What 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 (Chicago, Cold Mountain) before the vehicles themselves soon revealed their own inadequacy and consequently watched their awards chances (and hers) all but fizzle out (Cinderella Man, Mrs. Potter)?
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?)
Her 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 39? My One and Only? New 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.