' Cinema Romantico: Re-Evaluating Julianne Moore

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Re-Evaluating Julianne Moore

A recent email thread begun by my friend Daryl referenced the fact he had just seen "The Forgotten", a tepidly reviewed so-called thriller from several years ago. Our friend Brad had this to say in relation to said film: "Wait, 'The Forgotten'? I remember that movie! That was the crappy Julianne Moore movie where Nicolas Cage could see the future, right? No wait, it was the crappy Julianne Moore movie where everyone is blind but her, right. No? Was it the crappy Julianne Moore movie where she says a black man stole her baby and only Samuel L. Jackson can solve the case? Still no? Aliens, you say? Now I remember! It was the crappy Julianne Moore movie where she, Fox Mulder, Stifler, and the guy from the old 7-Up commercials fought off a wacky alien invasion. See, I knew I'd remember."

This, as it must, got me to thinking.

For most of the decade I have resolutely referred to Kate Winslet as our finest working actress (she doubles as my favorite actress) and she still is, hands down. But in the late 90's if you'd asked me to name our finest working actress I probably would have told you Julianne Moore. So what happened to her? Where did it go wrong?

When I think of Moore, what jumps to the forefront are performances like adult film "actress" Amber Waves in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights" (for which she should have won the Oscar, but don't even get me started) and the 50's suburban housewife in "Far From Heaven" and....oh, how about I just do this instead?

My Top 5 Favorite Julianne Moore Moments:

5. The scene in "Boogie Nights" when she's talking to her ex-husband on the phone and he won't let her talk to their son.
4. Her unwittingly delivering the final come-uppance to Glenn Close's villain in "Cookie's Fortune" ("I did good, didn't I?").
3. Her line reading of "The little Lebowski urban achievers, yes, and proud we are of all of them" in "The Big Lebowski". It's as funny as anything Will Ferrell's ever said.
2. Her drugstore breakdown in "Magnolia." I remember almost fainting in the theater right after it ended.
1. I want to list 72 different moments from her role as eternally moody Mia in "The Myth of Fingerprints" so I'll just say the entire performance.


She started in soap operas and had to survive some dreck in the early parts of her career to get to that point in the 90's when she was hitting every performance out of the park. But was she? Did I remember all this wrong? As Brad pointed out, she's been in some crap. Maybe I was just looking at the good stuff and turning a blind eye to the bad. Thus, to IMDB I went where a persual of Ms. Moore's filmography brought to light some interesting facts.

Yes, in 1993 she delivered her famous naked-from-the-waist-down monologue (Julianne has never been shy about nudity) in Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" but the same year she also starred in the notorious Madonna flop "Body of Evidence". Yes, in 1995 she gave a memorable turn in Todd Haynes' indie film "Safe" but the same year she also starred in "Nine Months" with Hugh Grant and (gulp) Tom Arnold. Yes, in 1997 she was in the aforementioned classic "Boogie Nights" but she also starred in "The Lost World: Jurassic Park". Yes, she had a particularly fine 1999 in which she earned an Oscar nod for "End of the Affair" and offered the exemplary supporting work in "Cookie's Fortune" but the next year she could be glimpsed in the Saturday Night Live spin-off (gulp) "The Ladies Man" and the following year in the unfortunate "Silence of the Lambs" follow-up "Hannibal" and "Evolution" (the movie Brad noted was about a "wacky" alien invasion and the guy from the old 7-Up commercials).

Still, it gets weirder. In 2002 she offered the slam-bang double-duo of "Far From Heaven" (Best Actress Oscar nod) and "The Hours" (Best Supporting Actress Oscar Nod) only to disappear for a year and return to action in 2004 with the Pierce Brosnan rom-com "Laws of Attraction" and the aforementioned "The Forgotten" (both a looooong way from any Oscar nods). Yes, in 2006 she was in "Children of Men" but the same year she was also in the flop "Freedomland". Yes, in 2007 she was in "I'm Not There" but she was also in the flop "Next".

It is a disturbing pattern, and a pattern which I had fooled myself into thinking had only begun recently. Alas, it's been present since the beginning.

I understand not every actress can be the esteemed Ms. Winslet. No, Kate hasn't been in a lot of box office hits (except for, you know, the biggest box office hit of all time) but she has not had a lot of flops, either. Maybe "The Life of David Gale", but she was still good (which really is saying something when you consider her character's name was Bitsey Bloom). Her choices are almost universally risky and interesting. She's never fallen victim to the terrible formula of one serious role/one safe role of which Ms. Moore appears to have fallen prey to from the beginning. And you know what? It's finally caught up to her. It's starting to taint her legacy.

In that regard she's a little like Al Pacino. What, you thought Al was just churning out films like "The Godfather" and "Dog Day Afternoon" back in the day? Don't you remember "Bobby Deerfield"? "Author, Author"? "Revolution"? No. You didn't. Just like I didn't remember Ms. Moore turning up in the Sylvester Stallone vehicle "Assassins". But Al has continued to take schlocky roles and now people are starting to notice. His legacy is acquiring some unwanted tarnish. Even during her best period Ms. Moore wasn't at the level of what Pacino was back in the 70's (few have been) but the comparison is still apt.

Perhaps I'm out of line. Julianne has a family. She has kids to feed. I respect that. A lot of her indie work probably doesn't pay the bills. But it's also a damn shame to see an actress with so much talent so consistently fail to utilize it. In an interview Daniel Day Lewis once said the following, "Probably one of the reasons why I stay away from (making movies) for long periods of time is because I am still idealistic about acting." I'm not saying Julianne needs to take 5 years between roles but I can't imagine someone as gifted as her got into acting to make "Laws of Attraction". She's got ideals, right? If so, I really wish she would stay true to them more often.

1 comment:

The Fab Miss B said...

I thought she was totally brilliant too, and then reassessed when I watched "Benny & June" again. She was awful in it. Definitely still in her soap acting phase. I think its really tough for actresses, there just aren't as many options, especially as they get older. Your public image (and therefore the roles you are offered) seems to depend a lot on how many times you can get between the pages of a glossy fashion mag where the emphasis is your clothes and definitely not your chops. Excellent post Mr. Prigge.