Does Charlize Theron deserve to win a second Academy Award? More importantly, for the good of the movies, do we even want her to?
Let’s get to the case.
That was a Law & Order sound effect, just by the by.
… Oh, shut up, you know what I meant.
Before we start let me make one thing plainly clear: I like Charlize Theron. I think she is a talented actress, a beautiful woman, and a more than worthy addition to the movies.
That being said, I do not want her to win another Oscar. Let me tell you why…
Charlize is that rare actress who was introduced to the movie-going public one way (that being the vapid, über-hottie), and then successfully transitioned into a more respectable one (that being the “classy” actress). Few have pulled this feat off, and fewer still were able to keep us convinced (hello, Nicole Kidman). I found Charlize’s transition somewhat endearing, as I personally never thought she would succeed.
I liked the role she played in the industry. She was this great combination of fresh face, luscious body and surprising skill. She held her own against a slew of talented actors: Pacino, Spader, Caine, Depp, Maguire, DiCaprio, Caan, Norton, and Reeves (that would be Keanu, and twice at that). She never took anything off the table, never was the weak part of the film (even though her part may have been weak), and never starved the audience for something nice to look at. Breaking it down, she was a perfect up and coming star. And then a curious thing happened, she turned out to be a good actress.
Maybe she had never been given the chance before to show what she had. Maybe she was just bored by the material. Maybe she was always that good but we were too busy staring at her beauty, and ignored everything else. It’s probably a combination of all three. The most likely answer is that she is just so beautiful that we can’t possibly fathom that she would be a great actor. Call it the Audrey Hepburn Effect. Or maybe the Catherine Zeta-Jones Corollary.
As it turns out, the girl can act. A lot.
And so Monster came out and it was over for Charlize: The Beauty Queen. I think she won the Oscar that year due to a combination of two things:
1. She went way unglamorous which forced us to pay attention to her acting, which then resulted in us being so pleasantly surprised by her actual talent.
2. It was a very lean year for Best Actress Nominees. I mean really, the Academy was not going to give its biggest award to Samantha Morton, a 13 year old girl or a Diane Keaton performance that wasn’t nearly as good as people think. The only real competition that year was Naomi Watts, and since she acts only with her mouth, there was really nothing doing there. Basically, it was a gimme.
They had no choice but to give to Charlize. Which is fine, because she gave a fantastic, revelatory performance, but here’s my problem, now the Hollywood Press Machine is trying to reinvent her as a dramatic Actress (capital letter “A”), and I’m just not buying it. Though, to be fair, I have no solid ground to stand on.
For every prestige film she was in (The Cider House Rules), she matched it with a big Hollywood stinker (Mighty Joe Young). For every time we got a glimmer of something better (The Astronaut’s Wife), we got a look at something nechy (Sweet November… sorry Keanu, they can’t all be gold). Pre-Monster, Charlize was in this weird vortex of stardom where she would take two steps forward, then take three steps back. Hollywood wanted to make her a star, but she kept trying to be an actress. That constant push and pull made it hard to pin her down. American audiences need to put a label on actors so we can quickly associate between them. For example:
- Tobey Maguire: Sullen.
- Sandra Bullock: Sweet.
- Paul Walker: Surfer Dude.
- Cameron Diaz: Blond Moron.
And on and on.
But Charlize wasn’t easy to pin down. Was she a Beauty Queen, or just a Pretty Actress? We’ve had tons of the former and very few true examples of the latter. Since I couldn’t pin her down to either one, I just wrote her off as this weird hybrid of talent whose film choices I could never predict.
Post-Monster, she has continued to be a hybrid, though has pushed the Pretty Actress part more in the press. I’m still confused. Is she the leather dominatrix from the upcoming Aeon Flux adaptation, or is she the hardened mine worker from the upcoming Oscar bait-pic, North Country? I don’t know the answer, but I’ll tell you what I’d like it to be: neither. I would rather she continue to brighten up bad movies and surprise in good ones. I may very well get my wish about her, but I doubt it, and for one simple reason: She’s probably going to win another Oscar this year. Remember, she’s going unglamorous again, starring opposite respected actresses again, and the field is very, very shallow. Again. I can’t decide if she’s this lucky or that good. Maybe it’s a bit of both.
There’s just something not right about the phrase “Two Time Academy Award Winner Charlize Theron”. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I know I don’t like it. When I think of multiple Oscar winners I think Meryl, Jack, Spencer, Katherine, Elizabeth, Ingrid, and I guess grudgingly, Swank. I just don’t think Charlize. Maybe it’s the caliber of resume, but no, because it’s just fine. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t come across as a serious actress. No, I know what it is, it’s because the first time I saw her on-screen she got naked (Two Days in the Valley). When you show your boobs, bone James Spader, and then wrestle with Teri Hatcher in your first high exposure role, how serious can you really become? She was just too much fun to watch. Then she kept getting naked: Cider House Rules, Astronaut’s Wife, Devil’s Advocate. I’ve seen her bathing suit parts more often than even I care to. Which is a lot.
So there she goes, continuing to beguile me. I want to take her seriously and let her be a big dramatic actress like fellow blondes Michelle Pfeiffer or Uma Thurman, but it’s hard to let go of a near naked catfight with Teri Hatcher. She just needs to do more good movies. Not North Country, look how dour I can be type movies. But good Cider House Rules type movies.
I fear that if she wins another Oscar we’re gonna lose this fun actress who used to entertain people. There’s no way you’re gonna see an Aeon Flux sequel if she wins for North Country. And after Aeon bombs (and it will, because she’s not yet big enough a “star” to carry a picture like this), it’s going to be all serious, all the time. Same thing happened to Julia. One Oscar later and I’m sitting through her attempt to be dramatic in Closer. Give me back the big hair, the mega watt smile and the Notting Hill, please.
If she wins, then I’ll be happy for her. She’s seems like a genuinely likable person, and has talent to burn. But I’ll be a little sad for her also, because winning two Oscar’s puts a lot of undue pressure on an actor, and if you aren’t made of steel like Nicholson, or have effortless ability like Meryl, than you’re in trouble. She’s gonna have to keep proving herself to critics and audiences, instead of just making movies that she wants to make.
Charlize, please, do that Italian Job sequel. Be the best Aeon you can be. Keep guest starring on cool Fox sitcoms. Continue to be gorgeous on the cover of Premiere magazine. And don’t forget to make good movies. I’m gonna see your North Country, like I saw your Monster, but every once in a while, if you could give me a Reindeer Games, that would be great.
In the case against Charlize Theron: Two Time Academy Award Winner, I find her a little wanting, but still very worthy.