Thursday, December 15, 2005

I Heart Jennifer Jason Leigh


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.

5 comments:

the hidden staircase said...

jjl is amazing and worthy of much respect. fast times, swf, short cuts, dolores c, mrs parker. i've not seen georgia but did see a live show at the crocodile cafe here in seattle that featured john doe. mare winningham played a bit of folk rock as well (with her brother patrick, i believe) and for one song during jd's show jennifer jason came out with her short hair and her wild energy and helped sing a song with the chorus of
"eat shit and die!" (repeat 4 or 5 times)

it was a raucous punky loud one and she sang/screamed/emoted her heart out. it was a treat!

also, i heard that she took the "jason" b'c she loved/respected jason robards so much. that's kinda cool i think!

i once heard an interview with her discussing in detail the ill effects of old-time corsets on the female anatomy...it was great, she was being so honest and compassionate for that generation of women and totally freaking out the people listening to her. she has guts and says what she wants...so rare!

Anonymous said...

Jennifer Jason Leigh! Free or unfree?

Hey Koo Koo man, do us a post on what folks should look for in a movie. or maybe the various ways movie watching could be approached. seems like some folks look for different things. if this is a bad idea then remember that "if your're broken, just let go. all you have to do is listen.

the hidden staircase said...

um, so...

back to JJL!

because of your jjl tribute here, i went and rented "eXistenZ" and totally loved it. she was so perfect, and perfect for this cronenberg.

not to mention, the best use of a crimping iron i've yet seen on film. the alternating straight locks with the crimped ones was cool. it worked! usually crimped hair brings on a sort of squinting, cringing reaction...not with jjl's hair!

anyway, the film and sets and ideas were cool, and she brought it out! she plays the cool, smart, bad girl!

Replicant said...

i need to rewatch eXistenZ (ahh, that funny speller cronenberg!) again as i remember really liking it. although, that was before i couldn't stand jude law. but jjl is the star so it's worth it for that.

Replicant said...

Anyone in NY should check JJL out in the play Abigail's Party that is from English director Mike Leigh (no relation) and based on his play/movie in the '70s. Supposed to be worth seeing and I sure wish I could see it.