Assessing Reese Witherspoon: Perky Blonde Seeks Resurrection
Date of Assessment: April 20, 2011
Positive Buzzwords: Mainstream, indie, romcom
Negative Buzzwords: Poor script quality, romcom
The Case: This week's subject is a tricky one, for Reese Witherspoon's career has been littered with both indie and mainstream success despite the fact that her box-office clout has recently (and rather unexpectedly) faltered in a huge way. While Reese is still one of the only actresses who can greenlight a film merely by signing on (the other two, frustratingly, are Julia Roberts and Katherine "Rainbow Killer" Heigl), her career is in a precarious position. Her most recent box-office effort to date, How Do You Know? was made on a hefty $120 million budget, $15 million of which went directly into Reese's pocket, but grossed a measly $30 million in ticket sales. Yes, this is merely one financial flop, but it's a hugely unanticipated one because it's always been the case, financially speaking, that her romcoms (including Sweet Home Alabama and Just Like Heaven) fare well. Further, Reese herself has made it abundantly clear that she's worried about the after effects.
We'll get to that part in a moment.
Witherspoon commenced her career with a string of impressive smaller films -- Man in the Moon; Freeway; Fear; Overnight Delivery; Pleasantville; Election -- followed by a taste of mainstream success as the sweet, corruptable girl in Cruel Intentions (that very dubious teen retelling of Dangerous Liasons). From there, she had a very small but effective take on the role of Evelyn in American Psycho and went onto the hugely successful Legally Blonde (hey, I liked that one), but then she went and ruined the character of Elle Woods by participating within the insipid Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde; even worse, she subsequently had the audacity to produce Legally Blondes, for which she should always be ashamed.
For certain, Reese has been in some frustratingly terrible movies -- Rendition; How Do You Know?; and the poorly adapted Vanity Fair -- that make one wonder exactly what she was thinking after reading the scripts. Also, she's attached her name to some outright money grabs -- Four Christmases; Monsters vs. Aliens (as the voice of Ginormica's ass) -- that, if nothing else at all, prove that she is willing and able to go entirely commercial at the expense of quality. However, Reese hasn't completely forsaken her former self, since the past decade has seen her put talent to use in a few rather wonderful movies, including The Importance of Being Earnest, Walk the Line (she actually did do a pretty marvelous job as June Carter Cash, including recording her own vocals), and (as both actress and producer) Penelope.
Now, back to the troublesome state of Reese's career prospects, the manifestation of which has spread throughout the Water for Elephants promotional trail. Until very recently, she's been very protective of her own privacy and wasn't much of a publicity whore, but things have definitely changed. Since the financial failure of How Do You Know?, she's sold her wedding photos to People magazine (while still publicly mourning the loss of her privacy) and given lip service to more magazines than she ordinarily would. In a recent promotional interview for Vogue, Reese lamented, "There's not a part for a 34-year-old in a robot movie." This perhaps was a not-so-subtle reference to the Transformers franchise and its tendency to employ the next hot piece, but I do believe that Linda Hamilton and Sigourney Weaver prove otherwise as far as female age and robot movies are concerned. Besides, why would Reese even consider acting within a Michael Bay movie? She probably wouldn't actually sign onto such a project, but I guess she'd be more comfortable with the option. After all, Hollywood is a breeding ground for insecurities.
Prognosis: At this stage of her career, Reese Witherspoon has probably milked the romcom genre for all it's worth as far as she's concerned. She's still generally considered to be a big box-office success, due to her choices in costars just as much as her own appeal, but her luck really ran out with How Do You Know? Her early career featured many indies with truly adventurous roles, and she really needs to return to her roots by taking some risks again. Reese does have a few films in production, including This Means War (which, oddly enough, is an action movie), and eleven films in development plus a likely MvA sequel in the future. In summary, she'll probably be alright no matter what, but she does have a hell of a lot riding upon the success or failure of this weekend's Water for Elephants.
For old time's sake, let's look back at her performance as June Carter Cash:
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.