Kook. Everyone’s at it these days. Everyone wants the edge, from Zooey twirling around in her tea dresses big eyes a-blinking to Kat Dennings and her oh-so-strange Christopher Walken obsession and all the fake glasses wearing starlets in-between, we’ve reached the apex of odd.
This sweet, fashion magazine version of the outsider is now a fixture of modern cinema, the standard ‘quirky best friend’ role, the sardonic indie-flick chick. But before this assimilation, there was a time when it looked like the geek would not inherit the earth and to be different was something altogether more dark and dangerous. Long before Angelina’s over the top skin shredding and vials of blood antics or Kristen Stewart’s sullen-girl’s pose became the calling card for alternative Hollywood there was Winona Ryder and her quietly beating heart of darkness.
Back in the late 80s and early 90s where the cinematic landscape was bursting at the seams with Julia and her giant gnashers and Meg and her cutesy-pie shtick there was one actress whose sad chocolate button eyes and nervous nature spoke to a generation of lost girls.
Winona was for any girl who’d listened to Echo and The Bunnymen a little too much, who read the ‘Bell Jar’ a little too hard, who expertly applied coats of inky eyeliner for hours in her bedroom mirror waiting to go nowhere. Her pictures covered our binders and school note books; we attempted to achieve that hair with a series of horrible home dye jobs and blunt scissors and pondered daily about when she and Johnny would finally get married…
Crash landing into our lives with her back combed bouffant as Goth girl Lydia in Beetlejuice, her whispery voice and awkward gait was one full of teen insecurity and melodrama a performance that was as natural as it was knowing.
As Veronica against the mega-bitches in high-school drama supreme (Mean Girls not withstanding) Heathers, she ignited a fire inside every forlorn dreamer who misspent half their school days fantasizing about escaping the place whilst carving band names into their desk. It was for everyone who imagined wrecking havoc on suburbia with their own smart-mouthed JD. Winona became the poster-girl for the damaged, distressed damsels too clever and far too cool to play it cute.
The 90s were her golden age from outshining Cher in Mermaids (which is no mean feat… ask Christina) to falling in love with Johnny Depp’s John Merrick-meets-bondage-Robert-Smith in Edward Scissorhands, for being able to keep a straight face at Keanu at his campiest in Dracula and especially for making the zeitgeist strangling cringe-fest that was Reality Bites seem almost plausible, Winona owned the decade.
In 1999 she crowned it with her tribute to the doe-eyed demented Girl Interrupted. It gave furniture-chewing Angelina her Oscar, which was like a baton passing ceremony for the beautifully unhinged.
This should have kick started the next decade into something more mature and accomplished, an opportunity to flourish in a variety of interesting projects, but instead it gave us Autumn in New York, some shoplifting and most harrowing of all… Mr. Deeds.
She seemed swallowed up, lost in a time when she should have been confidently asserting her authority in roles that showcased her individuality and strength as an actress as opposed to assuming Julia Robert’s duties of being wrinkly old Richard’s spit receptacle or the tragic misfortune of being Adam Sandler’s ANYTHING.
This is not the career one of the alumni of the teen dramas that burned throughout our youth deserved, a series of non-roles in bland rom-coms? Winona should have been slouching moodily as an artist suffering from an existential crisis in some imaginary Sofia Coppola film sound tracked by Deerhunter, not trying in vain to flesh out the role of Spock’s mother (the shame!).
The only role of note she’s had in the past ten years has been as Beth in Black Swan, playing an embittered icon who is obsessed with the thoughts of being usurped by nubile newcomers… and who says Hollywood doesn’t write roles for the maturing woman? Anyway, with her hair all matted, her eyeliner halfway down her face and her Courtney Love level 10 bitter-insanity we fell back in love with Winona. This was the Winona we knew, not someone who melts into the scenery in shoddy, predictable rom-coms moulding herself into the mainstream; we wanted our square peg back not fitting in… where she belongs.
Let’s hope that paranoid psycho-drama The Stare will be the opportunity for the public to finally acknowledge her innate power as doyenne of the dark girl domain, one that has spawned many a pale, knock-kneed imitator but none that possesses the alluring old-Hollywood mystique of the Queen of Kook that is Winona.