Saturday, February 25, 2012

FILM TOPIC: Who Will Replace the "Retiring" Rom-Com Leading Actresses?

When I heard that Katherine Heigl signed on for the thriller Face Blind, where she plays a psychologist terrorized by a stalker who she's unable to identify, I gasped in disbelief. Katherine Heigl, the heiress to Kate Hudson's rom-com throne, is doing a non-romantic film after four years of inundating the masses with one contrived romantic plot line after the other? Really? What is happening?
At first, I chalked it up to low box office returns and bad reviews (One For the Money: $25 mil & 2% Rotten Tomatoes rating; New Years' Eve: $54 mil & 8%; Life As We Know It: $53 mil & 28%; Killers: $47 mil & 11%), and tacked on her seemingly desperate desire to return to "Grey's Anatomy." But then that same day I read that Kate Hudson had signed on to TWO non-rom-coms: the action thriller Everly about a woman who has to fend off assassins sent by her mob boss ex, and the thriller The Reluctant Fundamentalist about the affects of 9/11 on a Pakistani businessman. I know what you're thinking: Two is a coincidence. Three is a trend. Well then, I suggest you call it now, because Jennifer Lopez just wrapped the crime thriller Parker with Jason Statham. And if that isn't enough, Jennifer Aniston has signed on for the the dramedy Miss You Already about best friends saying goodbye as one is dying, and the crime film Switch about heist-planning ex-cons.

I don't know if the current wave of women-centric comedies, some actually written by women, has now freed these Rom-com Queens from their eternal sentence of giggling at the sight of men or falling in love with someone they hated not two scenes before, but I do know that the new opportunities they're being presented with has left the throne empty. Granted, now that women can be funny without having to fall in love there might not be a need for a Rom-Com Queen or even that many rom-coms in the works, but let's say for one second (or post) that Rom-Coms, like comedies, might just get smarter. Let's say, for argument's sake, that they're not being retired but reworked. Who will ascend to the throne?

A few young starlets have tried their hand at the rom-com genre. B-list actresses Alexa Vega and Camilla Belle gave it a go with last year's From Nada to Prada. Newcomer Alice Eve sexed up the screen with her modest hottie act in She's Out of My League. Veteran eye candy Megan Fox seems way too hot to play believably lovelorn. Scarlett Johansson has a similar issue. Amanda Seyfried is a good balance between sexy and sweet, so she had a brief run with Mamma Mia and Dear John. Amanda Bynes kind of...lost her mind a little bit and pretty much flushed all of her cred down the drain after 2006's She's the Man—but at least she gave meus Channing Tatum. No Strings Attached is proof enough of why we should never subject Oscar winner Natalie Portman to such roles. Kristen Bell should be banned from rom-coms after You Again and When in Rome. Mandy Moore has never really been a romantic lead draw ever since she reached enlisting age, failing miserably with How to Deal, Chasing Liberty, Because I Said So, License to Wed, and Love, Wedding, Marriage. The title, for some reason, has never stuck on Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada, Bride Wars, and Valentine's Day). Zooey Deschanel is too busy with her hit new series, "New Girl." And Amy Adams, Emma Stone, and Kristen Wiig are way too good to limit themselves to one genre.

The problem with choosing from the new crop of leading ladies is that the obvious suspects are not exactly following in their predecessors' footsteps. Blake Lively seems more interested in establishing herself as a serious actress, peddling that story about earning her role in The Town at every talk show, and scoring a leading role in the Oliver Stone dramatic thriller Savages. Miley Cyrus and Vanessa Hudgens are attempting the same, shaking off their preteen fans to adopt a more mature audience—Cyrus with the indie dramedy LOL and the action comedy So Undercover, and Hudgens with the indie drama Gimme Shelter. And Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) already has an Oscar-worthy head start. Mamie Gummer wouldn't dare sully her mother Meryl Streep's legacy with formulaic material. Emma Watson, fresh off her Harry Potter fame, is diving deep into indie dramas with the adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Your Voice in My Head. As is Felicity Jones with Cheerful Weather for a Wedding and The Invisible Woman. Kirsten Dunst's resurgence seems to be indie-specific, having starred in Melancholia and Bachelorette last year—and the world will see this year that Eva Mendes has the same ambition. Noomi Rapace looks too volatile to romance anyone comically. Zoe Saldana (Colombiana, Star Trek 2, Avatar 2, etc.) is having too much fun playing volatile. Jennifer Lawrence is locked down with The Hunger Games saga, and Rooney Mara with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Kirsten Stewart wouldn't be caught dead in a rom-com—or so she's adamantly said. Jessica Chastain is kicking genre ass, mixing it up every time you try to peg her. And Carey Mulligan, Elizabeth Olsen, Mia Wasikowska, Rebeca Hall, Saoirse Ronan, and Freida Pinto are her sisters in arms.

