' ' Cinema Romantico: O Alicia, Alicia, Wherefore Art Thou Alicia?

Friday, March 25, 2011

O Alicia, Alicia, Wherefore Art Thou Alicia?

1994 is not likely remembered fondly by the majority of mankind. There was Rwanda and Sarajevo and the gas attack in the Tokyo subway. There was O.J. and Nancy and Tanya and Paula Jones. Major League Baseball went on strike. Cobain committed suicide. Historically speaking, yes, there have been better calendar years. But there were good things, too. "Like Mandela being elected President of South Africa?" Well, sure, but I was thinking more along the lines of, say, the development of my first hardcore celebrity crush.

I can't even count the number of post-school afternoons or lazy summer days either at my best friend's house or in my home where we had only recently acquired cable (!) in '94 when I would indulge in Aerosmith's "Cryin'" video on MTV, the video that made an entire nation of drooling American teenage idiot males go beside themselves with unrequited amore for Alicia Silverstone. God help me, that video. Lady Gaga's videos are cool and all but they are regional dinner theater when compared to the righteous majesty of "Cryin'." This was the video that found Silverstone (11 months older than me) catching her ne'er-do-well boyfriend (Stephen Dorff) cheating on her and going bad-girl by getting a tattoo and her naval pierced before moving on to a freeway overpass where she threatens to jump as her boyfriend turns up to talk her down before she responds by leaping into the air, falling and falling, as the song thunders to its conclusion, until the twist (!) when we discover she is attached to a bungee chord and all is well. The video ends with Alicia, a smile befitting a princess who smokes in the girl's room, flipping off her boyfriend.

Let me be understated: this was the most badass, meaningful middle finger in the history of the world.

I would not hesitate to call that elegantly mischievous Bronx Salute as being the call sign of my age bracket, so-called Generation X. It's funny, you watch that video now and at the end when she's hanging there over the freeway the first thing you notice is her flannel and her combat boots, and neither of those would have registered in '94 because they were just, you know, normal. That's how we rolled. People not of our generation liked to pen flowing treatises about what we "stood for" and who we "were" and how we "felt". You know how we feel about how you think we feel? There's Alicia's middle finger. Enjoy.

This all makes me sound like some jaded Pearl Jam protagonist, yet that is nowhere near accurate. I wore some flannel, sure, I even had an earring - in fact, at one point I had three earrings (no, really, I did - I said, I did - stop laughing) - but I don't know that I was ever really grunge. I've never even owned a single Pearl Jam album! I wanted to be Chuck D, or at least Q Tip, the only problem was that I was as much a bad boy as George Costanza. Then again, I probably was jaded, though my jade (?) came via the fact I didn't know who I was - or, more accurately, I was what I was but had not yet grasped this and/or admitted it. But as 1994 progressed, I slowly came to truly understand what my man Q Tip meant when he rapped "See my shit is universal if you got knowledge and dolo of delf for self". And so every time I drift back to the year that started me on the path to becoming the proud, introverted, too-romantic un-manly man I am today, well, there is always the lingering image of Ms. Silverstone settled over Steven Tyler's screeching.

Naturally her appearance in the video for "Cryin'" (and "Crazy" and "Amazing") led to a movie career. She had some initial schlock, sure, like "The Crush" and "The Babysitter" (I'm not saying I've seen them but I'm also not saying I haven't specifically because I have) but then in 1995 she and Amy Heckerling dropped Cher Horowitz and "Clueless" on us. That was a fantastic film, a fact which I did not admit at the time for fear of having the man card I never even had in the first place taken away from me. But now I love Kylie Minogue, too, and I love her openly and so I no longer care! "CLUELESS" WAS AWESOME! And that means that, in turn, ALICIA SILVERSTONE WAS AWESOME! Nimble comic timing, an ability to display that something real and true was bubbling below the surface and a warmth atypical of the so-called Valley Girl.

The film was well received. Silverstone was well received. And the Summer Of '97 was supposed to be her ascent into the fabled land of Big Actresses On Campus. She would be Batgirl in "Batman & Robin" and would star in - as well as co-produce - "Excess Baggage." She could act and produce. Even Julia Roberts hadn't pulled that off (at that point). The world was her crème brûlée.

As if.

"Batman & Robin" was an unmitigated disaster. Oh, it was technically a financial success but even the studio moguls would tell you it wasn't as big a financial success as they'd hoped. How did it go wrong? It had Mia Wallace and Alicia Silverstone! But it also had infinite bad one-liners, unctuous Joel Schumacher directing and, of course, as the lament goes, Bat Nipples. And, let's be frank, Alicia's performance was a letdown. She was wooden, lifeless, a Valley Girl trying to live in a Gotham World. Maybe you could say she was miscast but if Alicia was going to breathe rarefied air, well, that excuse don't fly. Gotta bring it no matter what. "Excess Baggage", meanwhile, was nothing more than a cinematic shrug of the shoulders.

