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Two-time Best Actress honoree Jodie Foster turns 54 today. She made her screen debut in an episode of Mayberry R.F.D. which aired one day before her 6th birthday, and her feature film debut in the 1972 Disney film Napoleon and Samantha. She appeared in some additional Disney features later in the 1970s, such as Freaky Friday and Candleshoe. But she also began appearing in roles that gave hints of her success as an adult, such as Bugsy Malone, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, and especially Taxi Driver, which brought her an Oscar nomination for playing the pre-teen prostitute Iris.
Starting in 1977, Foster apparently made a deliberate decision to scale her acting career back for several years, partly because she was attending Yale at that time. In the mid-1980s, her career seemed stalled, as films like Siesta and Stealing Home were failures. But in late 1988, in a role that she once described as making “one last try” at getting herself established as an adult actress, she gave one of her two most famous performances:
TV actors want to be movie stars. That’s a given. But some of them are better suited to the small screen. It’s a tricky prospect making the transition from TV to film. A few actors have made it look so easy you forget their humble beginnings. Other have wiped out spectacularly. In the October 1996 issue of Movieline magazine, contributing writers Kevin Hennessey and Elaine Bailey examined some case studies in TV stars deciding when it was time to leave the show that made them famous.
Today is Meg Ryan‘s 54th birthday. This year, we have been celebrating birthdays for What the Hell Happened subjects with a photo gallery. But Ryan already has one! It turns out I started the gallery tradition with Ryan’s birthday last year, so going forward we’re going to do the next best thing. Or maybe, depending on your point of view, something better. To celebrate Ryan’s big day, we’re going to go back to before she was a movie star and look at some embarrassing commercials!
Today is the 25th anniversary of the release of the first movie to costar Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, Joe Vs. the Volcano. And I’m pretty sure this is the only site on the internet that will mark the occasion. Hanks and Ryan went on to appear in two more successful movies together. But Joe Vs. the Volcano seemed to confound critics and audiences alike. The movie received mixed reviews from critics and flopped at the box office. It effectively killed writer-director John Patrick Shanley’s directing career. The Oscar-winning screenwriter of Moonstruck returned to theater after his directorial debut.
But 25 years ago, I sat in an almost empty movie theater and was completely enchanted by Joe Vs the Volcano. I didn’t just like it. I loved almost everything about it. I was certain that a movie this wonderfully unique would eventually find an audience. And while I have found others who love Joe Vs. the Volcano as much as I do, popular opinion on the movie hasn’t really changed.
I used to watch Joe on a regular basis. But as adult responsibilities made repeat viewings of any movie less and less frequent, Joe Vs the Volcano faded from memory. Eventually I reached a point where I was almost afraid to watch it again. What if I didn’t love it anymore? What if I had been wrong and everyone else who thought the movie was silly and stupid was right?
For the movie’s 25th anniversary, I decided it was time to take a chance and jump back into the volcano.
Actors careers are shaped by choices. Their performances are made up of small choices; how a character should move, what they should sound like, how they should react. Then there are the big choices like what roles to take and who to work with. When an actor commits to a movie, they are dedicating a chunk of their lives to preparing for the role, filming the movie and then doing the promotion circuit. For a lead actor, each movie can be a year-long commitment. For an actor who is in demand, this can lead to some tough choices which will ultimately shape the course of their career.
As the old saying goes, “hindsight is 20/20.” Sometimes, an actor’s choices look foolish in retrospect. Other times, it seems like they dodged a bullet. Either way, movie fans love looking back and wondering what might have been.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Meg Ryan was America’s Sweetheart and the reigning queen of the romantic comedy. For a time, Ryan had her pick of projects which means she had the opportunity to pass on a lot of movies that went on to become hits. The means lots of opportunities to wonder about what might have been.
As I indicated in my previous post and in the comments section that came with it, I went into this project fully expecting to prefer the film comedies I would have to choose from as I moved back into my younger days. Is this a bias based on personal tastes? Is it a generational bias that we would see repeated reliably if we polled thousands of people of different ages? Or are there really certain eras for different art forms that are simply of a higher quality than others?
As we roll back into my young adulthood in the 1990s, my guess is that it’s a little bit of all of the above.
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I hope everyone had a pleasant holiday season. I know I did.
This is just a quick entry to let everyone know what I am up to blog-wise. My output has slowed down as of late. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on Le Blog. As those following Le Blog on Facebook are aware, I have gone back to the beginning of the popular “What the Hell Happened” series to update all of the 32 existing articles.
Friend of the site, Paul S, is the author of a wonderful site dedicated to two of my favorite actresses from the 80s and 90s, Michelle Pfeiffer and Meg Ryan. We have had an on-going conversation about the two actresses in which we each picked a favorite. Personally, I have always been more of a Pfeiffer fan myself. But Paul makes a compelling case for Meg.
Like a lot of viewers, I hadn’t seen some of the movies in which Meg Ryan attempted to stretch beyond her “girl next store” romantic comedy image. So when I heard Paul praise Flesh and Bone as one of Ryan’s greatest performances, I decided I needed to see it for myself.
Regular readers of my What the Hell Happened articles know that sometimes the comments section takes on a life of its own. For reasons unknown, we have discussed Michael Keaton fighting just about every actor who worked in the 1980’s. The most recent entry focused on Michelle Pfeiffer. Blogger, Paul S brought up the idea of comparing Pfeiffer’s career to previous WtHH subject, Meg Ryan. This resulted in an excellent article on Paul S’s blog devoted to the two actresses comparing their careers.
I started typing up a response to the article. It may not surprise anyone to know I rambled on and on. My final comment was practically an article unto itself. But then tragedy struck. Blogger.com (which doesn’t seem to like me very much) ate my comments! I left an abbreviated version of my original comments and vowed to come back later for a more detailed analysis.
You’re clever folks. You have probably already figured out that those comments morphed into this article.
Once upon a time, Meg Ryan sat at the top of the A-list. Her nearest competitor was Julia Roberts. She was America’s Sweetheart. Now, she seems to be retired after years of direct-to-video schlock. It’s time to ask that age-old question: What the hell happened?