That leaves these lovely ladies, who could each fit a specific rom-com archetype:

The Hopeless Romantic: Selena Gomez
The former Disney star made her feature film debut with last year's romantic comedy Monte Carlo. She played your basic girl next door type with an innocent and naive quality. Sort of reminded me of Hathaway in Princess Diaries or Moore in A Walk to Remember. She plays sincere and jaded very well. It must be all that Disney training.

The Generic Girl-Next-Door: Ashley Greene
This is the type of leading lady that's nondescript and relatively forgettable if not for the ultra hot guy who's fallen for her. Reese Witherspoon's characters are a perfect example. A majority of them are just average likeable women with maybe one minor flaw, if any. Other good examples have been portrayed by Michelle Monaghan (Made of Honor) and Sarah Jessica Parker (Failure to Launch). This would be a great fit for Greene, because unfortunately for her she's rather forgettable. Granted, everybody loves Reese's Elle Woods, but she lucked out by amping up the ditziness—and the pink. I've yet to even see Greene express any extreme of emotion, and if so, not very believably. Even on ABC's "Pan Am" she couldn't muster up enough sex appeal to make a lesbian encounter steam up the screen. Monaghan has that flaw as well. She's a great peripheral character, a placeholder so the actors aren't talking to themselves.
The Tight-Ass: Leighton Meester and Naya Rivera
As one of the stars of the cult teen series "Gossip Girl," Meester has honed a certain dismissive, obnoxious, judgmental manner of dealing with guys she believes are beneath her station, namely Dan Humphrey. Her behavior is reminiscent of the resistant behavior in The Proposal, 10 Things I Hate About You, and...basically every character Heigl has ever played. Meester already transported this character to the big screen this year in Going the Distance, Country Strong, and Monte Carlo, so it'd be a no-brainer for her. Naya Rivera could also master this role easily. After months of verbally skinning her peers, she's got the comic timing of scathing one-liners down.
The Tomboy: Olivia Wilde and Mila Kunis
This type of female romantic lead has stereotypically male interests and philosophies, often adopting carefree sexual habits, an affinity for beer and sports, and sometimes a diehard work ethic. Olivia Wilde has never actually starred in a rom-com before. Her resume is rather diverse and it will continue to be for the next two years, but considering how easily she melted into the role for The Change-Up convinces me that she could also easily charm an audience. Kunis has already performed this persona in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Friends with Benefits. She's become every guy's dream girl.

The Quirky Indie Chick: Rashida Jones
Since Deschanel is busy with her series, the position of unorthodox comedic indie starlet is wide open. Especially considering that most indie hopefuls go for drama over comedy. You may not know this, but Jones' first major lead role was in the short-lived romantic drama series "NY-LON." It was about these star-crossed lovers that were trying to make a long distance relationship from New York to London work. It only lasted seven episodes and I only know of its existence because I stumbled upon it on Hulu, but I can tell that she could really sell a good love story.

The Badass: Naya Rivera, Nina Dobrev, & Sophia Bush
Rarely are there rom-coms that feature the female as the badass. The best they can do is "adventurous" or "slutty." I guess you could say that Cameron Diaz pulled off both of those in Charlie's Angels and The Sweetest Thing, as well as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Rivera's Santana is quite seductive with her come hither eyelash-batting and straightforward come-ons, Dobrev's rarely seen vicious alter ego Katherine has initiated a few sexy scenes herself, while originally Bush's Brooke was every teenage boy's fantasy. And all three have a little bad girl in them.

Fret not rom-com lovers, until the crown has been officially handed down, we've still got Witherspoon and Barrymore, who continue to deliver new takes on rom-coms even in their late 30s. You can see both this year in This Means War and Big Miracle.

And in case you were wondering why I didn't make this list for leading men (since I did create a poll for it), that's easy: They are interchangeable. As long as they're hot, it doesn't matter what they act like. For heaven's sakes, Ralph Fiennes was in a romantic comedy. Granted, before he was Voldemort, but still.

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