Monday, March 3, 2008

Curse of the Golden Man: Susan Sarandon

For many actors, winning an Oscar is the crowning achievement of a career, for others it's a way of elevating a career to the next level allowing actors the coveted ability to pick and chose roles. However, there is a darker side to an Oscar win. For one, it alters public perception; if an actor is universally recognized for a certain role and is then awarded for it, it can act as a brand. This brand forever marks the actor or actress as a certain "type." While being type-cast has it's advantages, casting agents always looking for a certain type, it also locks in actors into the same part over and over again, halting their progress as an artist. In this on-going series (as suggested by one of our favorite loyal readers, Cary) will take a look at some popular actors and act as a sort of career assessment slash therapy. I should point out that these articles are not meant to be mean-spirited, quite the opposite. They're to have us consider why we like these actors in the first place and make you, the educated film-enthusiast that visits this site, demand more from our favorites.

Tonight, our subject is Susan Sarandon.
Susan Sarandon is an actress of enormous talent and poise. She possesses a regal poise that shines through in every role and a real wisdom behind her penetrating gaze. But quite frankly
Sarandon has been more interesting lately and prolific as an activist and husband to Tim Robbins. At this point Sarandon has been far more interesting at say, the Democratic National Convention than on screen ever since...well lookee here, since her Oscar win. In 1996 Sarandon won her first Oscar (after several nominations) for playing Helen Prejean in her husband's film Dead Man Walking. Sister Prejean is a stern, compassionate and thoughtful woman, Sarandon has basically done riffs on this character ever since, except now the part is played alternatively as demure or too over-the-top.

One of her better, more passionate appearances

Don't believe me? The post-Oscar resume says it all.

Her first big starring role post-win was the syrupy Stepmom where Sarandon plays the terminally-ill saintly mom who indoctrinates the incoming titular stepmom played by Julia Roberts (which is gross when you stop and think about it for more than a minute). The film has since gone into regular rotation on the likes of TBS and can be found in bargain bins in your local electronics retailer. It also posited Sarandon as both "the mom" and "the wife." Here comes another mom the next year in the Natalie Portman vehicle Anywhere But Here. Sarandon does Mom AND wife with minor variations in The Banger Sisters (comic), Igby Goes Down (sardonic) and Moonlight Mile (maudlin), Shall We Dance (bland and paper-weight-ish) and finally in Elizabethtown (ugh, just...ugh, why was she tap dancing for those yokels-I mean the paying Elizabethtown audience). Oh and I forgot Mr. Woodcock (something my brain was grateful for until...just now). She's also a mom, or should I say stepmom (cocked eyebrow), in Enchanted. Her character, Queen Narissa is probably the worst part of the movie and any scene she's in suffers because she's written as though she A) belongs in a different movie and B) is played with a different kind of broadness (Enchanted is wonderfully illustrative as to there are many levels of "broad"). Of all the movies I've mentioned (and I've seen them all but Woodcock) Enchanted is by far and away the best that Sarandon has been in lately. And as the web's biggest fan of Enchanted (suck it KittyPrincess87!) let me firmly state that it pains me to think about any of this.

When Sarandon does "bring it" these days, she doesn't seem to do it with anyone watching. The whole impetus for this series came from a discussion about Cary watching In the Valley Of Elah (elah, elah, elah, hey, hey, hey, hey). I missed the film because the credits contained the phrase "directed by Paul Haggis" but the completist and awards fan in me has it on my "q" to ensure that I've taken a look at every nominated film. This doesn't change the fact that Elah was one of several "Iraq" films that tanked this year so if Sarandon did do some new and exciting work, most of the population doesn't know about it yet. Her work on the series Rescue Me has been well recieved and she had a good little bit of work in her hubby's other film The Cradle Will Rock (an unfortunately under-seen film). I liked her smooth, silky turn in the Alfie remake, but damn it, it's the ALFIE remake! Even her voice-over work has been poorly applied (with the noted exception of James and the Giant Peach).

Looking at these films simply does not inspire the confidence that Sarandon's earlier chunk of resume does.
I mean come on; Atlantic City, Thelma and Louise, Bull Durham, The Hunger (HOT!), The Witches of Eastwick, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Lorenzo's Oil, Little Women and Bob Roberts (hell why not throw in The Client, the performance is good, even if the movie is trash). In each film Sarandon plays dynamic, intriguing characters who cut a bold swath through their films. I know it's silly to say, why not pick more films like these? But could a younger, hungrier, pre-Oscar Sarandon have been more picky? It should also be noted that right about the time Sarandon started taking these broader, frothier roles in the public eye is right when her kids became old enough to become regular movie-goers. Now I won't begrudge an actor-parent wanting to make material suitable for their children but I'm curious to see through this series the returns start to diminish when the kids begin to grow-up.

Looking ahead for Sarandon she has a dramedy where she sacrifices one daughter's (another mom) college fund for another daughter's modeling career in Middle of Nowhere. She'll be Mom Racer in the upcoming Speed Racer live-action cartoon by the Wachowski's (not exactly a major acting challenge for one of Sarandon's considerable gifts). In her most Oscar-baity future role she'll be the Grandma in Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones. While transitioning from Mom to Grandma can be rough for an actress, the role has a lot of opportunities for Sarandon to really strut her stuff (and not just in a sassy Cloris Leachman type of way). Here's hoping.

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