Thursday, October 23, 2014


Original caricature of Meryl Streep by Jeff York (copyright 2012)
Whenever there’s another ‘scandal’ about another Hollywood star’s plastic surgery, I’m always reminded of Isabella Rossellini’s line in 1992’s DEATH BECOMES HER. In that black comedy, she played Lisle Von Rhuman, a sorceress with a magic potion, who promises aging actress Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) that it will keep her young forever. Literally. She won’t die. But then, after the desperate star drinks it, Lisle issues a warning. Madeline implores, “Now, a warning?!”

Lisle tells her, “Take care of yourself. You and your body are going to be together a long time.” Of course, Madeline doesn’t heed that warning. She doesn’t take care of herself and instead commits one epic fail after another. She falls down the stairs, breaks her neck, and has a vicious, physical battle with her enemy played by Goldie Hawn. It leaves Maddie maddeningly bruised, busted, and twisted into some zombie version of herself. And she’s stuck with those errors of her judgment, for the very long time that is immortality.

Which brings us to Renee Zellweger. 

Renee Zellweger then and now. 
The blogosphere is abuzz this week with outrage about the apparent alterations that Zellweger has made to her appearance. They're screaming that she's ruined her face, that she's unrecognizable, that society demands too much youth and beauty from women in Hollywood and on and on. It's become the story in Hollywood this week, and yet surprisingly, the only real surprise should be that there's no real surprise here at all. 

Now, did Zellweger have plastic surgery? Or too much Botox? Is she merely getting older and we can't handle it? You'd think she committed a crime by the way some are overreacting, but it does appear that she is different looking. It's hard to find those identifiable Zellweger features (the pouty lips, the squinty eyes, the apple cheeks) that characterized her since her launch into stardom as the fresh-faced, all-American girl from JERRY MAGUIRE. Where did that Renee go? Talk about your GONE GIRL.

But this isn't really all that much of a news story. This kind of thing happens all the time in Hollywood. Cher, Joan Rivers, Mickey Rourke, Courtney Cox, Bruce Jenner, and on and on. If Zellweger wanted to beat the clock with some artificial means, that is just par for the course. There may be some news in how it affects her career, but that will take a while to tell. It could rob her of choices like it did for Jennifer Grey or Meg Ryan. And hopefully, Zellweger won't become a bad punchline like Heidi Montag and Kenny Rogers did after their unfortunate alterations.  

Zellweger does cop to looking different now, admitting that there were times in the past when she wasn’t at peace with her looks. She says she's happy and healthy now though, and if that's really the truth, good for her. If it hurts her access to roles, that may quickly change. 

Of course, an actress' age and looks shouldn't be such an issue, but they are. And they always have been. It comes with the job. It does with most jobs. For men too, though obviously not as much. It's a sexist world and a vicious one at that. But there is not much surprise in that fact. Certainly not enough to create the reaction of  abject horror to Zellweger's new face by so many. It may be an ugly part of the game that is Hollywood, but it's a game that no one should be naive about. Not in a town that usually has the word "Tinsel" in front of it. 

If anything is a shame it's that we're not talking more about all the terrific movies coming out now during Oscar season including such buzz worthy entries as BIRDMAN, THE IMITATION GAME, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, NIGHTCRAWLER, ST. VINCENT, INTO THE WOODS, and BIG EYES, among others. We should be talking about the art of movies, not the art of looking younger.

Gloria Swanson and William Holden in SUNSET BLVD. (1951)
As William Holden’s Joe Gillis pointedly told aging actress Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in 1951's SUNSET BLVD., “There’s nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you’re trying to be twenty-five!”

A tragedy, indeed. And not much different now than it was then. End of story.

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