Friday, January 18, 2008

The Great Ones Volume Two (Side B Track Two) Jennifer Connelly

THE STREET was a television series starring Jennifer Connelly that had been created by Darren Star of SEX AND THE CITY fame. It appeared on Fox in November of 2000 and was cancelled after just twelve episodes due to low ratings. It was actually a pretty strong show and I have saved the episodes and have revisited them a couple of times. For most people THE STREET is just one in a million failed television series that got the ax before it had a chance to find an audience, but fans of Jennifer Connelly should pay special attention to it. Had it not been cancelled the remarkable big screen revival of Jennifer Connelly probably would not have happened. In a very real way, the failure of this series was one of the best things that ever happened professionally to Connelly.
Connelly was born in upstate New York in late 1970 and she was raised in Brooklyn. She began modeling just after her tenth birthday and after appearing in an episode of TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED she was discovered by Sergio Leone and was cast in his epic final film ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984). She stayed on in Italy long enough to star in Dario Argento’s PHENOMENA (1985) before returning the States in the sweet teen comedy SEVEN MINUTES IN HEAVEN (1986).
After finding some fame with early films like LABYRINTH (1986) and CAREER OPPORTUNITIES (1991) Jennifer Connelly’s career began to slip dramatically as the nineties progressed. She worked regularly but often in films nowhere near as good as her talents were. Watching films OF LOVE AND SHADOWS (1994) and INVENTING THE ABBOTS (1997) reminded me of what I think Lisa Robinson once said about seeing Lou Reed at Max’s Kansas City in the final days of The Velvet Underground in that he just seemed too big for the room. Jennifer Connelly was so much better than many of the films she made in this period and it was a bit depressing to see her go from working with directors like Sergio Leone and Dario Argento to making films like THE HEART OF JUSTICE (1993) and FAR HARBOR (1996).

The rightly acclaimed DARK CITY (1998) was the first clear sign that Jennifer Connelly might not end up in some straight to video hell but she didn’t follow up on the performance, and by 2000 much of the momentum of it was lost. However by the time she did return to the screen something had clearly changed in Jennifer Connelly, and her first film back would turn out to be one of two that would mark one of the most notable comebacks in all of modern cinema.
While it barely registered anywhere back in early 2000 and it only got mixed reviews, Keith Gordon’s wonderful film WAKING THE DEAD gave Jennifer Connelly arguably the best role she had had since her first film fifteen years earlier. As the young idealist Sarah Williams Connelly is simply astonishing. I’ll never forget the first time I saw this very special film shortly after it hit DVD and thinking “She’s got it”. Everything about her seemed suddenly grown up, mature, poised and unforgettable. It was as if she had reinvented herself in that two year period between DARK CITY and WAKING THE DEAD…you just knew that something had suddenly sparked in this young woman and she would never be stuck as just a sad eyed supporting sex object again.

One month before THE STREET appeared on television, Darren Aronofsky’s savagely brilliant REQUIEM FOR A DREAM unleashed itself on American audiences for the first time. Aronofsky had seen WAKING THE DEAD and been blown away by Connelly and he handed her the wrenching role of junkie Marion Silver, a character that had not been in Hubert Selby’s original source material. As Silver, Connelly is terrifying and absolutely heartbreaking. With the possible exception of BAD LIEUTENANT no film I have ever seen at a theater had more of an impact on an audience. Everyone just kind of sat there stunned even after the credits had rolled and much of this was due to Connelly’s masterfully intense portrayal…a performance she has still not gotten enough credit for.

