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The Return of Winona Ryder

The Return of Winona Ryder

My initial disappointment about missing out on the Berlin Film Festival has certainly been helped by the repeated suggestion that almost everything showing there sucks.

But there was one film for which I had placed my selfish travel wants aside and hoped would be great anyway. The Private Lives of Pippa Lee features the first role with any real potential my beloved Winona Ryder had been given in almost a decade (sure, there was A Scanner Darkly, but she was animated and all so it doesnt 100% count, and while The Ten was fun, it certainly wasn’t up to par with my Winonaspectations).

Sundance after Sundance, we’ve watched every single movie she makes crash, burn and fail to get distribution (The Darwin Awards, The Last Word, The Informers), or just seen films shes made fail to get seen by anyone at all (Sex and Death 101, Water Pills), and probably with good reason.

But when I heard of her casting in Pippa, alongside Julianne Moore, Maria Bello and Robin Wright Penn, among others, my heart skipped: “She’s coming back! After basically wasting the entire ’00s, probably because any decent film wouldn’t risk insuring her crazy ass, someone was taking a chance on her, and she was going to hit it out of the ballpark and return to form!”

Sure, it looked like a small role, maybe even a cameo.. But it was something! And that cast all-but-ensured it might even screen outside a film festival!

When Pippa screened a few days back in Berlin, I immediately heard whispers it was bad, bad, bad. And I got worried. Variety’s Alissa Simon’s said the film features “cardboard characters and severe problems of tone [that] fatally flaw the awkward satirical relationship drama.” But she didn’t single out Winona, which made me think that she can’t be that bad. Then came The Hollywood Reporter’s review, which said the film’s “frenetic, off-putting script ruins what otherwise might have been an entertaining story about a fascinating woman.” However, reviewer Peter Brunette also said “the acting is top-notch.” But he didn’t single out Winona, which made me think that she can’t be that good.

Finally, there was Screen’s much kinder review. I read the review’s first paragraph: “A grown-up love story that’s rambling, quirky and sharp-eyed about mid-life doldrums, Rebecca Miller’s cinematic adaptation of her own novel works largely because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. An across-the-board solid cast backs up Robin Wright Penn’s enjoyable central performance which, like much of the film, is believable without being entirely naturalistic.” Excited, I started to scan for some mention of Ryder. And there, in the reviews final paragraph, was the glisten of hope: “As well as Moore’s tasty cameo there’s a nice turn from Winona Ryder as Pippa’s fragile poet friend Sandra, a needy, pretty wreck with a tendency to burst into tears.” A nice turn! I knew it!

Judge for yourself at seconds 0:05-0:06 of this promo trailer, where Ryder offers us a facial expression that plays like a portal into the deeply conflicted mind of her “fragile poet.”

True, this might just be a small step, and one review that seems to go way against everyone else’s current occasionally doesn’t always mean the film is actually good . But I take it as a token that Ryder still has something to offer, and that the first decade of this century will soon just be viewed as a little blip on a life history destined for multiple Oscars, mental stability, and being my best friend forever.

A FEW DAYS LATER: Was I not clear enough in the tone of this entry? Do people read this and think I’m being 100% serious? This got picked up by “winonaryder.org” and got comments like this:

I mean, I’m all for making sick people feel better, but not by having them falsely believe a mocking (but lovingly so) blog entry

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