Wednesday, April 22, 2009

O SISTER, WHERE ART THOU?


There's a good post on Film Experience about the twilight and possibly in-progress resurrection of Winona Ryder's career that got me thinking about formerly A-list, now-underemployed actresses. I was never a huge Winona Ryder fan. I thought she was the weakest link in movies like The Age Of Innocence (which I didn't care for anyway) and The Crucible (God bless, Joan Allen, speaking of drop-dead-talented, underused actresses), but I could never fathom how fighting the law (her 2002 shoplifting debacle -- the law won) could be the nail in the coffin of a once-hot career. If Ingrid Bergman could come back from a scandalous extramarital affair and win not one but two more Oscars, couldn't Winona (above, top, with Billy Bob Thornton in Transformers, out on Friday, and below, with Leonard Nimoy in the upcoming Star Trek movie) at least re-emerge above the title of a decent box-office hit?

It might happen yet (both of the above, as well as the much-hyped indie, The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee, are ensemble films), but what about her fellow former shining stars currently blinking dimly under the radar, if at all? Of course, for so many actresses, turning 40 in Hollywood is a crime greater than any you can commit against the law, but it hasn't hurt Nicole Kidman or Julianne Moore. (Of the late-fiftysomethings and above, if your name isn't Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren or Judi Dench, you were probably long ago relegated to TV or supporting film roles, but that's a story for another post.)

All things considered, the fate of actresses settling into middle age is a mixed bag. Sure things have slowed considerably for Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd, Bridget Fonda, Elisabeth Shue, Demi Moore, Jennifer Lopez (who turns 40 in July) and presumably, partly by choice, for Julia Roberts, but Cate Blanchett (who turns 40 on May 14), Jennifer Aniston, Diane Lane, Marisa Tomei and Halle Berry continue to work steadily in high-profile or high-pedigree projects, and Renée Zellweger still hasn't run out of chances. Meanwhile, Geena Davis is said to be on the verge of a comeback with the upcoming black comedy Accidents Happen, and Debra Winger proved in a brief role in last year's Rachel Getting Married that she's still every inch the movie star. Does that mean there is still hope for Angela Bassett and Annette Bening and second-tier but still-vital talents like Andie MacDowell and Rene Russo, who hasn't been onscreen since 2005?

Most of the fortysomething actresses who work steadily -- Naomi Watts, Laura Linney and Patricia Clarkson, among them -- arrived at their Hollywood fortunes post-dewy phase. On the other hand, early success can be costly. Although the good fortunes of Natalie Portman and Kirsten Dunst are dwindling slightly, the actresses probably can coast for a few more years, but Drew Barrymore, now on a Grey Gardens-induced upswing, has travelled a rocky road from day one. Former ingenue Winona Ryder, like her Mermaids costar Christina Ricci, may be navigating that same difficult path, but the good news is that these days there are detours (HBO, Showtime, a guest arc on Ugly Betty) that can ultimately lead to streets of gold -- or at least Emmys, SAGs, Golden Globes and miraculously revived box office. Just ask Sarah Jessica Parker.
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