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM got Connelly so much good word of mouth but had THE STREET succeeded she probably wouldn’t have been able to follow through with it. Luckily it didn’t succeed and just like Aronofsky had been floored by an early screening of WAKING THE DEAD, director Ron Howard had a similar reaction to her performance in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and he cast her in a film he was making about a schizophrenic mathematician and his supportive wife.
Think what you will about A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001), I personally find it to be really heartfelt and wonderful film, but agree that Jennifer Connelly more than deserved the Academy Award she received for it. After being criminally ignored for REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, it was a really wonderful thing to watch her win the Oscar back in 2002. Her humbled, serious and poised speech was refreshing and almost shocking when compared to how much so many of our actors ham it up (I still have trouble watching anything with Halle Berry just because of her Oscar acceptance speech). Connelly was probably too serious for the ceremony because how she hasn’t been nominated since has baffled me.
Since A BEAUTIFUL MIND Connelly has been incredibly smart about her career choices. While not many of her films have been huge successes and a couple are arguably failures, few have argued with the performances she has delivered. To my eyes no one can touch Jennifer Connelly as an actress at this point and her work in productions like HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG (2003), and I would argue DARK WATER (2005) is some of the most sublimely anguished work you will find in modern cinema. She can also be devastating in small supporting roles like her turn in LITTLE CHILDREN (2006). Watch the scene at the dinner table in that film when she suddenly realizes that her husband is cheating on her for one of the most remarkable and well acted moments of the decade.

Jennifer Connelly recently just finished doing something she has wanted to do for a long time, namely a comedy. HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU will certainly be a marked change from the heavy drama that Connelly has been used to and I really hope it is a success for her. She’s one of the most respected actors in Hollywood and one of the most well liked but for some reason people just don’t go and see her films. I don’t get it…I can’t think of anyone I like to watch more in the movies.
Jennifer is currently filming the remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, a project that very well might be a mistake but I have little doubt that she will at least give a great performance in it.

Here are ten key films in Connelly’s filmography for the uninitiated and interested.

1. ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA: It’s an impossible film to top and Jennifer’s small role is one of the great debuts of the eighties.

2. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM: The film has its detractors but I haven’t heard of anyone who has a problem with Jennifer’s extraordinary and brave performance.

3. PHENOMENA: Jennifer’s inexperience shows here as she is asked to carry the whole film but she is still unforgettable in what is either one of Argento’s great films or one of his weakest…depends on who you ask.

4. WAKING THE DEAD: I’ll be writing on Keith Gordon’s magical film later this weekend.

5. A BEAUTIFUL MIND: There is something so wonderful about watching great actors working together and Jennifer’s time opposite Russell Crowe is undeniably powerful. I would love to see them in another film in the future.

6. HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG: Like REQUIEM, it has its detractors but this intense first film from Vadim Perlman contains some of the best work Jennifer has ever done.

7. DARK WATER: While not as strong as the original I am quite fond of Walter Salles’ well meaning remake and love Jennifer’s work in it.

8. DARK CITY: I wish I loved this film has much as some people do but I do admire it from a slight distance. Perhaps the upcoming director’s cut will seal the deal for me.

9. LITTLE CHILDREN: I have some issues with the film but none with the performances. Jennifer with Kate Winslet in their brief moment together should be required viewing for all young actors.

10. SOME GIRLS: This sweet little film is a bit lost at this point but it is a real find if you can track it down. It contains some of the earliest notification of the actress Jennifer would become.

Many of the above photos can be found at the Jennifer Connelly Center, the best Jennifer site on the net.


Rogue Spy 007 said...

What a wonderful post about one of the finest actresses working today. I don't think she gets the recognition that she so richly deserves. It does seem like many people don't see her films. That's such a shame. She's a brilliant actress even if the material doesn't amount to much. I enjoyed the list of her films that you posted. House of Sand and Fog is a film that I really enjoyed. To see her and Ben Kingsley together was magnificent. These are two powerhouse artists. I was thrilled when she won the Oscar for A Beautiful Mind.

Jeremy Richey said...

I agree about House of Sand And Fog Keith...that is a film and performance I keep returning to. Thanks so much for the comments...

Guillaume said...



DARK WATER's remake was unfairly bashed i think,i even prefered it to the uneven original film...but i think that Connelly has a good part for the success of Salles's film!

I own the dvd of OF LOVE AND SHADOWS but i haven't seen it yet.

And i agree with you about the experience of watching REQUIEM FOR A DREAM in theater: the first time i saw it i was disturbed and really sad,depressed after the ending credits...

Have you seen RESERVATION ROAD Jeremy?
Is the US dvd available??

I hope that we'll have here a theatrical release or at least a nice dvd...