Subject: Helen Hunt, 47-year old American actress
Date of Assessment: April 6, 2011
Positive Buzzwords: Longevity, television, girl next door
Negative Buzzwords: Oscar, limited range, feature films
The Case: This week, we’re dealing with yet another damn Academy Award winner and perhaps one of the greatest indicators that awards don’t matter beyond a short-term improvement of the salary. In 1998, Helen Hunt won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in As Good As It Gets; she subsequently enjoyed a short run in a few high-powered blockbusters but then suddenly dropped off the Hollywood radar. Yet since the tender age of 10 years, Hunt’s been working as an actress, although she didn’t rise into mainstream popular culture until 1992’s debut of “Mad About You.” After seven seasons, a few Emmy awards, and a couple of blockbuster movies (including the aforementioned Oscar-winning role), Hunt pulled a Hollywood disappearing act for the most part. Indeed, the 1990s were hers, but considering how long she’s been around, Hunt really possesses very few notable credits to her name.
As a child actor, Hunt appeared in 21 episodes of “Swiss Family Robinson” and countless one-off appearances on shows like “Mary Tyler Moore” and “The Facts Of Life” before enduring a long string of made-for-tv movies (Quarterback Princess immediately springs to mind). Then, she rose to the world of feature films with Girls Just Want to Have Fun. Before too long, Hunt had a supporting role in Peggy Sue Got Married before moving onto playing “the girlfriend” alongside leading men like Matthew Broderick (Project X) and Eric Stoltz (The Waterdance), but she couldn’t gain any mainstream traction. Fortunately for Hunt, comedian Paul Reiser chose that particular moment to ask Hunt to play his wife, Jamie Stemple Buchman, in “Mad About You,” which kept her’s face on television for a resounding 161 episodes.
Clearly, Hunt had found her calling as a television star at the right moment and with competent writers and an engaging supporting cast. In the midst of the show’s seven-season run, Hunt made another attempt at big-screen glory with two big hits: Twister and As Good as It Gets. Of course, the former was a CGI nightmare that made big bucks, even though almost any actress could have stepped into the female half of a conflicted pair of married tornado chasers. In the latter, Hunt held her own as a waitress and single mother who inexplicably falls for the grouchy old novelist played by Jack Nicholson. For this performance, Hunt’s Oscar win led to an immediate variety of roles, including the pretty damn touching Pay It Forward; the absolutely horrible requisite Woody Allen movie, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion; and two more blockbusters opposite Tom Hanks (Cast Away) and Mel Gibson (What Women Want). Then, from 2001 to 2004, Hunt left the scene only to return with a series of financially unimpressive flops, including A Good Woman and Bobby. In 2007, Hunt made her directorial debut with Then She Found Me; in promotional interviews, she spoke in jaded terms of her Oscar win: “They say it gives you a little more juice for the first year and that’s it. It certainly didn’t help me get this movie made.”
Prognosis: These days, Hunt finds herself in an undeniably precarious position; that is, as a forty-something actress in a land where few roles remain. She doesn’t have the talent of a Meryl Streep; and although she’s in the same age bracket as Diane Lane, Hunt lacks the same sexual appeal to keep audiences interested. Still, she’s making a valiant return effort by appearing in this weekend’s Soul Surfer with another three movies in pre-production (Relative Insanity; Aline & Wolfe; and Serpent Girl). However, perhaps a return to the small screen might be the best possible move for Helen Hunt, for she may have won the Oscar for As Good As It Gets, but Jamie Buchman shall always remain her signature role:
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.