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Will Renée Zellweger Ever Achieve 'Comeback' Status

We welcome back Matthew Eng (who has been studying abroad) with a response of sorts to yesterday's Smackdown just in time for the Zeéeeee's 45th birthday today.

Renée Zellweger at an Armani show in October last yearWhat is there left to say about Renée Zellweger that hasn’t already been said by nearly every snarky film blogger since the Oscar win that ignited an entire anti-actress fatwa? Of course, you can’t really blame those who vehemently turned against Renée based solely on the performance that won her what has to be—give or take Crash—the most-maligned win of the Aughts. But surely there were other forces at work here that contributed to Zellweger’s descent from perennial A-list awards darling (an astounding three Globes in three years) to seemingly-unemployable former ingenue.

Is it the implied greediness for awards, signaled not by the type of overly-gleeful, wild-eyed, “wanting it too much” acceptance speeches that have been catnip for the Hathahaters, but rather by a clear preference for shameless Oscar vehicles that initially worked in her favor (ChicagoCold Mountain) before the vehicles themselves soon revealed their own inadequacy and consequently watched their awards chances (and hers) all but fizzle out (Cinderella ManMrs. Potter)?

Or is it something else...?


Could it perhaps be the over-praise she received early on in the 2000s, acclaim that had seemingly less to do with any one given performance than it did with her own active efforts in achieving the performance itself, i.e. her Bridget Jones weight gains; her cosmetic frumping-down and committed if admittedly crummy accent work for Cold Mountain; as well as her triumph in overcoming her own limited song-and-dance abilities for Chicago? Or is there simply something unexplainable, something inherently divisive about Renée that turns certain moviegoers off, in addition to the early ballyhoos and the surfeit of prizes?

I can’t help but think back to an early Sopranos episode, in which Edie Falco’s Carmela snaps at her cinephile priest, “I told you I didn’t like Renée Zellweger!” when he flirtingly brings over a One True Thing DVD. Everyone seems to have some sort of personal aversion to Renée these days, Hollywood included. (Is anyone a true-blue fan, or at the very least a semi-passionate defender?)

My Own Love SongHer last film was the blink-and-everyone-missed-it music drama My Own Love Song (from La vie en Rose and Grace of Monaco director Olivier Dahan) a full four years ago, and nearly everything preceding it, post-Cold Mountain, totally failed to take off, critically and commercially: Case 39My One and OnlyNew in Town? Even vague Oscar fare like Appaloosa and Leatherheads was met with obliviousness more than anything.

Every year or so, we hear something about a Renée project in the works: a Lifetime series called Cinnamon Girl about the Hollywood music scene in the sixties and seventies that she developed but which failed to even see the light of day; 4 1/2 Minutes, her planned directorial debut about a flailing stand-up comedian starring Johnny Knoxville that we’ve heard next to nothing about since it was announced over a year ago; a West End stage adaptation of The Hustler in which she’d tackle the Piper Laurie part. One of the more recent, although admittedly dubious, rumors is that she's heading an all Oscar-winner season of Dancing with the Stars. Yikes.

And then of course there’s the latest debacle over The Whole Truth, a courtroom thriller slated for 2015 that would’ve joined Renée with both an A-List actor (Daniel Craig) and a buzzy indie director (Frozen River’s Oscar-nominated writer-helmer Courtney Hunt). But alas, Craig upped and bailed on the project just days before shooting was set to begin in Boston, leaving the entire production at a standstill and putting a huge question mark over the project’s status, as well as Renée’s potential “comeback.”

I understand audiences’ and even producers’ reticence to let Renée back on their screens. I feel similarly, even though it's worth remembering that she has been quite good on several occasions (i.e. her Roxie Hart, both bravely stupid and surprisingly sharp; the clear naturalism of her Jerry Maguire breakout; her surprising believability as British Plain Jane Bridget Jones), and that the misguided, falsified fire of her Cold Mountain performance was elicited, in part, by a director. 

