By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Perhaps nostalgic for the normal girlhood she never really had, Ryder clung to the waif role far too long, in good movies like Little Women, inept ones like Boys and snoozers like How To Make an American Quilt, whose title must’ve turned off every viewer younger than Strom Thurmond. At 25, when she should have been braving the full-bodied adult roles taken by Charlize Theron or Renee Zellweger, she was a teenage hysteric in The Crucible. The desolate payoff of all this was the reception given her pet project, Girl, Interrupted, in which she starred as a teenager committed to a mental institution. After giving easily her richest dramatic performance, Ryder had to watch hammy Angelina Jolie win the Oscar for swaggering through the asylum like Mick Jagger visiting a home for retired groupies.
Worse still, Jolie‘s award underscored a change in pop taste. Ryder was suddenly caught being a dark, neurotic Jewish woman in a era wild about high-spirited shiksas -- Jolie, Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Reese Witherspoon -- who make romps like Charlie’s Angels or Legally Blonde. Today‘s audience likes its actresses to be game and a bit wild, to flash their breasts on Letterman, climb into a fat suit or boast about their fart-noise device (as does Diaz). In contrast, Ryder’s artistic earnestness betrays no discernible instinct for tomfoolery (Woody Allen got her exactly right in Celebrity). She‘s happiest in high-toned adaptations like The Age of Innocence and The Crucible, and I suspect that some of the chortling that greeted her arrest had to do with her changed image. She’d gone from being a teen outsider flipping the bird at authority -- you didn‘t imagine the young Winona shopping, let alone at Saks -- to becoming an establishment beauty who flaunted designer clothes on the cover of fashion magazines.
Yet such stylishness didn’t ferry her into adulthood. When she tried to break out of her teenage persona, Ryder wound up making bad choices: She was an implausible action heroine in Alien Resurrection, in which her teeny-tiny voice was unintentionally comic, and was buried by hokum in Lost Souls. I can only imagine the career desperation that led her to sign on to her next movie, Mr. Deeds, in which she has the joyless task of supporting Adam Sandler, a man who‘s built a career playing the perpetual adolescent. It’s a touching measure of how she‘s fallen that she appears only briefly in the trailer -- sporting long blond hair! -- and it doesn’t even bother to mention her name. This is a million miles from her dream role, Jean Seberg, though Ryder reminds me of that badly used actress more than ever.
Of course, one feels slightly foolish dwelling on the unhappiness of a movie star in a world where millions know true suffering; from my encounters with Ryder, I know that she herself would feel the same way. Like nearly everyone who turned on the TV or opened a paper last week, I was stunned by the heartbreaking Before-and-After photos of Sharbat Gula, the beautiful, green-eyed Afghan girl who was on the cover of National Geographic in 1985, almost exactly when Ryder was shooting her film debut. The two are contemporaries, perhaps alter egos. For in our world of almost psychotic extremes, it‘s hard to imagine two girls living out realities more opposed -- one ceaselessly battered by violence and deprivation and fear, the other swathed in Prada and fame. Where Gula at 29 has the face of a woman of 50 and eyes that look a thousand years old, the 30-year-old Ryder looks largely untouched by the last 17 years -- more elegant, yes, but still a fresh-faced college freshman. If Gula embodies the tragedy of a girl plunged into instant, painful adulthood, Ryder gives us a glimpse of something less cruel but far more complicated -- the poignancy of being a girl uninterrupted.