RA Bartlett - The Comic's Corner
This week is the release of "Maleficent", Angelina Jolie's return to the screen after four years. A lot of people are excited about the role. It takes Jolie's femme fatale charisma and channels it into an out-and-out-villain--perhaps Disney's most beloved. Angelina Jolie is one of the most famous and revered women in the world. She is a contender for most beautiful woman in Hollywood. Everywhere she goes photographers follow her and her family. She's an activist, and not even a particularly controversial one. Her op-eds in magazines about social issues and her own personal struggles are very compelling reads. But let me ask you something; What is your favorite Angelina Jolie movie?
You might say "Girl Interrupted". Which first, good luck on your livejournal poetry, but really, that isn't an Angelina Jolie movie, that's a Wynona Ryder movie that Jolie ended up winning an award for. Maybe "Gia", but that's a TV movie, so it kind of renders the narrative of Brad Pitt trading up from a TV star rather moot. "A Mighty Heart"? That's technically a good movie, and Jolie is very good in it, but who stops the remote when "A Mighty Heart" comes on the TV? "Wanted"? Come on, if you're not going to take this seriously, then I don't know why I should continue. Jolie has one of the weakest CVs of any major star. What I'm saying is, one's favorite Angelina Jolie movie is extremely, extremely unlikely to be one's favorite movie overall, and when it is, it's probably due to circular reasoning, as in "Mr and Mrs. Smith is one of my favorite movies because Angelina Jolie is one of my favorite actresses."
It's not that her filmography is a wasteland. She has a lot of hits to her credit--"Salt", "Tomb Raider", "Mr. and Mrs. Smith". But has anyone ever referenced those movies? Has any sketch comedy show or episode of the Simpsons copied a scene? I mean, Lara Croft was already a well known character. "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" should be one of those great metaphorical cases, where somebody compares their rocky marriage to it. She's put in good performances, ones that have gotten her nominated for major awards--"A Mighty Heart", "The Changeling", and while more serious, uncomfortable films with stellar acting performances are usually more admired than beloved, her good movies don't even tend to make a lot of critic's lists. The balance between art and commerce is a difficult one to traverse, but most actors are able to be in at least one movie that accomplishes both. Her galvanization between megaplex junk food and cinematic kale is comparable to say, Adam Sandler. How is the world's hottest woman comparable to the patron saint of schlubs? Her successes doesn't feel like triumphs, so much as justifications.
Now granted, it is harder in Hollywood for a woman. Most of their roles revolve around being a love interest, very rarely with their own character arc. Likewise, the very popular superhero genre usually doesn't have a lot of female roles. (Believe it or not, the original "Wanted" comic book was more in that vein.) It's also possible Jolie's very distinct personality can be a problem in today's movie culture of casting chameleons or everymen (or women). Jennifer Lawrence has been able to run career circles around Jolie in only a few short years, but her approachable demeanor likely has a lot to do with that. (Ironically enough, though, Jolie would likely be a MUCH better Mystique from "X-Men") But still, take a look at Vulture's list of the hottest commodities in Hollywood. Jolie is amongst the top ranked, but she's one of the only women never to be in an Academy Award Best Picture nominee. Those that aren't are those primarily in adaptions of long-running (and schedule-hogging) young adult-skewing franchises (Emma Watson or Kristen Stewart), or comedies.
It should also be said that she's one of the few actors on that list, who have not re-teamed with a director. No David Fincher, no Quentin Tarantino, no Woody Allen. (Not that I expect Jolie to work with Allen anytime soon!) The only real honest-to-God auteur she has worked with has been Clint Eastwood, who's also kind of famous as a movie star. As a matter of fact, the one time she did the whole "I think I'll be in this movie, regardless of social issue or a paycheck" movie was "The Good Shepherd", Robert DeNiro's directorial debut. (And kind of a big dud) This is actually a problem, as Jolie is transitioning to directing. "In The Land of Blood and Honey" received little attention. This fall she has Unbroken, and Tom Brokaw's voiceover isn't helping, it feels "important" in a way that is not challenging or fresh. We can look at Clooney, very similar to Jolie in the activism and old-school Hollywood charisma. He tends to work with the best, cultivating relationships with Soderbergh or the Coen Brothers. While I'm not the biggest fan of his directorial efforts, they've usually worked out for him, and very often feel like movies from an actual director. How can we expect a great directorial effort from someone who largely doesn't seem to care about film.
Because she doesn't. Which is fine. I know lots of people who aren't film buffs.I know lots of people who are rather detached from their careers. It seems Jolie does movies because she grew up in Hollywood, and it allows her to finance her lifestyle and social efforts. But I also think she's been given a pass when your Nicholas Cages, your Kristen Stewarts, and yes, your Jennifer Anistons, who's resumes are no less perfunctory, but are treated as cinematic red flags because they fit the Hollywood mold a little less. A movie star should be about the movies first.