Theron hit with Oscar curse
The curse that befell the Boston Red Sox for 86 years has released its hold.The curse of the Best Actress Academy Award winner, which dates back at least to 1976 and Louise Fletcher, who played Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” seems only to be strengthening its grip.In recent years, Halle Berry devolved from the Oscar-winning performance in “Monster’s Ball” to the bikinied Jinx in the James Bond flick “Die Another Day,” and the catsuit-clad Patience Phillips in the universally panned “Catwoman.” Nicole Kidman followed her 2003 best actress win for “The Hours” by demonstrating an incredible inability to locate a character, flailing in her portrayal of the bitter janitor Faunia in “The Human Stain.” After taking an Oscar home for “As Good As It Gets,” Helen Hunt appeared in the stomach-turning “Pay It Forward.” The good news is that most of the actresses eventually rebound from their post-Oscar fall; few wind up largely invisible, like Fletcher.
Latest to be afflicted with the curse is Charlize Theron. Theron earned an Oscar for last year’s “Monster” with an unforgettable job of transformation. The lovely, lithe South African native practically became Aileen Wuornos, the beastly, unkempt real-life man-killing machine. In “Head in the Clouds,” Theron forgets to make a key transformation. The film, about a love triangle, is set in the Europe of the 1930s and ’40s. Theron, however, seemed to have missed the instruction that this is a period film. She fails to put on her time-travel suit, speaking, acting, looking – everything but dressing – like a creature of the 21st century.Which is not to lay all the blame for “Head in the Clouds” on Theron’s pretty head. (Not to mention magnificent body. Theron follows Berry and Kidman down the path from Oscar-winning dramatist to flaunter of flesh.) The film, directed and written by John Duigan, takes a grand backdrop – the coming of World War II, locations from Paris to Cambridge to the front of the Spanish Civil War, heiresses and strippers, haute couture and knockout sets – and places in front of it a hollow melodrama worthy of a soap opera. Theron plays Gilda Bessé, an American heiress knocking about pre-war Europe with a detachment that makes her impervious to love, loyalty and the coming wave of fascism. In Cambridge, she strikes up a romance with the handsome, earnest student Guy (Stuart Townsend), who is star-struck by the celebritylike Gilda. The two carry on their affair over the years, even as their vast differences – he is committed to the Spanish loyalists; she, to ignoring politics – are laid out with disregard for subtlety.
Almost literally dropped into this romance is Mia (Penélope Cruz), a Spanish stripper-turned-nurse, and a model for Gilda’s photographic dabblings. The three form a love triangle which focuses more on their personality contrasts than their sexual compatibility, which is mostly presumed. None of it is convincing, moving or intelligent, though it does, just barely, reach the bar of entertaining.Writer-director Duigan seems to have realized how little there is in the triangle. Late in the action, he turns “Head in the Clouds” into a spy game, with Gilda having developed a conscience and turned into an informer against the Nazis. Besides being too late, the transformation has taken place entirely behind the curtain. We are given no reason to see what is beneath the change of character.Perhaps Theron will bounce back, as Kidman did in “Cold Mountain.” But she might need to look beyond her next project: playing the title character “Aeon Flux,” the mysterious secret agent from the country Monica, based on the comic book and TV series of the same name.
“Head in the Clouds” shows tonight through Thursday at the Wheeler Opera House.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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