Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How "Hitchcock" Made Me Appreciate Jessica Biel for More Than Her Mouth

As a great beauty, Jessica Biel might make me green with envy if I were a woman. Those full, pouty lips are to die for -- or at least consider an unhealthy dose of collagen in pursuit of. As an actress, though, she's never made much of an impression on me.

I must admit to having been a closet fan of 7th Heaven (I still enjoy sneaking the reruns that air on Australian TV into my weekday morning routine now and then), but I can't say it had anything to do with Biel as eldest daughter Mary Camden. Nor can I say that I missed her much when she left after the sixth season (returning sporadically throughout the four remaining seasons).

I've always thought that the best career move Biel ever made was hitching her star to Justin Timberlake's. It didn't make her quite A-list, but it got her a lot of coverage in Us Weekly and People magazine that she probably wouldn't have warranted otherwise. Alas, so many of the wedding stories (which are generally supposed to focus on the bride) seemed to be about Timberlake's public apology for a video in which the bride didn't make so much as a cameo appearance.

But I'm beginning to rethink my "Who cares?" stance on Biel. Ever since I saw her in Hitchcock last weekend as Vera Miles, Psycho's third-string female (after Janet Leigh and "Mother"), a fitting role for her if ever there was one, she's been sporadically popping into my mind. I can't say I loved the film (I found it way too tidy, playing out in a "and this is how it happened, and then this happened next" sort of way), and it's really all about the sparring between Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as his truly better half (according to the film, Hitch himself probably would have agree), his wife Alma. Still, I found myself surprisingly fascinated by Biel as Vera Miles.

I don't know much about Miles, and I've never been brave enough to actually sit through Psycho, so I was free to enjoy Biel's performance without pesky comparisons clouding my judgment. For the first time, I admired Biel for reasons that had nothing to do with her looks. I found her completely believable as a Hollywood matron who chose motherhood over megastardom. I particularly enjoyed her rapport with Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh (so much lip for one scene!), the way she played mother hen to her (though in real life, Leigh was three years older than Miles), schooling her on the ways of Hitchcock.

Then in another scene where she explained how she never wanted Grace Kelly's life, even without a kid in sight, I bought her as a dedicated 1960s mother for reasons that had nothing to do with hair and make-up (which, incidentally, made Biel look at least a half-decade older than her 30 years) and everything to do with the mature and maternal aura Biel projected in the scene. She even held her own with Sir Alfred Hitchcock -- I mean, Sir Anthony Hopkins.

And to think, just last December when I went to see Life of Pi, I groaned as I watched the trailer for Playing for Keeps, in which Biel played an ex-wife (to Gerard Butler) and mother. "Jessica Biel as a mom? Puhleeze," I muttered to myself. After seeing her pull it off in Hitchcock, I still won't go anywhere near Playing for Keeps (or The A-Team, or Total Recall, to name two retro highlights of Biel's acting oeuvre). But if she ever turns up in Mother's Day (an imaginary sequel to Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve, both of which featured Biel), I just might be tempted to go there with her.

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