The A-List: Don’t Call It a Comeback
This past weekend, Dumb and Dumber To exceeded even the most optimistic box office projections. Critics were unkind to the sequel, but audiences who have been waiting twenty years for more Dumb and Dumber didn’t care. Now there’s talk of a Dumb and Dumber trilogy!
The box office success of Dumb and Dumber To has some people talking about a comeback for Jim Carrey. Carrey’s movie career has cooled over the last decade or so. His last unqualified box office hit was arguably Bruce Almighty in 2003. When a Dumb and Dumber sequel was announced, it seemed to some (myself included) like a desperation move. But now, it seems like a “hail mary pass” that connected.
So is this the start of a Jim Carrey comeback? I’m skeptical. Where does Carry go from here? I suspect Dumb and Dumber To was a hit precisely because audiences had to wait 20 years for a second helping. Would a third movie have the same built in audience? I doubt it.
Currently, Carrey doesn’t have any projects listed on IMDB. This suggests that either he is taking some time off or he is uncertain of his next move. He could continue mining his past hits with sequels to The Mask or Bruce Almighty. But that’s a strategy that typically results in diminishing returns. Just ask sequel-happy Chevy Chase.
Carrey could make another attempt at dramatic roles. He has shown he has the ability to pull them off. But audiences have historically rejected his efforts to reinvent himself. Or he could keep doing what he was doing prior to Dumb and Dumber To. Taking scene-stealing supporting roles in movies like Burt Wonderstone and Kick Ass 2.
It seems to me that Carrey is at a crossroads. His next decision could define the next stage of his career. The box office success of Dumb and Dumber To should give him some options. But he has to find a way to capitalize on that success or else he’ll be right back where he was last year.
For the last year or so I have been hearing buzz about Birdman. Birdman, with its meta casting of Michael Keaton as a down-on-his-luck actor who is best-known for having played a super hero, was a comeback waiting to happen. Not just for Keaton, but potentially for co-star Edward Norton as well.
Birdman opened in limited release in October and has generated strong reviews. There’s talk of Keaton being nominated for an Oscar. The movie seems likely to be remembered in some capacity come awards season. But there’s still a lot of road between now and nomination time. It’s possible Keaton and Birdman could get pushed aside if we have a crowded field of contenders.
This is where the box office for Birdman becomes a factor. Box office can be a double edged sword when it comes to prestige movies. If a movie becomes too popular, it can generate a backlash. But if it doesn’t become popular enough, voters with short memories will have moved on by the time the awards season rolls around.
Birdman opened in wide release last weekend. It opened in 10th place which isn’t bad for only 857 theaters. Its per screen average was better than John Wick or Nightcrawler. But it still has a ways to go before it recoups its $18 million dollar production costs. It’s going to have to have legs if its going to turn a profit in theaters,
So what does that mean for Keaton and Norton’s chances at a comeback? Probably not a lot really. The movie is certainly putting Keaton back in the spotlight for the first time in a long time. But Keaton doesn’t seem all that interested in returning to movie stardom full time. He could use the Birdman buzz to get more work. But one of the reasons Keaton hasn’t been working much in recent years is that he chooses not to.
As for Norton, I don’t think Birdman changes anything at all. He’s still a well-respected actor with a reputation for being difficult. If you hire Norton, you have to expect him to try to rewrite your movie. It’s what he does. He’ll continue turning in interesting performances in movies like Birdman. But a return to leading roles in mainstream movies seems unlikely.
Keanu Reeves has been generating some comeback buzz with his recent starring role in the low-budget action flick, John Wick. Like Birdman, the movie has been helped by strong reviews. And while it isn’t a sequel like Dumb and Dumber To, it is a return to form for Reeves after a string of disappointments.
John Wick has performed well at the box office in relation to its budget. That’s something to bear in mind. To date, John Wick has grossed under $40 million in the US and just over $50 million worldwide. It’s going to turn a tide profit because the budget was kept small. But this isn’t Reeves flexing his A-list muscles. This is a case of a modestly budgeted action moving doing well. Its overall audience is still relatively small.
So is John Wick a comeback for Reeves? In and of itself, I say “no”. It’s certainly a step in the right direction. But what matters most is what Reeves does next. Unlike Carrey, Reeves has a number of movies in the pipeline. He needs one or more of them to connect with audiences if he’s going to return to the A-list. A modest hit like John Wick isn’t going to do it alone.
Like Keaton, I have my doubts Reeves is all that interested in returning to the A-list. He’s working quite a bit. But he seems to go where his interests take him rather than choosing roles that will keep him in the spotlight. My expectation is John Wick will go down as a solid film in a long filmography, but not a comeback vehicle.
Another movie that has tongues wagging is Nightcrawler. Jake Gyllenhaal’s lead performance has many talking about a comeback for him. Gyllenhaal has flirted with movie stardom in the past with movies like The Day After Tomorrow and Prince of Persia. But so far, it has eluded him. And he doesn’t seem terribly concerned about it either.
With Brokeback Mountain, Gyllenhaal seemed like an actor to watch. But he hasn’t done much of note since then. Nightcrawler isn’t going to make Gyllenhaal a movie star. But it puts him back in the game.
Remember when I mentioned that Keaton could potentially get squeezed out of a crowded Best Actor field. Gyllenhaal is just one threat to Keaton’s Oscar chances. There’s only five nominations to hand out and only one statue.
Rene Russo also has a supporting role in Nightcrawler. At her age, there is no real chance of Russo returning to the A-list. But Nightcrawler represents a comeback of a different kind for Russo. After several years away from the screen, Russo reappeared in the Thor movies. Nightcrawler shows she’s still got a lot of years in supporting roles if she wants to continue working.
The highest-stakes comeback attempt surely belongs to Katherine Heigl and her new NBC show, State of Affairs. Heigl rose to prominence with the one-two punch of Grey’s Anatomy and Knocked Up. She then torpedoed her career by badmouthing her hits and starring in a string on insipid rom-coms. At her low point, Heigl was starring in a Nyquil commercial. It was embarrassing.
But then someone seemed to realize that Heigl was still extremely photogenic and maybe she had been humbled enough that she wouldn’t be a nightmare to work with. Since being cast in State of Affairs, Heigl has done everything except go door to door apologizing to her fans. She is practically begging for a second chance.
State of Affairs debuted last night and its still too early to tell whether or not Heigl’s comeback will happen. The show has gotten mostly negative reviews. And the ratings were described by Entertainment Weekly as “modest”. But with a strong lead in from the hit show, The Voice, State of Affairs could build an audience. It still managed to beat ABC’s Castle and CBS’ NCIS: Los Angeles in the adult demo at 10 p.m.
Comebacks are a tricky thing. Predicting them is dangerous. A comeback is like lightning in a bottle. It’s all about the right project coming along under the right circumstances at just the right time. And even then, follow-up is key. A hit TV show or movie with no follow-up does not a comeback make.
Over the last nearly five years of writing the What the Hell Happened series, I have heard a lot of talk about comebacks. I remember being told that The Sessions was going to make Helen Hunt a star again. And that Elysium would mean big things for Jodie Foster. We love a good comeback story and we’re always pulling for our favorite stars. But true comebacks are few and far between.
Posted on November 18, 2014, in A-List, Movies and tagged A-List, birdman, dumb and dumber, Edward Norton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jim Carrey, john wick, katherine heigl, Keanu Reeves, Michael Keaton, Nightcrawler, Rene Russo, state of affairs. Bookmark the permalink. 49 Comments.