Surely there must be something for her to do, instead of just quietly fading away, the career equivalent of her visibly uncomfortable appearance in that bewildering Chicago reunion at last year’s Oscars, in which Zellweger seemed all but intent on self-erasure. I can see her landing on the stage eventually, or on TV in anything from a small-scale sitcom to a modest, one-hour serial. I wouldn't bank on her headlining another movie any time soon, or at least not any of the prestige pics she made her name on in the Miramax heyday. Her best bet is to self-efface and go supporting, meaningreal supporting and not the self-absorbed Appalachian absurdity she lent to Cold Mountain over a decade ago. But I do think, with ten years’ distance, we could all afford to forgive her for Ruby Thewes and let a gal work. Forgive, that is, if never entirely forget.

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Reader Comments (47)

That photo doesn't even look like Renee. Maybe, I have just happily
forgotten what she looks like...

April 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Not a fan of her body of work, which is comprised of mostly dull movies, but I absolutely love her in Chicago, I would have given the Oscar for that (as did the Academy, by the way, via that weird compensation system that they do. She didn't win for Cold Mountain, who are we kidding?)

As far as her career goes, not sure if this is true or not, but rumor is her career imploded for personal reasons (addiction, mental health and relationship issues).

Regarding the question at hand, sure she can have a comeback, if she gets her act together and finds the right part. Helen Hunt was much maligned for stealing Judi Dench's Oscar, but she came back with The Sessions. Sally Field, who was ridiculed for that infamous Oscar Speech, has had a solid and steady career and made her Oscar comeback with Lincoln. Marisa Tomei, (undeservedly) the biggest Oscar joke, has made her way into a quality career and two more Oscar noms. The list goes on.

I think eternal hatred is reserved only for Gwyneth, and that's partially because Cate Blanchett's around all the time reminding people how much better, funnier, nicer, smarter and classier she is, so it's a constant "Yeah, we really f*cked up that one, didn't we?"

April 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

Kenny Chesney must really have the goods on her!

April 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

She was good in Nurse Betty. And she was charming when she returned from the ladies' room at the Golden Globes as they were awarding her for it. But that's about all I have to say on the matter.

April 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

I'm not one for rumors but I honestly have to believe that there has to be some internal Hollywood reasons for her flat lined career. Perhaps she's difficult to work with or somehow unstable? There just simply is no solid reason why her career should dive off into oblivion after all the acclaim and success she achieved. Hilary Swank is just as polarizing as her (that second Oscar win was also heavily maligned), and although she's had her fair share of flops (The Reaping, anyone) and controversy (Chechnya), she is still consistently employed in buzzy projects (Amelia, Conviction, this year's You're Not You & The Homesman). Regardless, I'm willing to Renée another chance (if it's still possible).

April 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

I honestly think her looks have a lot to do with it. After Chicago her face started to look more and more like she was sucking on a lemon. And now she looks very different.

I love her in Empire Records, Nurse Betty, Bridget Jones, Down with Love and Chicago. But after Chicago/Cold Mountain I started to really dislike her. And honestly I can't really tell you why. There's just something off about her.

April 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

The squinting always really bothered me. But I think she is quite good in Jerry Maguire, One True Thing, Nurse Betty, Bridget Jones' Diary, and Chicago. Really liked her until her projects got really crappy. Would like to see her come back with something strong, she doesn't deserve the hate she gets.

April 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMia

I've always felt she was cold and I think this has translated to Hollywood. I remember Tracy Ullman doing a take on her that was less than kind. All about the attitude, not necessarily the deeds.

There are also the already mentioned rumors of instability and publicly, at any rate, she has a weird rep on the relationship front. The Kenny Chesney marriage, the speed to the alter and speed to have it undone (along with the reason) do not spell "head squarely on shoulders."

I would love to know why Craig dropped the project. If is was a problem with Zell, he will never tell, its not his style. And the length of time it is taking to find a replacement doesn't look good either. A lot of men could play that part and a lot of men are looking for work. Why was it not filled the next day?

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

it's the old hollywood story; actress sells her soul to the devil harvey weinstein for an oscar, pays the price

at least she and gywneth can use their fake british accents when laughing about it over tea with kate winslet...

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterpar

She had a moment, but I don't remember anyone being a passionate fan. For me, she was fine, but always better in supporting roles.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Somewhat off topic, why is it always that actresses appear to suffer this type of backlash/career decline following their dubious or unpopular Oscar wins? No matter how divisive an actor's victory, he still manages to come out mostly unscathed.

