for the past two decades.
At a very early age, I coveted my VHS-taped copy of One Fine Day and sympathized with poor, little bespectacled Bernice in Hope Floats. I’d occasionally notice her when I’d sneak downstairs to catch a rerun of Friends or a glimpse of Chicago Hope. As years would pass, I’d glance up from my pile of high school homework and she’d be there again, only this time as crocked-back Heather Douglas on Grey’s Anatomy. Or I would go to the movies with friends and she’d be the rebellious teenage daughter in Nights in Rodanthe.
I wouldn’t take notice of her strong, subtle talent until she landed the role of Amber Holt on NBC’s drama Parenthood, making its series debut in Spring 2010. Her performance of a girl trying to find her way never won her an Emmy or a Golden Globe, but instead won her the hearts of loyal fans for six wonderful years. Unlike the vast majority of young female characters (in both television and film), Amber was never defined by her boyfriend. Rather, Whitman brought Amber to life with an unwavering ability to make her relatable, funny, raw, and gut-wrenchingly real. The character didn’t save lives or solve cases or defeat zombies, but exemplified an everyday girl, a decent person. Whitman took the audience along for Amber’s ride, making every viewer cry on cue as Craig T. Nelson warns, “You do not have permission to mess with my dreams.”
Shortly after Parenthood ended its six-year run in January 2015, Whitman took to the big screen, starring opposite Robbie Amell in The Duff. Once again, the character represents a confident, empowering girl who fails to fit a high school stereotype. Whether the characters she plays battle physical hurdles or emotional struggles, the realism she brings to each role has made her a successful actress for the past 20 years. There’s no doubt more people will take notice for the next 20. As I walked out of The Duff, again, the music blared “All I wanna be, yeah all I ever wanna be, is somebody to you …” In my own life, Mae Whitman has succeeded in doing just that.
© Brigid K. Presecky (3/9/15)
Top Photo: Mae Whitman as “Amber” and Craig T. Nelson as “Zeek” in Parenthood (Photo Credit: NBC Universal)
Middle Photo: Sandra Bullock as “Birdee” and Mae Whitman as “Bernice” in Hope Floats
Bottom Photo: Robbie Amell as “Wesley” and Mae Whitman as “Bianca” in The Duff (Photo Credit: Guy D’Alema/CBS Films).