In the last couple of years, I’ve noted a growing trend in moviemaking, films focused on movie stars and political figures. In other words, movies about celebrities, being played by other celebrities.
With the 2013 Academy Awards less than a month away, one of the leading contenders for best picture is Lincoln, and the favorite to win best actor is Daniel Day Lewis who portrays the sixteenth U.S. President. Also favored to win is Sally Field for her supporting role as Mary Todd Lincoln.
Just last year, Meryl Streep took home an Oscar for her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Julianne Moore won a 2012 Emmy for playing Sarah Palin in HBO’s Game Change miniseries. And Bill Murray also is getting into the act, literally, with Hyde Park On The Hudson, in which he plays FDR.
But even more profuse are the films being churned out in which movie stars play other movie stars.
In one of the more intriguing films of this type, yet to be released, Princess Grace of Monaco, Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly with a story line about how miserable Kelly became during her marriage to Prince Ranier.
In current release is Hitchcock, in which an ensemble cast led by Anthony Hopkins, cast as Hitch, step into the shoes of movie royalty so moviegoers can go gaga with celebrity worship retroactively. Scarlettt Johansson takes on the iconic regurgitation of Janet Leigh in Psycho, James D’Arcy morphs into Tony Perkins, Jessica Biel is Vera Miles and Helen Mirren plays Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville.
Actually this is the second time the legendary director has been the centerpiece of a film recently. Just last October, HBO premiered The Girl, about the making of Hitchcock’s The Birds, starring Toby Jones as the director and Sienna Miller as Tippy Hedren.
It seems that if you were a major Hollywood star, you can count on a movie coming out about your life not long after you die.
One example, Liz and Dick. Last year 3.5 million viewers tuned in to Lifetime to see Lindsay Lohan imitate Elizabeth Taylor and Grant Bowler try to recreate Richard Burton.
Finally, there is the most portrayed movie star of all time, Marilyn Monroe, who has been the subject no less than 25 times in films, music videos, advertising campaigns and TV shows. And the idolatry goes on. In October 2011, My Week With Marilyn came out, featuring Michelle Williams as the blonde bombshell and it garnered some awards attention. And released just a few months ago and produced by Brad Pitt, Blonde is based on the Joyce Carol Oates novel and Naomi Watts is the latest actress to try to inhabit the legend that is Marilyn.
So the question arises, why all these movies about movie and political stars? There’s certainly no denying that we’ve seen these kinds of movies before, with everyone from Jim Morrison to JFK being chronicled. But in past times, these kind of movies seemed to only come along occasionally. Now, we seem to be inundated with them.
One factor seems to be that celebrity worship is more rampant today than it’s ever been. A few years back, Robert Redford came and gave a speech at the local university. One of the things he addressed was celebrity worship and how overblown it is in our culture. Then, as soon as he finished speaking, a huge mob of people rushed up to him to fawn and grovel.
When Hollywood makes a movie about some former movie idol, there is a double-edged built-in audience. First, movie lovers are interested in learning more about the life of the person being dissected, and second, they are interested in seeing how closely some current actor can transform himself or herself into the legend. So the appeal for this kind of movie is strong, and that should drive the production of more and more movies like this.
Another aspect that makes these movies ready-made for shooting is that the audience already knows the story and mainly just wants to go along on the ride. Who doesn’t know how Lincoln’s conflict over slavery came out? Who doesn’t know the Sarah Palin boondoggle fiasco? We know Princess Grace died in a car wreck. No dramatic surprise ending there. The point is that no screenwriter has to strain creativity to produce a brilliant innovative screenplay. The story is already there, laid out, and all the writers have to do is journalize real events. That’s a lot easier than creating a story from scratch.
Time and again, I’ve heard movie lovers who’ve seen one of these movies raving, saying something like, “It seemed so real it was spooky.”
There’s no doubt that good actors can do almost letter perfect portrayals of other actors. When you play someone famous, the audience knows that person, so they are amazed when the actor playing them practically brings them back to life. But this ability is overrated. Actors can spend endless amounts of time reviewing how a famous person talked, what their signature mannerisms were, how they walked, how they dressed, how they comported themselves. Any good actor should be able to do this, and it shouldn’t be so amazing. But because the actor can hitchike on the star’s charisma, is usually is.
Probably a lot more difficult, from an acting standpoint, is creating a memorable character from fiction, a character the audience never met before. How impressive is Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump or Billy Bob Thornton’s twisted Carl from Sling Blade? Those actors didn’t have nearly the template to work with. They had to envision the character themselves from words on paper. That’s much more challenging.
The future of this genre, movies about celebrities, seems secure. It could get ridiculous. Every person with name recognition is a potential movie. (Remember that movie about Chuck Barris?)
I have to wonder if one of these days, we’ll be watching a movie about the life of Scarlett Johansson, and it will include a section about Scarlet playing Janet Leigh, and then, whoever is playing Scarlett, will there eventually be a movie about her, playing Scarlet, playing Janet? The whole thing could get more convoluted than that picture on the Pet Milk can, which just shows that celebs are cash cows and Hollywood will keep milking them.