' ' Cinema Romantico: The Legend Of The Zellweger Facial Expression

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Legend Of The Zellweger Facial Expression

"I don't know who told you pouty was an option right now, but all you're making me feel is hatred of Renee Zellweger." - Dean Pelton (Jim Rash), "Community"

The legend goes that in 1930 Josh Gibson of baseball's Negro Leagues became the first and last man to actually belt a home run out of fabled Yankee Stadium - so far, it's said, that it bounced off a distant subway train. Is this really true? No one knows. Probably not. No evidence exists, but it exists in the mind and, thus, this most beautiful legend only gained that much more romantic traction.

The legend goes that in 1996 in the Cameron Crowe rom com "Jerry Maguire" Renee Zellweger gave an Oscar nominated turn so rife "with comedic yet in-character facial expressions that the expansiveness of these tics were matched in breathlessness only by George C. Scott's ingenious achievement in 'Dr. Strangelove.'" Okay. You got me. I just made that quote up. But if I'd been blogging in 1996 I would have written it and I would have stood up to the onslaught of commenters furious with me for deigning to compare a legend like Mr. Scott with a then mostly unknown native of Katy, Texas.

I was attempting to explain the recently the majesty of Renee's non-verbal communication in Cameron Crowe's box office smash and was met only by confusion and slight derision. "Renee Zellweger?" they exclaimed, as if her name conjured memories of a wretched vacation to Aruba. "Facial expressions? She hasn't moved her face in, like, 10 years! She just pouts! Even if the line she's saying sounds happy she STILL looks like she's pouting!" "So she had some work done in the ensuing years," I countered. "Don't hold that against Dorothy Boyd." "Sorry," they said. "But I'm not buying it.

Look at this face. The raised eyebrow denotes bewilderment, as is typical, but with less indignation than envy, joy and sadness all tossed together into a cinematic cocktail shaker with no one ingredient emerging victorious. The eyes are almost lovingly glazed and the lips twist upward in harmony with the eyebrow. And the frazzled bangs provide the perfect frame for the portrait. "They were so naked onscreen." This is an oft-utilized phrase, but what does it mean? It doesn't mean literally naked, of course, but naked emotionally to the camera. It means: this face of Renee Zellweger. Of course, to look at this face now is the equivalent of looking at an old baseball card. You see it, but you can't feel it.

The DVD still exists. It's available on Netflix. It's on my holy DVD shelf. I could lend it to you. Heck, you can get the thing in Blu Ray now which just ups the ante on the Zellweger facial expressions. Even so, there remains something missing when you put it on or catch bits and pieces of it on a late night TV rerun. It makes me think of Marlon Brando, whose biography I'm currently reading, and how so many people recite a version of the same refrain: You had to be there. That is, you can't truly grasp the effect and power the Young Marlon Brando had if you weren't there because then your view is tainted and influenced by Old Marlon Brando.

It's weird to think that in the space of 15, 16 years, Renee Zellweger could have morphed so much, but she has. That's the way of world now. It's faster, harsher, more judgmental. It's a young woman's game and perhaps Ms. Zellweger over-reacted around that scary dividing line referred to in some parts of the country as 30. And a woman who from scene-to-scene, moment-to-moment in "Jerry Maguire" could change expressions as if on a celestial whim now possesses a face that just pouts.

Years from now when people hear the line "You complete me" they will know its origin. But they won't know that what REALLY sold the scene that made those words famous was the varying and wordless reaction shots of Renee Zellweger while Tom Cruise spoke. I will try to tell them of the miraculous sequence involving the drunk Jerry in Dorothy's living room and the way Zellweger's face lights up with all manner of emotion like a dance of the spirits just for the silver screen. I will attempt to explain the shot when Jerry lower's Dorothy's sunglasses so he and we can see her reaction so he and we will know her answer to the marriage proposal he has just made and how it's her FACE that gives us the answer before the line. I will expound at length. I will shout and pound my hands on the table and perhaps even offer photographic evidence. People will scoff and shake their heads. They won't believe me. They weren't there. They won't know. They will only know of Pouty Renee Zellweger.

I may as well be telling them of a baseball soaring out of Yankee Stadium and careening off a faraway subway train.


Ruth said...

Your writing is so far above me, Nick, wow! On the subject of miss Renee, well one of my clients once said she looked like she was born sucking on lemons and her face is stuck in that 'scrunch' mode. Ouch! I do think she's actually quite expressive and I like the fact that she doesn't fit into the conventional cookie-cutter blueprint of beauty in Hollywood.

Nick Prigge said...

You're far, far too kind, Ruth. But thank you.

And she DOES look like she was born sucking on lemons. At least, the latter day Renee kind of does.

Anonymous said...

This post is exactly what I'm referring to in that link award, Nick. Seriously, so passionate. Love it.

I absolutely adored her in Jerry Maguire. Such a brilliant movie, and a great performance to add to it.

More people need to watch her in Jerry Maguire. Cool post, man!

Nick Prigge said...

Thank you again! Honestly!

More people DO need to watch her in this. I actually got a little bit of it over the weekend on cable - such a coincidence - and man, it just made me believe in the righteousness of her facial expressions that much more.

Derek Armstrong said...

Doesn't the legend also go that Josh Gibson was so fast that he once hit himself with his own line drive as he was rounding second base? Or maybe that was another guy.

What turned me against Renee Zellwegger was that she won the Oscar for Cold Mountain, which I do not like. In the clip on the Oscars there's that speech she gives where she's all "There's what's right and there's what's right and there's what's right," or whatever she was saying. And yes, she's pouting.

Nick Prigge said...

I think - stress: think - that was Cool Papa Bell.

Yeah, I didn't care for Zellweger in Cold Mountain either. I said then and say now that Nicole Kidman was all that made that movie work in whatever capacity it did work.