At any rate, I have no clue why audiences and the industry turned on Zellweger, though showing how much she REALLY WANTED an Oscar via several consecutive, very baity, high-profile pictures couldn't have helped. She can always turn to television for salvation/redemption, however. A quality miniseries or movie or a multi-episode guest-starring stint on something buzzy would undoubtedly do the trick, yet she would HAVE to win an Emmy for it to mean anything. Matthew's suggestion of her doing some genuine supporting film gigs would be a great next step after that, far against type though -- monster mom, hippie cult leader, something unexpected but fun that does not have the ring of prestige comeback.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

Down with love. Bridget jones. Chicago. Her best work by far. The downfall came because she turned her back on what she was good at. Bring back the studio system and typecasting...it ain't all bad.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermatt

i loved her from Jerry Maguire through Bridget Jones... and I even admire the Chicago performance a lot despite also being turned off by it (a weird dichotomy) but after that was a series of Yikes.

April 26, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I blame Bradley Cooper. She stopped working when she got together with him. Just kidding! I hope Renee will have a comeback but her new face looks strange. I don't know who has more plastic surgery/botox injections, Renee or Kidman?

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHana

Even reading through these comments, I don't understand the shade being thrown her way. I wasn't so appalled by her work in Cold Mountain or her win to hate her for it.

I wouldn't call myself as ever having been a passionate fan, but I absolutely adore her in Chicago (thoroughly deserving of the win, sorry Julianne enthusiasts) as well as Bridget Jones' Diary + sequel. It's a shame her career has fallen the way it has, and I so hope she's able to overcome this and become a respected actress again and not merely a plastic surgery/lemon face pun.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Have you heard Kathy Griffin's random stand up comedy bits on Renee? Hilarious.

Anyway, if I never see Renee in another film I'll probably sleep better at night. Halle Berry in Catwoman was better than Zellweger in Cold Mountain.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjohn

It's a sad sad story. I adore her as Bridget Jones.

No more surgeries, please.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Some Oscar winners have lulls look at Reese an Hilary even recent winner Portman some Zellweger,Connelly and Berry simly chose the wrong projects,none of these id any great work after the wins,seems like they take the cheque and run,others Kidman,Streep,Cotillard,Mirren,Bullock,Roberts,Theron and Blanchett who is more popular and awarded now than in 04 manage to stay relevant,awarded and employed.

Renee seems to be suffering what Winslet is suffering from newer actresses coming along and there Oscar campaigning,for some reason wanting and the fake incincerity turn people at home off,witness the backlash for Hathaway and to a lesser extent Lawrence.

I would think there is some underlying "news" that we are not supposed to know and that's why,a comeback is possible but not bj3.

I enjoyed her in the early 00's but she seemed to loose her naturalness after losing for Chicago,maybe it's me,plus she was never box office which is what has helped Diaz stay a star witness the 20 plus opening weekend for Diaz's The Other Woman quite something for a 40 plus actress.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

white oleander - terrific in that, heartbreaking. her interviews - she always struck me as kind of creepy & very contrived...the squinting and pursed lips - wtf was that all about.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjimmy

jimmy --ooh good call. I always forget about her in that but really the whole cast was strong though Pfeiffer was still running circles around everything. my god, what i wouldn't give to see Pfeiffer work that hard again in a movie. Phenomenal.

but yeah. in addition to Zellweger i thought Robin Wright was really good in that, too.

April 26, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

She had a great run from 1995 (Empire Records - yes, I will defend it) to about 2003 (Down with Love, although I agree with others that Cold Mountain isn't the disaster some make it out to be, even if it's not Oscar-worthy). But I remember even during that run people talked about her strange, non-stop lemon-sucking facial expressions more than the performances. Since she was at so many awards shows and red carpets, that expression was ubiquitous and more associated with her than any particular film. Her personality never really compensated or negated this impression, either.

And that recent appearance at the Oscars just seemed to remind everyone of why they were put off of her in the first place, what with the squinting and apparent inability to competently read a few cue cards.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

3 globes in 4 years not 3!

