Saturday, June 30, 2012

Why I'm Happier for Katie Holmes Than I've Been in Seven Years (Sorry, Tom Cruise!)

War is hell, and so is divorce, which, I suppose, can be likened to the final stage of a war, which, if both sides are lucky, involves no bloodshed. There are no victors on this particular battlefield, but when the opposing sides hail from Hollywood, the rules of engagement, marriage and divorce are always subject to change.

The latest celebrity declaration of war -- er, divorce: TomKat, aka Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, who are ending their marriage of five and a half years, with Holmes reportedly seeking sole custody of their daughter Suri, 6. (I wonder what exactly is the story there -- and you just know there is one. You don't pursue sole custody unless the soon-to-be ex-significant other has done something to royally piss you off.)

My first reaction to hearing the news was the one I suspect most everyone had: Who didn't see that coming?

My second one, again, normal, but still somehow unsettling -- after all, Tom Cruise has never been Hollywood's most sympathetic superstar. But there I was secretly feeling sorry for him. First, his latest movie, Rock of Ages, underperformed at the box-office (though I still refuse to plop all the blame for its failure at Cruise's feet), and now this. Surely there are better circumstances under which to turn 50 (which Cruise will do on July 3) than being suddenly tossed back into the singles market with a flop movie as the most recent line on your resume.

My third reaction was the one that really surprised me: Go, Katie! I've always had a soft spot for her, so if she was ever truly in love with Cruise, my condolences to her. But seriously, if I had her private address, I'd send a bouquet of congratulatory flowers.

Those of us with long memories can actually remember a time when Holmes was best known not as Cruise's human appendage, but as one of the most promising young actresses in Hollywood. Make fun of Mad Money and/or her take on a woman named Jackie in The Kennedys all you want, but once upon a time, before it became impossible to watch her onscreen and not think of Cruise jumping up and down on Oprah Winfrey's couch, Holmes was a pretty decent performer. Back when she was with Chris Klein, she was the total catch.

Ang Lee discovered her and cast her in The Ice Storm, his 1997 film, years before he hired Michelle Williams to costar in Brokeback Mountain. (Lee has admitted that before casting Williams, he was unfamiliar with her work on Dawson's Creek, the Fox TV series on which she and Holmes costarred from 1998 to 2003, so presumably, he didn't bother to follow Holmes's career after The Ice Storm).

During her run on Creek and for a year or two after, Holmes was a favorite among highly esteemed directors including Curtis Hanson, Sam Raimi, Peter Hedges and Jason Reitman, who cast her in Wonder Boys, The Gift, Pieces of April and Thank You for Smoking, respectively. By the final few seasons of Creek, she'd even overtaken the title character as the show's primary focus. Not to take anything away from Williams, who was fabulous on Creek, but at one point, Holmes was supposed to be the big breakout star of the primary ensemble.

Then Williams met Oscar (who's flirted with her three times, though he still hasn't gone home with her), and Holmes met Cruise. Sure some good things came out of TomKat (an adorable daughter, increased celebrity clout), but the price Holmes paid was fairly steep: a loss of credibility along with several prime actress years during which she put marriage and motherhood well before movies (her own).

As she heads onto the divorce battlefield, she's not exactly in the same strategic position that Nicole Kidman was in when she and Cruise split in 2000. While Kidman established herself as a formidable thespian during her marriage to Cruise, Holmes has yet to really prove herself as an adult actress. Her greatest acting triumphs thus far have been dead-on representations of teen angst.

But now that she's about to be single again, without Cruise, or Scientology, to hold her back, she may finally have her chance to fulfill her early promise. First, she'll have to crawl out from under the shadow of the Tom Cruise Media Circus, but all it'll take is one spectacular performance to get her back into the light.

I'd suggest steering clear of comedy (it's never been her forte, which is why co-starring with Adam Sandler in Jack and Jill seemed like a dreadful idea from day one) and men in tights (if she learned anything from Batman Begins, it should have been that superhero films rarely do much good for the top-billed actresses in them). If anyone can make her A-list again by the closing credits, I'd put my bucks on an indie-minded director like Darren Aronofsky. He may not have made Winona Ryder a star again with Black Swan, but he did accomplish the once-seemingly impossible when he helped turn Mickey Rourke into an Oscar-nominated actor with The Wrestler.

And even if she's destined to spend the next few years playing second banana to people like Sandler and Will Ferrell, to this victor will go some extremely valuable spoils: reportedly at least $1 million for every year of marriage to Cruise (plus child support and a share of assets). That would not be the most lucrative peace treaty ever, but as emancipation proclamations go, one could do so much worse.

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