Glenn here to discuss two of The Film Experience’s favorite women. If you’re like me and have been watching with glee the re-ascension of Scarlett Johansson to critical favour then you also may have noticed the parallels between her and the goddess Nicole Kidman. It took a shorter amount of time, of course, but in this day and age everything moves father. With audiences finally being allowed to see hear Johansson in Her in movie theaters, it seems like as good a time as any to ask the question: is Scarlett Johansson this decade's Nicole Kidman?
When you look at the careers of Nicole Kidman and Scarlett Johansson, the two share a lot of similarities. Both broke out at the tail-end of a decade – the ‘80s for Kidman with Dead Calm, ‘90s for Johansson with The Horse Whisperer – and had critical successes before Hollywood ceased attempting to figure out what the hell to do with them. [more...]
They each descended into a period of miscastings with occasional glimmers of what they were capable of. A Portrait of a Lady here, a Match Point there, but a sea of Practical Magic and The Nanny Diaries is all too familiar for Hollywood’s wannabe leading ladies.
Where the similarities become truly spooky is the comeback. Both were married to good looking leading men (Kidman, obviously, for much longer) when they decided to take their ignored gifts to the stage. Kidman’s much-ballyhooed performance in David Hare's 1998 play The Blue Room (directed by Sam Mendes!) was greeted with acclaim in the UK. Johansson stuck to Broadway and won a Tony Award for Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge. These efforts clearly sparked something in each of the actresses and kicked off what are arguably their finest periods.
Johansson has in fact spoken of the stage’s necessity to “act with your whole body”, and admitted to certain limitations that she had let take over her screen persona. The voice work in Her that won her awards from the Venice Film Festival and nominations from Washington DC and the OFCS impresses for many reasons, but most of all because, having been stripped of her most valuable on screen asset, she's forced to look at different ways of creating character. Without her body to distract audiences, we are allowed to notice the carefully modulated tones of her voice and how it shifts like sand between girlish enthusiasm to melancholy soulfulness.
Does it deserve an award nomination? Maybe, but not for many of the reasons I've heard mentioned. Voice work has been Oscar-worthy many times in the past – I’m thinking of Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo and the works of Marni Nixon, but everybody has their favourites – but as the vocal game has taken jobs away from talented voice artists and handed it to celebrities without the proper skills to create fully-formed characters, her work is shining like a beacon. (Kidman, if you remember, also broke back into the good graces of the public thanks to her voice, except that was for singing in a musical.)
Johansson's work earlier this year in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon is where I feel her awards buzz should really lie (plus it's a genuine supporting role, unlike 'Samantha'). It lacks the potential history-breaking excitement as well as the more respectable home base of Her, but is an excellent example of “acting with your whole body.” In body, in costume, and, yes, in voice, it is a three dimensional performance. She does remarkable things as Samantha in Her, but she’s given an even larger range to work with in Don Jon.
Just like Kidman, she has an embarrassment of riches. Remember when we were all worried Kidman would miss out on an Oscar nominations because she delivered both Moulin Rouge! and The Others the same year? Sadly for Johansson her best picture contender is the one with the more unconventional of the two performances. It’s also unlikely that Johansson will figure into the mainstream awards conversation for Under the Skin next year, just as with Kidman’s collaboration with Jonathan Glazer, Birth (except for that blissful Golden Globe nomination). Scarlett was even the best thing in Hitchcock if you want to keep going. But now is the time to strike. To take that brave, but more audience friendly role that could win her awards. (Wait too long and you become another Jennifer Jason Leigh.)
Hopefully Johansson continues being smart with her film-choices. Working in the Marvel universe hampers her ability to do as she pleases, but is working for Lars Von Trier too far off? He hasn’t announced his post-Nymphomaniac film yet, but maybe there’s a role in there waiting for Johansson. Perhaps she could try reaching out to Jane Campion. I'd also love to see what Lee Daniels would do to her, but maybe that's just me. One can only hope. Johansson as auteur muse is something I like the sound of and, considering her output of late, I suspect she likes the sound of it, too.