Thursday, April 29, 2010

There's Something About Uma

Craig here, asking you all (on her 40th birthday): where is Uma at?


Ah, Uma. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. And despite actually being Tarantino's Bride twice last decade. What is it about Uma? She's widely known and adored by many, yet never seems to (quite) make it to the top of the A-list. The likes of Helen Hunt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, Renée Zellweger, Jennifer Connelly, Angelina Jolie and Hilary Swank - all peers and contemporaries - have bagged themselves Oscars in the last thirteen-or-so years. The simple question is: where's Uma's gold?

She's one of the most uniquely beautiful actresses working, but nowadays, more so than in the early '90s, she doesn't often tend to get the recognition come awards season, or even appear on any of those Sexiest Hollywood Stars lists that crop up year-on-year anymore (although, is this really a fair indication of a star's Tinseltown standing anyway?). She has a singular talent and is open and vibrant with her on-screen persona: sultry, yet unafraid to play silly; refined, but willing to be raffish. There aren't many stars who have her particular mix of versatility and charm. And I'm sure some of her peers would have killed to have played Beatrix Kiddo.

Venus Rising: Uma in her first major role, in Baron Munchausen

Her florid introduction to the silver screen came in 1988 in the shapely form of the Goddess Venus (as an homage to Botticelli's 'The Birth of Venus') in Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. It's an entrance comparable to (although it came six years before) Cameron Diaz's similar blond siren walk-on in 1994's The Mask (the year Uma got her first and, to date, only Oscar nomination, for Pulp Fiction). She was newly established and well on the rise back then, but how to define her career since?

Diaz made cartoon Jim Carrey's eyes pop out - and so, too, the cinema-going public's - and has gone on to be one of Hollywood's top female earners. Uma's salary doesn't quite reach Diaz's heights, but she's gained a solid and singular reputation for her - sometime fun, sometimes frank - body of work all the same; and when she's on top form she's often unmatchable. (Diaz may pull in bigger crowds, but she's rarely as risky or as resourceful as Uma: it ain't all about the money!) But since Kill Bill Vol. 2 six years ago - and despite some recent game attempts at more commercial rom-com fare - she hasn't set the film world on fire as once she did. With a whole host of rising stars strutting the red carpet year-on-year where does this leave a talent like hers?

Many a year she's dipped her toes in a variety of genre pools (and there are few genres that Uma hasn't tried and tested). Let's take stock and get an overview here: era-hopping period drama (Dangerous Liaisons, Les misérables, Vatel, The Golden Bowl, Henry & June, Sweet and Lowdown); adaptations of contemporary plays (Tape, Chelsea Walls, Hysterical Blindness, My Zinc Bed); an array of rom-coms (The Truth About Cats & Dogs, Prime, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, The Accidental Husband, Motherhood); fantastical sci-fi (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Gattaca, Paycheck, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief); a pair of franchise-ending flops (Hey, they all have 'em) with The Avengers, Batman & Robin; and a couple of true genre-defying oddities thrown in for good measure (Where the Heart Is, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues).

Left: does Uma get a massive thumbs up from you?

She's played the villainous vamp, the demure ingénue, the good-hearted girl and swift-footed samurai - and a multitude of lead and supporting ladies in between. She has the cool-handed knack for boldly trying out all those different cinematic genres (still a decision to be applauded in today's movie world - especially when many big-name actors all too often stick to the safety of their particular genres of choice).

She's had a fair share of notable roles - the high profile one-two punch of the Kill Bill double, closely backed up by her dance-and-drugs dealings with Travolta in Pulp Fiction (to name two obvious ones), but why is it that when she's either killing Bill or pulping fiction she only seems to gets the high praise? I think it's about time for her to be given the chance to re-shine on the silver screen, to remind us that there's still a vast and varied career path after 40 just around the corner.

But maybe the over-abundance of variety has resulted in her career so far not entirely finding its own groove. Has the wide variety of roles made her an all-too indefinable screen presence? Or has the genre indecision left Uma slightly adrift? She's tried almost everything: where for a girl to go next. Either way, it's a big birthday for Uma. Let's hope the roles keep getting just as big.


So, today on her 40th, if you were a director with a free pick of projects, what gift of a role would you give Ms. Thurman?

21 comments:

Aaron said...

I've honestly never really understood her as an actress. I think her best work is indisputably with Tarantino, which makes me think she works best in off-beat, very stylized films. I think she is usually sorely miscast in romantic comedies...

...Other than the fact that her and Cameron Diaz are both blonde and gorgeous, and are roughly the same age, I think Diaz has a more loose presence onscreen than Thurman, which is why she works better in the romantic comedy genre (for better or for worse). They're both sexy, but Diaz has a more "sunny" disposition which is in stark contrast to Uma's more "sultry" side like you mentioned...

..If I had to pick something for her to do, I think she might excel in a Woody Allen dramedy (has she ever worked with him before?)

NicksFlickPicks said...

She was in Sweet and Lowdown, where I think even some of her fans agree she was awful.

But I'm biased: to answer your question, Craig, I'd give Uma a stipend to please not be in a movie. Someone close to me recently described her as "almost resourcefully atrocious," which for me says it all, especially recently. Though I agree she's a pip in Pulp Fiction, she had a brief period circa Beautiful Girls and Teh Truth about Cats & Dogs wherein a genuine sense of relaxation did wonders for her, and she pulls it together for some of the later stuff in KBv2.