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteramir

She hasn't worked in a while for the same reason tons of other actresses since the beginning of time haven't worked, and you point out the problem right in your opening paragraph: She's a former ingenue. It's the trickiest mold to break out of, and very few actresses are able to do it successfully. The second she got too old for the ingenue parts is when her career started to slip, and after those films weren't successes, she disappeared because she wasn't bankable and because directors didn't know what else to do with her. Oldest story in Hollywood. It sucks, because when used correctly she's a dynamic actress. Her best days are probably behind her, but there's no saying she won't get them back again.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Poor Renée.

While I can't say she was ever my favorite actress, I do think she's been quite good and/or charming in a number of films (Jerry McGuire, One True Thing, Bridget Jones' Diary, Down With Love...hell, even Leatherheads). And I don't believe people in Hollywood don't like working with her so much as she had a series of missteps which reinforced that mainstream audiences, she's just not their cuppa.

It also seems pretty clear that the rare degree of success she achieved -- an Oscar, tens of millions of dollars, etc. -- more than satisfied her ambitions, and that she decided to take off time to relax, breathe, enjoy her life, explore her options. It's not that far-fetched to accept her absence as at least partly deliberate, calculated, her choice.

Oh, and by all appearances she doesn't seem all that desperate to be back in the Hollywood grind the same way, say, Melanie Griffith does.

I'd welcome her back.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

P.S. Might I add: Zellweger gives good, heartfelt award acceptance speech. Carry on.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I do hope to see her again. She was never a favorite per se, but only a handful are. People tend to forget her fun turns in Nurse Betty and Down with Love, but maybe that's just the crowds I run with.

Either way, I'm sure there's a plethora of recent films she could've slotted into nicely.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

I would have loved to see her in Amy Adams role in The Master.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

I just feel sad for her. I agree with others that there must be more to her story than we know, it's hard to compare Renée with Halle Berry or Gwyneth Paltrow because with those two (and others) we know exactly where things went horribly wrong. I loooove the Bridget Jones movies (yes, even the second one) and Renée was so great in it. I love Chicago too, and despite the bad singing she wasn't bad. I'd love to see her in something decent again, but every time she steps out she looks like she's in pain or something. Does she even want to be in something decent or go back into acting?

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

To answer your original question in the article..... NO!!!!!

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterrick

@Mark: That's definitely an intriguing casting swap, although I think that part really could've benefited from an older actresses' touch and I'm still with Nathaniel's comment that The Master would've been a much more interesting movie if Laura Dern and Amy Adams had swapped roles.

Back to Renée though, part of what depresses me so deeply about her career slump, although it's not just specific to her, is that when the public turns on an actress - usually post-Oscar and especially with previously oft-nominated ones - they really turn on her. I'm particularly worried that we may be having this exact same discussion discussion about Anne Hathaway or even a seemingly inevitable winner like Amy Adams (both of whom I adore, by the way) in the coming years.

But if anything, these comments have made me realize that there are plenty of gaps in my Renée viewing experience, as I still have yet to see Nurse Betty, One True Thing, and White Oleander, all of which I've heard good to great things about her performances within them.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Eng

White Oleander is a terrific film for many reasons but top of the list are Pfeiffer, Wright and the girl at the center (whose name escapes me). Zell was quite good in a non showy part which actually suited her better than many roles do. She isn't a natural beauty but not unattractive either (interesting would be Dame Maggie's description of her face). She was very believable as a trophy wife and I'm not trying to be snarky. Her section was an important contrast to Wright's which I think followed.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

@Matthew Eng

Hathaway has the best chance of longevity. Despite the insistence of the consensus. Anne's a character actress. Right now she's in that forced awkward stage. Of being seen as an ingenue transitioning into a leading lady. Once she realizes she can be her generation's Sandy Dennis. She won't chase after Jennifer Lawrence's passed over offers.

April 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Anne will be just like a Renee in a few years,bad choices may kill her momentum,not true Bullock/Diaz BO,not as respected as a Winslet or a Chastain,not a Beautiful as a Knightley or as chaasmatic as Lawrence,and she was so amateur in les miz.

April 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

oh brother, we love to hate, don't we?

April 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Matthew: definitely see Nurse Betty - I think it's her best performance.

