Movies
2:01 pm
Tue August 20, 2013

Winona Ryder: With Smaller Roles, A Welcome Return From Exile

Originally published on Tue August 20, 2013 2:23 pm

This summer, NPR has been looking at comebacks — from politicians reinventing themselves to the recovery of once-endangered species.

And there's a special place in comeback heaven for disgraced movie stars — like Winona Ryder, who more or less made everyone forget about her 2001 shoplifting arrest with her role in the movie Black Swan, where she played an aging ballerina in a jealous frenzy.

But then people root for Winona Ryder. Film critic Wesley Morris has, ever since the 1988 movie Beetlejuice, where she played the ultimate depressive goth chick.

"I really related to how she didn't feel like she belonged anywhere," Morris says.

She brought a kind of in-the-joke sincerity to that role, and to her parts in the other Tim Burton pictures she turned up in.

'A Generational Voice,' But One Eventually Muffled

Ryder was dark yet beguiling, with an elfin edge. That distinguished her from the wholesome prettiness of earlier teen queens. Morris says it was easy for Gen-X kids to identify with her.

"It didn't matter what gender you were, what race you were," he says. "She captured something essential about being young and curious and kind of insecure, but also confident at the same time."

Remember Heathers? Or Reality Bites?

"She was a kind of generational voice," Morris says, a performer who captured the rhythms and attitudes of contemporary life. But then came what Morris calls "the costume thing" — a string of period movies including The Crucible, Little Women and The Age of Innocence, in which Ryder acquitted herself well enough, but seemed somehow buried in all those petticoats.

As high drama as some of those films were, though, none were as tragically overwrought as Bram Stoker's Dracula.

"That," says Verge magazine editor James Patrick Herman, "was a disaster."

Herman says Ryder's next mistake was supporting the casting of a then little-known Angelina Jolie in 1999's Girl Interrupted. It's about a group of young women in a mental institution, and what was supposed to be a showcase movie for Ryder turned, says Herman, into a Bette Davis-Joan Crawford-style smackdown.

"You can see the horror in Winona's eyes as Angelina Jolie steals the movie," Herman says.

Sure enough, Jolie's performance won her an Oscar.

The Misstep, And The Slow Return To 'Special Things'

And then, two years later, came Ryder's shoplifting arrest — a mundane crime by Hollywood standards, says Morris, but one that tarred Ryder with a good deal of tabloid ink.

Still, Morris says, "she's not like a lot of stars where, like, you just want them to go away and don't want to see them again."

And that's why the "news of Ryder's comeback" has been celebrated in practically every film she's done since, Morris says. Sure, the roles have been smaller, but they've steadily rebuilt her reputation.

She played Spock's mom in the Star Trek reboot and the wife of a contract killer opposite Michael Shannon in 2012's The Iceman. She's in an upcoming movie with James Franco, and a British prestige project written and directed by David Hare. Her representatives ignored our requests for interviews, but in a 2012 chat on the website Hitfix, Ryder suggested she no longer feels the need to carry a movie.

"They say if you have three years you're lucky," she said. "I'm just grateful I'm still asked to do these special things."

But Ryder shouldn't just settle for "special things" — stunt casting — or even supporting roles, says Morris.

"She needs a show," he argues. "She needs a TV show. I hope her agent is listening."

Morris says he'd love to see Ryder star in something like Orange Is the New Black. Something to showcase her humor as well as her vulnerability.

And, he adds — no costume dramas. Nothing set any earlier than, say, the 1990s.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This summer, NPR has been looking at comeback, from politicians reinventing themselves to the recovery to once endangered species. There's a special place in comeback heaven for disgraced movie stars. Wynona Ryder made everyone forget about her 2001 shoplifting arrest with her role in the movie "Black Swan."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK SWAN")

MONTAGNE: Ryder played a former ballerina in a jealous frenzy. NPR's Neda Ulaby wondered how far her comeback has taken her.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Here's the thing. People root for Winona Ryder. Film critic Wesley Morris has ever since the 1988 movie "Beetlejuice."

