Friday, November 23, 2007

Scarlett Johnasson career assessment (less dirty than it sounds)

Is Scarlett Johansson a leading lady? Is she a great actress? I ask because yesterday the lovely Ms. Johanson turned twenty-three. I'll say it again, Scarlett Johansson turned TWENTY-THREE! That's younger than I am by a whole year, but I don't have thirty-three film credits towards my name, nor was Esquire's sexiest woman alive last year.

Lets assess shall we. ScarJo had a number of small supporting roles starting with the rather dismal North in 1994. It was only at the start of the twenty-first century was Miss Johansson noticed by critics and indie audiences for her work in Ghost World and Lost in Translation. But hold on just a moment, looking back at this pair of films is Johansson the most memorable thing about either of them? Hardly. People look back at Translation and think of Murray turning around his career (if they remember Johansson they remember the cameras obsessive examination of the panties on her rear) (Ed. note-Well NOW I'm remembering it). The same could be said for Ghost World, people remember Thora Birch, the Bollywood opening credits and Steve Buscemi all long before they remember Scarlett.

Her next big break came in 2003 when she starred in The Girl with the Pearl Earring, but in that film she is the object moreso than the subject. The film became an arthouse hit (at least on the facebook pages of art-students anyways) and with it came more roles. Let me run some titles by you, see if any of them set off any bells. A Love Song for Bobby Long, The Perfect Score, A Good Woman. No? Nothing? Here most succesful film in this period is In Good Company but that is much more a showcase for the male leads Topher Grace and Dennis (sadly not Randy) Quaid.

When we hit 2005 we come to a genuinely excellent ScarJo performance which she has deservedly achieved recognition for. She's excellent as the destructive Nola Rice, a curvy, needy femme-fatale who engages in a passionate affair with Jonathan Rhys Meyers which, alas, takes a nasty turn toward murder. Its a moving, memorable and sexy performance, but she's not the lead. The same could be said for her sexy but distant work in The Black Dahlia and The Prestige. She plays a Woody Allen analogue in the director's Scoop but she's one of two Woody's in the film as for whatever reason Allen is in the film as well. She is the female lead of The Island but the whole point of her character is that she's a personality-less clone. So far she' been an honest to god female lead in ONE film. That would be The Nanny Diaries. I plan on seeing this movie, its on my Netflix q, honest. Unfortunately the chick-lit adaptation failed to capture the imagination of the public that embraced its sister film, The Devil Wears Prada.

Looking t the future Scarlett will be facing down Natalie Portman in the adaptation of the popular historical novel, The Other Boelyn Girl. The film's shuffling doesn't make me particularly optimistic but I do like the pedigree so we'll see. But here again ScarJo has some ample support from Seth Rogen sex-aide Eric Bana and Wonder Emporium employee Portman. Other projects in the works include another popular book adaptation He's Just Not that Into You, another Woody Allen film (she seems to be his new muse, the man is a genius) and looky-looky another femme fatale role a Silken Floss (LOVE IT) in Frank Miller's adaptation of the seminal comic series The Spirit.
I think Scarlett and her handlers are wise in not immediately shoving her into the limelight with lead roles (I'll ammend this depending on what I think of Nanny). She gets plenty of face time in magazines, gossip sites and so on so its not as though she needs the exposure. If she can really build up a solid CV of supporting work and further herself as a reliable commodity who can pull off sexy, smart AND funny (the rarest of combinations) there's nowhere for her to go but up. Maybe she could do a musical? Did you know she has a perfectly lovely alto voice.

Happy birthday Scarlett, we here at the Cinema give you a standing ovation.

Maybe we better sit down.

1 comment:

Harley said...

Missing from your assessment is an indictment of an industry that repeatedly casts talent actresses as objects and side characters, rather than giving them a showcase for their depth and breadth. What you described is less about what ScarJo's agents chose for her than about what's available for a woman in Hollywood.

At least until she has proven herself to be such a box office draw that she can moderately dictate stronger roles. Or until Woody Allen chooses her as his muse; the point at which she became firmly embedded in the American pop culture psyche as a leading lady, an event you identified by remarking that Match Point was her turning point. And again, it's a man who makes the woman.

I hope I'm not knee-jerking here, but it does need to be said.