April 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Maybe renee should hold out for a great critically acclaimed sitcom. kind of a "modern family" with a strong supporting cast about 40ish single mom / ala "Alice" / vulnerable yet strong / picking up the pieces. sassy best friend of course (possibly a sassy black best friend!!!). crusty yet heart-of-gold dad or boss. kind of a Mary Tyler moore for this generation of women. we could use a decent sitcom - they are few and far between. Alison Janney is so wasted on the trashy / constant-sex-joke show "moms".

April 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjimmy

Perhaps she reached he peak in "Chicago" - of course that plastic surgery does not help! What was she thinking?

April 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Hmmm... there's backlash at practically every acor/actress when they won an Oscar. Even for derserved wins, but of course more for "undeserved" wins, though that leaves out Sandra Bullock, at least at the moment. (I mean her career, not her busted marriage shortly after her win-she's way better off with him anyway, so I don't think it was a "curse" anyway)
The best thing is to go on and see what's happening.
If the right movie role's coming up, Renée will be "back" again, though I really loved her her eyes the way they were. Why she had to change that most recognizable look of herself.... I don't know. But it's her decision.
I think she was also wonderful as Beatrix Potter in 2006, but that was simply a much too strong best actress year, with Mirren way up front.

April 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

I think the answer is pretty simple Hollywood likes their leading ladies between 25-40. So if you're over 40 you better be a brilliant actress like Cate Blanchett or really popular like Sandra Bullock, and Renee comes up a little short in both those areas.

April 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Troutman

I second what Michael posted. Sad but true.

April 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I never watched "Cold Mountain", but even then, as a teenager, I felt that her Oscar win that year was because they *wanted* to give it to her for "Bridget Jones" and "Chicago" but that it just wasn't her year.

As an actress, I think her best work (admittedly, from what I've seen) is the final monologue from the criminally underrated "Down with Love".

And while we are on the subject of "White Oleander", that was one of those films that I never watched because I loved the book too much and was worried the film would ruin it (I remember imagining Neve Campbell in the part Renee eventually played). That said, I remember having such great respect for Michelle Pfeiffer when she discussed that role on "Inside the Actors Studio". She told James Lipton (paraphrasing), "I loved that book because I understood every woman in it ... except her." I thought that spoke *VOLUMES* of her willingness to be risky.

April 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjakey

I think Broadway would be a surer, though maybe slower, bet for a career revival than TV. She doesn't seem warm enough to anchor a series, and the stage makes sense for her.

April 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBD

Look at Miss Renee looking human for a change. Hotness! Get that comeback, bitch!

April 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDorian

Jakey -- and then where did that risk-taking adventure go? That was her last genius work. I so wish she'd feel that passionately again.

Michael - that's probably true. (sigh)

April 28, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I absolutely love Renee Zellweger. Former costars have always talked about how nice and generous she is. She is so talented, as well. I think her main problem has been that she decided to spend more time on her private life at a time when her career was really hot. Out of sight/out of mind in Hollywood!! Unfortunately that happens to many actors/actresses..

Rumor going around is that Daniel Craig pulling out of the movie had nothing to do with the cast/crew but had more to do with personal issues. Not sure what the personal issues are. Isn't his wife filming a movie out of the country?

Renee just needs to find the correct vehicle to get back in the mainstream of Hollywood. I would like to see her in a smaller film maybe. Or maybe they will find a good replacement for Craig in that movie. I think she also really would really like to direct, so maybe that will come to fruition.

Renee should have won the Oscar for" Chicago" (or even for Bridget Jones Diary") but her accent in Cold Mountain was actually spot on. Visit the mountains where this movie supposedly took place and you will encounter many nice people who sound just like she did.

Renee's relationship with Bradley Cooper certainly didn't help her career. She took a back seat and did a lot of writing while his career took off.

P.S. "Cinnamon Girls" was actually in demand and many networks were after it. Lifetime won the rights and even filmed the pilot. They then decided to not pick it up, which is a shame.


April 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRose

Rose said what I was thinking. That, and she had the temerity to age in Hollywood. Damned if you don't (the relentless 'squinty eyed' comments--JFC, it's part of her ethic heritage), damned if you do (the relentless comments related to (alleged) plastic surgery).

July 31, 2014 | Unregistered Commentersandra

(Darn it, I meant ethnic.)

July 31, 2014 | Unregistered Commentersandra

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