What should I be doing instead of this?
January 14th, 2011 By Jason Gargano | Movies |

Friday Movie Roundup: Winona Ryder Edition

There was a time when Winona Ryder could do no wrong. Simultaneously intelligent, beautiful and creatively savvy, Ryder burst onto the scene with a series of late-1980s roles informed by a refreshingly offbeat sensibility best exemplified by her adorable goth-girl breakthrough in Tim Burton's Beetlejuice and her career-defining performance as Veronica in Heathers, a scathing black comedy that still holds up 20 years later.

Edward Scissorhands with then-beau Johnny Depp and a small role in Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth followed, as did a strong, passionate performance in a flawed film, Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula. Then a pair of polar-opposite projects —Martin Scorsese's affecting period drama The Age of Innocence, for which she earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, and Ben Stiller's Reality Bites, an astute contemporary comedy that tried a little too hard to be more than that — further showed her range.

Ryder's impressive early run crested with her central role as Jo March in a rich, heartfelt adaptation of Little Women, a project Ryder shepherded to the screen by recruiting its director (Gillian Armstrong) and much of its cast, including Christian Bale, Gabriel Bryne, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, Samantha Mathis, Susan Sarandon and Eric Stoltz. A second Oscar nomination — this one for Best Actress — in two years cemented her status at the top of Hollywood's A list.

That was 1994; she was all of 23 years old.

Never one to rest on industry-pimped laurels, Ryder always seemed more guided by her own principles —she's long credited J.D. Salinger's establishment-busting Catcher in the Rye as her favorite novel; she lived some of her childhood in a northern California commune; and Timothy Leary was her godfather. Playing by Hollywood's narrow rules would never be easy for her.

Ryder bided time in a series of mixed-bag films (the best of which was a small role in Woody Allen's Celebrity, the worst of which was as Sigourney Weaver's sidekick in Alien Resurrection) while preparing her next passion project — adapting Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted for the screen. The long-gestating project finally hit theaters in 1999, by which time she was usurped by co-star Angelina Jolie both in the film and as the hot new thing.

And then —shopping trouble. It's now been nearly 10 years and many a mediocre movie since her infamous shoplifting incident, an ordeal that can be in some ways seen as her way of retreating from a Hollywood system that doesn't know what to do with smart, independent women.

Yet all might not be lost. Ryder's role in Richard Linklater's overlooked A Scanner Darkly (2006) signaled her interest in a big-screen return, and recent small roles in high-profile films like Star Trek and Black Swan have prompted more than a few audiences to utter with nostalgic pleasure, “Hey, that's Winona Ryder.”

Now comes her highest-profile, new-millennium project yet — as Kevin James' wife in the new Vince Vaughn comedy The Dilemma. I guess it should be no surprise that for her Hollywood comeback Ryder would have to stoop to a second-fiddle role in which she's cheating on a guy.

Opening films:

THE DILEMMA — After a string of dramas and/or thrillers, Ron Howard delivers his first straight-up comedy since 1998's EdTV. The dilemma of the title refers to the fact that Ronny (Vince Vaughn) has discovered that his best friend's wife (Winona Ryder) is having an affair with a younger, buffer man (Channing Tatum). Kevin James plays the jilted husband; the cast also includes Jennifer Connelly, Queen Latifah and, of course, a cameo by Clint Howard. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated PG-13.) Grade: D

THE GREEN HORNET — Channeling the post-slacker comic stylings of Seth Rogen into a heroic fantasy would seem far-fetched even in an alternative reality, and Michel Gondry’s precious indie vision clashes wildly with the CGI-dominated frames of most of the current crop of comic book and graphic novel translations. But it's in these contradictions that The Green Hornet finds its groove. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) —tt stern-enzi (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B

MADE IN DAGENHAM — A determinedly sunny take on the labor struggles of women factory workers at a British Ford plant in 1968, Made in Dagenham is a highly polished comedy with a clear message about equal pay for women. Adapted from William Ivory's seamless script, director Nigel Cole taps into colorful cultural references of the era, such as fashion and local architecture, in order to convey layers of social subtext. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Kenwood Theatre.) — Cole Smithey (Rated R.) Grade: B

RABBIT HOLE — Due to an unbearable loss, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) have gone underground. Their 4-year-old son slipped through the front gate, in pursuit of the family dog, wandered into traffic and was killed by a passing car. The resulting grief forced them to retreat from life and each other. Filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell (Shortbus) adapts David Lindsay-Abaire stage play. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) —tts (Rated PG-13.) Grade: A

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