Film Stars

Jennifer Jason Leigh: Diets, Dogs, The Galleria, and Tralala.

A spiral effect took place the other night when I was watching a Lifetime Original Movie. I got to thinking about that half-bad, half-cutesy, but very annoying because it has Cameron Diaz in it movie, The Holiday. And then I started thinking about Jack Black’s character being really into film scores and how those scenes saved the movie (ahem, the demon-chick-flick) And THEN I started thinking about Jennifer Jason Leigh circa her role opposite Jack Black in Margot At The Wedding.

So let’s talk about one of the most underrated actresses who has made a nice habit out of playing seriously damaged characters. Jennifer Jason Leigh is so raw and talented, and I don’t think that many people really get that. Whenever I mention her name, I am usually treated with a blank stare, until I add: “You know, the girl from Fast Times At Ridgemont High?” But that’s the unfortunate side of this, since JJL was never type-casted as the ’80s teen dream princess goo-goo gah gah girl. I was about to say, she’s no Molly Ringwald! And then laughed to myself, because, as much as I used to love and adore and worship the Hughes Muse, she’s kind of a giant brat. She manipulated the ending of Pretty In Pink because she had an off-screen crush on Andrew McCarthy, didn’t want to kiss Duckie, or even dance with Duckie, or god forbid have the entire Western population get what they want. No, instead, she faked being sick like a little kid who sticks the thermometer on the lamp bulb, and now she’s some mom on some really bad ABC television show.

So, Molly Ringwald is no Jennifer Jason Leigh! I mean, have you ever seen The Best Little Girl in the World? It’s Leigh’s finest work. It paved the way for Tracey Gould’s crazy idea to play the anorexic version of herself (aka herself) in For the Love of Nancy. Although, there are two important and comedic flaws to The Best Little Girl in the World, one being, the doctor who cares for her becomes way too intimate in caring for Leigh, in such a way that doesn’t come across on paper in its original intent, but years later, just really makes you cringe when its coupled with that faded flowery ’70s score. And the second flaw being that, um, no anorexia-nervosa patient would ever scarf down a hamburger and ice cream when days ago they were yanking out IVs and could not let the food on their fork touch their lips. 

Now, in order to better understand Jennifer Jason Leigh, let’s pause for a second and backtrack to Stacy via Fast Times. The Stacy character was like Leigh’s gateway drug. She was intrigued with the idea of peer pressure, because she just wanted to fit in and do what all of the other high school girls were doing. At the time, a mainstream high school teen flick portraying the very realness of abortion was a big, big deal. “Sleeping Angel” by Stevie Nicks will always bring me back to Jennifer Jason Leigh walking along the sidewalk with a ribbon in her blonde hair. Innocence lost, swept under the rug.

And then came Single White Female. What is more horrifying than putting an ad in the paper for a new roommate? Well, getting your redheaded bob trimmed, only to find that your new roommate has recently had her hair colored and styled the exact same way. Leigh and Bridget Fonda could have been backup dancers in a Robert Palmer music video. After all, it was 1992 and Leigh kills Fonda’s neighbor with a stiletto heel. She also kills Fonda’s dog, and this is the part where I will shy away from making an inappropriate “Tears in Heaven” reference…

So my theory is, that by the time Leigh’s wheel of characters (self conscious teen, junkie, prostitute, impressionable teen, junkie, stalker, junkie) reaches Margot At The Wedding, it’s like we’re looking into the eyes of a woman who’s undergone some kind of hypnosis treatment at a hippie-dippy recovery reservation with the likes of Alicia Silverstone’s character from The Crush. Now, she’s a mellowed out, spiritually stable woman, with blurred but obvious insecurities that we fear will become a ticking time bomb. And that’s the genuine quality I admire in Jennifer Jason Leigh. She can take all of her pride and bury it; she can fling forth great sorrow and desperation, and equally, toss it away and make you feel like her character is filled to the brim with a delicate past. Remember quaaludes? Me either. They went down with the demise of the Sherman Oaks Galleria and the pizza parlor where Stacy made some pocket change and became a woman.



One thought on “Jennifer Jason Leigh: Diets, Dogs, The Galleria, and Tralala.

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