I hope it’s all right if I call you Drew. To tell you the truth, I feel like I’ve been your cigarette-sharing babysitter ever since I suffered through the intolerable cuteness of ET. At this point, it’d be tough to muster anything but a first name. So let me get down to brassy tacks here. I’ve never outright disliked you— except maybe when you threw your titties at Dave Letterman in 1995—but didn’t grasp your appeal when you were younger. I had sympathy for the baby act: the tiny, raspy voice and extra-widened eyes. Clearly, you’d not been nurtured enough by your boozy, narcissistic Hollywood clan, and shedding the preciousness of the child actor is notoriously difficult. Just look at twee Natalie Portman. But I found you a bore. Then you busted out with the strange, floozy subversion of Poison Ivy. You were frizzy-haired and puffy and, well, interesting. And after that, I kept a closer watch.
You possessed strong, secret internal resources that hustled you swiftly past a bevy of ugly stages: neglected-child Drew, rehab Drew, Playboy Drew, (pre-)Paris Drew, bad-marriage Drew. You even bypassed the traditional movie-actress eating disorder and obstinately carried 10 more pounds than anyone else in your town for a while. Best, you seemed like a real girl’s girl. You had female friends, business partners, even lovers—and not solely for the camera’s pleasure. I started to view your ditziness as pure screwball dame, the highest of compliments from this New Deal Sally.
But the fact remained you were never much of a performer. Always endearing, sure, but in role after role you emitted the same sincere, soft silliness that wore thin by the end of the film. Invariably there was some moment when you had to mine a real emotion, and your face would nearly collapse from the strain. Mine too.
It was when you produced Charlie’s Angels and cast yourself as the snarly Dylan that I finally got it. You made more sense on the other side of the camera. Sure, you didn’t exert enough Hollywood power to override the layers and layers mandated to strategically cloak your normal-sized body. But as the badass in that trio, you seemed so much more at ease if still more awkward than funny. The film itself, as well as its sequel, was my kind of big, dumb studio movie–sarcastically sexy and good-naturedly game, with plenty of kickboxing and lipgloss and oddbot cameos. As for Donnie Darko, I may have loathed its meandering numbness, but I respect what foresight producing that sleeper required.
Though I didn’t know from roller derby and view Ellen Page as the worst thing to happen to indie film since Quentin Tarantino, I was curious about Whip It, your first feature. Excited, even.
It was so much better than I’d hoped. You cast it brilliantly and then coaxed strong performances from actors who, in some cases, had been phoning it in for a decade. You brought out the rarely seen warmth in Kristen Wiig; the subtle notes in the often-braying Marcia Gay Harden; a convincing redneck Daddy from nebbishy Daniel Stern. You even extracted three dimensions from the typically monotonical Ellen Page and went to town with Juliette Lewis’ hard-faced survivor streak, neatly sidestepping her indecipherable yowling. And you gave yourself, wisely, a snack-sized character role as Smashley Simpson, an elbow-jabbing hippie chick.
The storytelling took its cues from the performances, gliding between a coming-of-age story, an indie romance, an ass-kicking sports saga and a girl-girl extravaganza without faltering in pace or tone. You drew in broad strokes without devolving into caricature, mostly because the big heart we all knew you had ensured no hollow malice or hipster hollow ever snaked its way onto the screen. Sure, you still haven’t found your way when it comes to shooting action sequences; I couldn’t always tell what was actually happening in the rink. But, you managed to provide unguilty fun—such a rarity these days. (I think Elf was the last film that gave this particular kind of good time.) Also, the fact that you invited all the real-life NYC roller derby queens to rouse the critics’ screenings made my experience about a million times cooler. Those chicks would make a dentist appointment a million times cooler. Imagine what they did to a room full of dour-faced men in black glasses.
Really, I just want to say, Lady Drew, that I hope you aren’t taking your opening weekend numbers to heart. I know they were not even in the ballpark of spectacular, but your movie on wheels will have legs, I promise. Long after the flat-faced, faux-feminist folly of the likes of Jennifer’s Body has been forgotten, you’ll be making movies I am relieved to watch. You done good, kid.