Makes Me Sick, Motherfucker, How Far She Done Fell

While sitting in a standard suburban move theater last Friday night, waiting patiently for The Social Network to begin (The Social Network is a very good movie. You should all see The Social Network.), I was shown the trailer for The Dilemma, a terrible-looking film that David Simon Cowell has previously derided.

Here’s the trailer:

Now, DSC already covered that this looks like a terrible movie and that our lawyers should be outraged at its title, so I want to focus on something else: Winona Ryder’s participation.

It’s hard to explain to the kids of today just what exactly Winona Ryder meant to those of us who are now comfortably past their physical and intellectual primes. There’s not a really a young actress today who fills the void that Ryder left as she aged. Natalie Portman comes close, but she’s not quite an exact fit.

In many of her roles, Ryder played a less insulting forebear of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Like the MPDGs, she played unrealistic saviors, but she was never irritating, and her characters always had well-defined motivations. In fact, you could argue that in Heathers and Reality Bites, Christian Slater and Ethan Hawke played Manic Pixie Dream Boys.

Thanks to those two films, as well as Beetle Juice and Edward Scissorhands, Ryder was the ideal imaginary love interest of every disaffected teenage boy in America. She was dark and cynical enough to appeal to the kids listening to The Cure and The Pixies, but beautiful and mainstream enough to appeal to the kids listening to Guns N Roses and Soul Asylum. But to us members of the alternative nation (gross), she was ours. With her quirky upbringing and impeccable choice of roles, Winona got us. She knew what we needed. She belonged to us.

Heathers is obviously a generation-defining movie, and David Simon Cowell would argue that Reality Bites is too (expect a 2 Idiots Debate on this topic eventually). Because of that, Ryder was more than just a beloved starlet — she mattered in a way that few actors and actresses ever do. If Kurt Cobain was the voice of that generation, than Ryder was the face.

When she broke through with an Oscar nomination for Age of Innocence, we were proud and excited. Finally, the broader world was giving our girl the respect and accolades she deserved. Winona seemed poised for the female version of Robert DeNiro’s career: huge hits, beloved cult films and artistic integrity in one package.

Or perhaps a better comparison is Johnny Depp, who famously dated Ryder and had her name tattooed on his arm. Depp moves with ease from likable blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean to art-cred fare like Finding Neverland. Depp has had the career Ryder could have and should have had. With her quirky upbringing and intelligence, we thought Ryder would be able to navigate the pitfalls of Hollywood and fame that have felled so many young stars.

Now, it’s 2010 and Ryder is playing Kevin James’ love interest in the latest terrible Vince Vaughn vehicle. That’s just fucking heart-breaking. (We’ll save the discussion for how despicable Ron Howard’s participation in this film is for another time.)

Ryder’s career has decayed to the point that the best she can hope for are bit parts (Star Trek) and generic girlfriend roles. Like Bunk said…

Thanks to the inaccuracies of memory, I’d believed that Ryder fell apart after her arrest for petty shoplifting, but a glance at her IMDB page reveals that the descent began much earlier. In fact, it’s amazing how few good roles Ryder has had given her iconic status.

Immediately after Reality Bites, Ryder started making poor choices. (As much as I dislike Reality Bites, I can’t deny how likable and charming Ryder is in it.) She fell into a View/Oprah rut with Little Women and How to Make an American Quilt, and didn’t make an impact with a role for another five years, until Girl, Interrupted — and even then Angelina Jolie stole the spotlight. Mr. Deeds, Autumn in New York, S1m0ne — Jesus. Ryder hasn’t been a major factor in a legitimately good movie since at least 1994.

The shoplifting arrest came in 2001, meaning there was a seven-year decline period even before Winona walked into Saks Fifth Avenue on that fateful day.

Why the collapse? Are good roles for women just too hard to come by? Did we overrate her? Did she go off the rails? A little bit yes to all those questions, I’m guessing. But even given the state of Ryder’s current career, her appearance in The Dilemma trailer is insult added to injury for those of us who were there, once upon a time. She’s got to be better than this. Doesn’t she?

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Filed under Film Has AIDS, The Dilemma

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