WESLEY MORRIS: I just really related to how she didn't feel like she belonged anywhere.

ULABY: Ryder played the ultimate depressive Goth chic.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM "BEETLEJUICE")

WINONA RYDER: (As Lydia Deetz) I am alone.

ULABY: She brought a kind of in-the-joke sincerity to the Tim Burton movie she starred in.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM "BEETLEJUICE")

RYDER: (As Lydia Deetz) I am utterly alone.

ULABY: Ryder was dark, yet beguiling with an elfin edge. That distinguished her from the wholesome prettiness of earlier teen queens, and Morris says it was easy for Generation X kids to identify with her.

MORRIS: It didn't matter what gender you were, what race you were; she captured something essential about being young and curious and kind of insecure, but also kind of self confident at the same time.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HEATHERS")

RYDER: (As Veronica) What is your damage, Heather?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Don't blame me, blame Heather.

ULABY: Remember "Heathers" or "Reality Bites"? Morris says Ryder's performances in the 1980s and '90s captured contemporary rhythms.

MORRIS: She was a kind of generational voice that I think lost the generation she was a part of and I think that she did a lot of period pieces and then the costume thing started to happen.

ULABY: "The Age of Innocence," "The Crucible," "Little Women."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM "LITTLE WOMEN")

RYDER: (As Jo) Late at night, my mind would come alive with voices and stories and friends as dear to me as any in the real world.

ULABY: None, of course, as tragically overwrought as "Bram Stoker's Dracula."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA")

RYDER: (As Mina Murray) You are my love and my life, always.

JAMES PATRICK HERMAN: Well, that was a disaster.

ULABY: James Patrick Herman edits the online magazine Verge. He says Ryder's next mistake was supporting the casting of a then little known Angelina Jolie in 1999's "Girl Interrupted."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GIRL INTERRUPTED")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Unintelligible)

ULABY: It's about a group of young women in a mental institution, and what was supposed to be a showcase for Winona Ryder turned, says Herman, into a Bette Davis/Joan Crawford-style smackdown.

HERMAN: You can see the horror in Winona's eyes as Angelina Jolie steals the movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GIRL, INTERRUPTED")

RYDER: (As Susannah) My god. What the hell is that?

ULABY: Oh, just a performance that would win Angelina Jolie an Oscar. Two years later came Ryder's arrest for shoplifting.

HERMAN: It was just such a cute scandal, stealing Marc Jacobs' clothes. Who wouldn't want to steal Marc Jacobs' clothes?

ULABY: And Gucci and other designers. A mundane crime by Hollywood's standards, says critic Wesley Morris. And in spite of the shoplifting and the jokes about famous ex-boyfriends...

MORRIS: She's not like a lot of stars where, like, you just want them to go away and you don't want to see them again.

ULABY: And that's why, says Morris, Ryder's comeback has been celebrated in practically every film she's done since. Sure, the roles are smaller, but they've steadily rebuilt her reputation. She played Spock's mom in the "Star Trek" reboot. She's in an upcoming movie with James Franco and a British prestige project written and directed by David Hare.

Her representatives ignored our requests for interviews, but in a chat on the website Hit Flix, Winona Ryder suggested she no longer feels the need to carry a movie.

RYDER: They say if you have three years, you're lucky. And so, you know, I'm just grateful that I'm still asked to do some special things.

ULABY: But Winona Ryder should not just settle for special stunt casting or even supporting roles, says critic Wesley Morris.

MORRIS: She needs a show. She needs a TV show. I hope her agent is listening to this segment.

ULABY: Morris said he'd love to see Winona Ryder star in something like "Orange Is the New Black," something to showcase her humor as well as her vulnerability. And, he adds, no more costume dramas. Nothing set any earlier than, say, the 1990s. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tags: