Thursday, December 15, 2005
After talking about Fred Ward and Miami Blues/Short Cuts, decided I must write something about a co-star of those films—Jennifer Jason Leigh.
I first developed a crush on Leigh in 1982 when she played Stacy, the sexy as hell girl next door, in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Since then I’ve watched her in anything—from period dramas to junky roles to sci-fi to seeing her onstage on Broadway. I’ve watched her in lead roles and in supporting roles. She’s just one of these people I love to see and try to watch her in every movie she’s in.
Leigh’s not perfect in my book though—I loathed The Anniversary Party (2001) with a passion when it came out. Early in her career she was involved with some lurid and cheesy b-films (The Heart of Midnight--1988, Buried Alive--1990, The Men’s Club--1986, Grandview U.S.A--1984). She was also in some good genre pictures over the years like The Hitcher (1986), Single White Female (1992,more guilty pleasure than good) and The Big Picture (1989, a great satire of Hollywood from Christopher Guest).
What I’ve always loved about Leigh is she is up for anything as an actress and has been fearless in what she does on screen. I admire that. Her career is littered with characters that are whores, prostitutes, killers, junkies, drunks, depressives—you know, bad girls. She's also known for her research and preparation for roles which I always find interesting.
Watch Leigh in the adaptation of Hubert Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989) playing the local prostitute “Tralala” to see what dark depths Leigh will go to. “Tralala” is a heartbreaking character and Leigh is like a caged animal in the film, full of rage and a deep sad, desperation. Or catch her if you can in the TV movie The Best Little Girl In the World from 1981 where Leigh starves herself so extremely she looks dangerously ill.
The strange thing is I’ve read that Leigh is rather bookish and introverted in real life. Isn’t that always the way? The most daring performers are often the most reserved people when not performing.
Leigh’s heyday was the 1990s. She had nine films in that decade that I recommend as being really good. Nine. Miami Blues (1990), Rush (1991), Short Cuts (1993), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), Dolores Claiborne (1995), Georgia (1995), Kansas City (1996) and eXinstenZ (1999). Is that not a great decade for an actress or what? If someone can find me an actress who did better or more varied work in the 1990s please feel free to try and convince me.
Leigh was completely robbed of Oscar nominations for Mrs. Parker and for Georgia. I’m not even counting the terrific time travel and romance tv movie she did in 1998 with Campbell Scott called The Love Letter. Heck, let’s add that and make it an even ten for great movies in the '90s.
Leigh is 43 now and that’s a weird age for a female actress in Hollywood. She’s doing a lot of supporting roles and she’s still great. I have the feeling she’s going to be a good character actress as long as she wants to be and 23 years after I first saw her as a teenager, I still have a crush on her.
Posted by Joshua Blevins Peck at 2:25 PM