One of the stranger items of note this year, if you’re into this sort of thing, has been the rise of Blake Lively. To those who merely observe, it’s no different than the dawn of any other interchangeable big breasted blonde starlet. Those come around with the frequency of #22 buses and are rarely lasting.
But this particular star-forming has been interesting. TV girls, let alone those of the primetime soap genre, don’t have the best track record with the transition to big screen success. Where some (Michelle Williams) have found critical success, others have either striven for popularity over acclaim, or simply didn’t have the skills to ascend past their television status.
But Blake Lively is not only in the company of the small-screeners who’ve reached for the brass rail of film. She’s in that elite club where the crash and burn is just as swift and harsh, but even more vivid and public: the Harvey Weinstein club.
Every few years, Harvey picks a new girl as his pet. He puts her in a picture or two, takes her to an event, and not unlike Cher Horowitz, makes her a project, an attempted creation.
The Harvey Girls are easily spotted. They are all very pretty, often in a rather generic sense. Their instant fame and the push behind them comes seemingly out of nowhere and without any justification in terms of resume or skill set. Most obviously, at least as of 2007, they are clothed exclusively in Marchesa on the red carpet (the fashion line of Weinstein’s wife, Georgina Chapman). So if you were wondering why Harvey Weinstein seems only interested in actresses who dress like fairy princesses from Planet Sugarplum, it’s his wife’s fault. But the most telling sign, if you’re looking, is the Want. These girls, each of them, has the look of desperation, of need. They WILL be famous. They WILL be stars.
Rumors of Harvey’s casting couch ways are legendary. As a minor Midwestern blogger, I can’t know their validity. But I do know for each of these girls, there was an enormous PR push, proclamations of “it-girl” and “the next big thing” and then a fairly daunting silence that had to be devastating to these young women who really believed this was their “it.”
One of the Harvey Girls was Gwyneth Paltrow, and I suppose she’s what keeps the line long and wanton. But there can only be so many Gwyneths. There’s no shortage of Gretchens.
Harvey’s Best and Brightest:
Then: 1995’s Mighty Aphrodite was huge for Sorvino, winning her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress among other honors.
Now: While there exists a cult of us who will forever love her for Romy & Michelle, that adoration has not translated into a popularity resurgence. A subsequent Miramax venture, Guillermo Del Toro’s Mimic was a disappointment, both critically and financially, and after a few more attempts towards big screen success, she’s primarily stuck with indie and television roles, the most notable in Lifetime’s Human Trafficking miniseries.
Then: In the late ’90s, she co-starred in Rounders with Matt Damon and Edward Norton, then became the fixation of that other moderately creepy bigwig with a fetish for blonde actresses: Woody Allen. She infamously appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, which touted her “the it-girl of the ’90s.”
Now: The human cautionary tale for all would-be “next big things.” Mol’s latter-day career has been comfortable, if not unspectacular, appearing in 3:10 to Yuma, on Lifetime in The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and most recently on Boardwalk Empire. She also, in my opinion, was one of the best parts of David Wain’s lovable mess of a movie, The Ten.
Then: Alba had been around for a while prior to 2005’s Sin City, but apparently Harvey fell in love at first seductive bull ride, trusting her with Awake.
Now: Awake failed. But her other film choices have been so much worse that those have had far more to do with her middling career than that forgettable mess.
Then: It was only four or so years ago, but it’s easy to forget just how hard the push was on Sienna Miller. She was huge. She was painted as this immense fashion icon who would be an unstoppable celebrity force as soon as Factory Girl was released.
Now: Factory Girl was a big pile of okay, and she just…kind of…didn’t take the world by storm. Everyone else has poor film choices and personal struggle against them. But Miller just didn’t work out. Sometimes that’s worse.
Then: She danced with Travolta, took an adrenaline needle to the heart and became a star.
Now: Thurman’s career has been built on unfulfilled promise from her pretty great performances in great movies. Starting with Pulp Fiction to starring alongside a veritable buffet of “our careers didn’t work out as hoped” actresses in Beautiful Girls and making stops at the Kill Bills and Gattaca along the way, Thurman has made no other good movies. None. And with the exception of Bill, the films on which she’s taken first billing have been overwhelmingly unwatchable.
It’s not as though these are the only actresses who made it so close to the top to fall with a gently plop. I could go on for days. Moira Kelly, Monica Potter, Mena Suvari, Amy Smart… But Harvey’s Girls have that special place in our world—they were delicately placed at the top, handed their dreams on a platter, and they couldn’t have it, be it through lack of talent, more appealing competitors, or just bad timing.
And when he’s done with them? The good Harvey giveth, and the good Harvey taketh away.