She took another crack at a leading role in "Blast From The Past" (1999), a film I put together reel-by-reel at the Wynnsong 16 and screened by myself in a darkened theater one weekday at midnight. This was the film where a Cold War couple (Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek) stow away in their basement bomb shelter at the onset of the Cuban Missile Crisis and remain there for 35 years before sending their grown son, Adam (Brendan Fraser), out into 1997 where, amongst many hijinks, he meets and falls for Eve (Alicia Silverstone). I had aged so much in those five years, believe me, but I felt such an innocent longing, a youthful zest, and an earnest hope when I sat down to watch it, a sensation that this might be the return to her mojo. Not quite. I can still feel the despondence in my heart as I realized that Ms. Silverstone seemingly had no more than two facial expressions - sad pout and reluctant happiness that, now that I think about it, were actually quite similar - at her disposal. The material, again, may have been lacking, but she could not transcend it, nor even make it semi-bearable.  

Her role in Kenneth Branagh's musical take on "Love's Labour's Lost" a year later came across like the sinking of the Bismarck. Now she wasn't merely miscast, she was completely outta her element. A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote: "When Ms. Silverstone's voice skids and squeaks over the syllables of words like 'perplexity' and 'lamentation,' you can't help but root for her in her struggle with the the tongue-tying perplexities of Elizabethan verse." Good grief, Cher Horowitz.

And so, she receded. Not completely. No one completely recedes in Hollywood. But to quote Alec Baldwin, speaking of his own career, she earned "an all-access pass that lasts for five years. You have to capitalize. And, if the movies you make don't make money in that period, your pass expires." Her pass expired. She had a 2003 TV show ("Miss Match") that aired all of 8 episodes and got canned and has since turned up now and again in movies I haven't seen ("Beauty Shop", "Silence Becomes You", "Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed", "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker"). Never was there a tale of more woe.

Alicia Silverstone smoking in "Excess Baggage." And another piece of the puzzle falls into place.
But wait! Ignoring her ill-received stage adaptation of "The Graduate", Ms. Silverstone has been involved in theater since 2008, starring onstage in two David Mamet plays ("Boston Marriage" and "Speed-the-Plow") and starring in 2009 and 2010 in L.A. and on Broadway, respectively, in "Time Stands Still." And she garnered good reviews on Broadway. Here is Charles Isherwood of The New York Times: "(S)he brings warmth, actorly intelligence and delicate humor. She achieves the lovely feat of allowing us to laugh at Mandy’s shallowness even as we are charmed by her good-heartedness." Man, those words sound familiar, as if they sum up another performance I've seen. Let me think......hmmmmm......wait......I've got it! Alicia Silverstone in "Clueless!"

I am reminded of other words written by Mamet, words of the ludicrous movie within his fantastic movie "State & Main", when Sarah Jessica Parker recites her big speech: "Look at the mill, Frank. Look at the way it goes 'round. Half the time the darn wheel's under water, but still it rises up, Frank. It rises up as high as it can go." Perhaps Alicia Silverstone's wheel needed to be submerged for awhile simply so it could rise back up. Perhaps she faded from the spotlight in the 00's because she needed to get knowledge and dolo of delf for self. Perhaps she has it. Perhaps she will rise back up as high as she can go.

I learn today that we may very well have reached the era of 90's nostalgia which, in turn, led me to get all nostalgic which, in turn, led me to learn that Alicia Silverstone is set to star in "Butter", a recent Sundance film set in (that's right) Iowa about the butter sculpting trade. Which is to say that even if 90's nostalgia is about to become prevalent, well, we ex-teens of the 90's still have some livin' to do. So don't you dare call us old. We've still got our middle fingers. And we still know how to use 'em.


Lexi said...

You had three earrings? Why don't I remember this?

Nick Prigge said...

Two hoops. One stud. It was a brief run but it happened. To paraphrase The Crystals: I was a "rebel".

Castor said...

So I looked in the dictionary for "Alicia Silverstone" and to my amazement, it was there!


1. An Alicia Silverstone is a person or act known mainly for only a single success. See one hit wonder.

Nick Prigge said...

What's in a name? That which we call an Alicia Silverstone by any other word would last forever.

M. Hufstader said...

I'll give a weird confession--I saw Silence Becomes You purely because I want to bone Joe Anderson, and I ended up really liking it. It's...trippy as hell? It's not Oscar worthy, it's never going to be on anyone's "top ten" list, but it's good in that sort of "WTF is going on?" kind of way. So if you like Alicia Silverstone, I recommend you check it out. Plus, she's rather attractive in it, which is always a plus.

Nick Prigge said...

Maybe I'll check it out. Maybe I'll make a blogging event out of going through Alicia's back catalogue. Which could be painful. But could also be interesting in a, as you say, "WTF?" way.