She's been awfully entertaining as best pals, strange relatives, and both helpful and aggravating shrinks, and Margo Martindale is truly an unsung hero of the character actor world. She's ace at playing the mumsy type with a little wisp of dignity that makes her characters out to have more depth and intrigue than they probably every deserved to have based on how they were underwritten. The Rocketeer (a guilty pleasure of mine since childhood) comes to mind, in which she plays Millie, the motherly diner owner who corrals in the male patrons when they're pushing the leading lovebirds to much and who wields a mean frying pan when the occasion calls for it.
And this buddy neighborly type is seemingly what she most often finds herself doing -- Linda Bennett in Practical Magic, Mrs. Latch in The Hours, etc. There is an argument, though, for her seeming tendency to constantly play characters who work in hospitals of some kind. In 28 Days she played the rehab clinic's receptionist (in true droll Martindale fashion), in Marvin's Room she played the inquisitive therapist to Leonardo DiCaprio ("What do you think I mean?"), and in the recent so-bad-it's-damn-entertaining Orphan she played the frustratingly dense therapist to Vera Farmiga's desperate heroine.
But the truly great moments for this unique actress come when she's stepping away from her motherly/doctorly roles to play a curveball. Though I'm never one to champion Million Dollar Baby in any way, Martindale's take on the young boxer's down-and-out mother was probably the most breathtaking thing about the movie. Yes, she's in the role of the mother yet again, but it's certainly not "motherly" in any way. And then there's her bit part in Dead Man Walking, in which she plays Susan Sarandon's character's nun pal. She's definitely subtle in her role, but it's a quiet intrigue that plays out best when she's relaying the division in the church that her volunteer work is causing.