Anonymous said...

she should work with soderbergh in a off-bet dark comedy, not a central role (but a pivotal one nonetheless)...

i adore uma, but she works better in minor roles (with the exception of Kill Bill)

mrripley said...

a biopic of a 40's goddess as that is where she beongs as 1 of those mystery women of the 40's/

Deus Ex Machina said...

i would give her the role of Catwoman in the Batman sequel. Happy birthday UMA!

cal roth said...

James Cameron. A big fat sci-fi action movie. Now.

cal roth said...

Re: Sweet and Lowdown

I think that was one of her biggest cases of one actress absolutely tearing her co-star to pieces. Can anyone explain me how did Samantha Morton lose that Oscar? I still can't believe.

Hayden said...

Only six comments?!

Uma has always exuded such timeless grace and maturity that it's hard to believe childish Jennifer Aniston could be her big sis. She's an exquisite creature, a truly unique presence, I don't believe there's a flop big enough to sink her career.

Like Liz Hurley, whether or not Uma continues to work she's going to remain a red carpet fixture forever--she's such a posh global sophisticate. But in Uma's case I do hope she keeps giving the occasional knockout performance.

I had the pleasure of seeing Uma in at Nobu New York a few years back, lounging in a long, red evening dress with whatever billionaire-financier she was dating at the time. Watching her eat sushi in real life (this was circa Kill Bill, mind you) is one of the greatest things I've ever witnessed.

Hayden said...

She and Nicole Kidman have the interesting limitation of not knowing how to approach traditional maternity onscreen. Come to think of it, I can picture Uma in some of Kidman's best roles--Birth, Margot, Dogville. They're ice-women of a feather.

Andrew R. said...

In the very unlikely event Uma wins an Oscar , it will be for Kill Bill 3 (and even that's pretty unlikely) or a supporting role.

I won't get into whether she deserved a nomination for the first two Kill Bills. I will say she would've been a good choice for Supporting Actress of 1994, but Dianne Wiest deserved it. ("I'm Helen Sinclair!")

pomme said...

if Sandra Bullock can win Oscar, she could!!

James T said...

Hayden, imagining Uma in the films you mentioned scared the hell out of me! Please don't ever do that again :p

Sean said...

I think she could do a good comedy with the right director. When she tries to be funny it feels a bit forced, but if a director could get her to 'relax' a bit, she'd be really good. There's comedic potential, but she just needs to learn how to nail it.

She's a strong dramatic actress, but people don't really go see dramas anymore. I think that's the problem...

Prospero said...

The problem with Uma's career can summed up in a single movie title: "My Super Ex-Girlfriend."

Jtag said...

Let's not forget Uma's "Mission Zero" Pirelli ad directed by Kathryn Bigelow:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXhjScS-QfA

notanotherblog said...

Costume drama. It's been a while.

Chris Na Taraja said...

I do give Uma the massive thumbs up! but I agree with Aaron that she is sorely miscast in romantic comedies. And unfortunately that seems to be most of what she is doing nowadays.

Thank you Prospero! I was thinking the exact same thing. MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND was awful! the concept made me smile, but Uma was unbearable in it. I would have rather seen Cameron Diaz in that film.

I also don't think she should do an action film right now, She's already proved herself there. She needs a serious dramatic role immediately. She needs to look at Kate Blanchets career and take notes.

NATHANIEL R said...

I think Cal's idea is brilliant since Uma is an amazon and Cameron loves them and i think she's better at heightened style than natural behavior and better at drama than comedy and all of these things would be wondrous when directed by Cameron... and also different thananything Kill Bill dreamed up since Tarantino and Cameron aren't exactly similar filmmakers.

SoSueMe said...

Action is the way to go...Angelina needs a female competitor in the action market...Uma fits the bill.
Outside of Angelina, she would make an interesting Wonder Woman...directed by Tarantino of course.

ANT said...

I have always thought Uma main appeal is her 'timeless' quality. Tarantino has mentioned this- she would not look out of place in film noirs..
She has also never looked better- absolutely stunning at this years British Academy Awards.
As for her low awards haul- well if the likes of Helen Hunt and Catherine Zeta Jones can win Oscars this is hardly a recommendation.
Somehow I think Uma may just be where she wants to be..

Juanma Martin said...

Uma needs a strong leading dramatic role (ideally in a independent film) to start calling the attention of Hollywood again. And then access prestige films by directors such as Soderbergh, the Coen brothers, Wes Anderson, or even Clint Eastwood, Scorsese ...
Kill Bill 3 will not give an Oscar, as didn't his performance in Bel Ami (the one that made this movie for her is that one of her films is not a commercial failure, thanks to Robert Pattinson). Now it seems certain that Uma will be in The Danish Girl's Lasse Halstrom. Well, it's good news because she will be headed by an interesting director twice nominated for an Oscar, and giving life to a real person (the artist Greta Wegener). Although maybe the awards go to Kidman is a good opportunity for Thurman is brilliant.
And I don't forget the independent film on a true story really tragic, which she prepares (also as producer): Girl Soldier ... Perhaps this is destined to be her big break to win the Gold at last!