One of the highly anticipated screenings of SXSW 2011 is the Jodie Foster-directed The Beaver starring Mel Gibson and his hand. The film chronicles the story of Walter Black (Gibson)- a depressed CEO, husband, and father who decides to solely communicate with his family and the world with a beaver puppet.
I posted on Facebook that I was very excited about this movie, which led to a barrage of messages suggesting that there was something wrong with me. Why would I possibly want to see a Mel Gibson movie? He’s a anti-Semitic sociopath who conjures up really weird and violent metaphors when venting his anger towards people. Gibson definitely sealed the coffin shut on his career during the second wave of craziness with his ex-baby mama. No one particularly likes Mel Gibson- except for Jodie Foster- who has hung in there with him since the beginning of his downfall. Will she be just the thing to save him with her new movie? Who knows? All I know is that the human story surrounding this movie- a crazy and depressed actor playing a crazy and depressed character who talks to people with a hand puppet- and the actor’s attempt at public redemption through an oddball story is fascinating.
The interest in redemption stories revolves around society’s fervor to build up and tear down idols. Sometimes the idols stay down, way down, in the gutter, floundering for recognition or survival. Sometimes they pull themselves back up as the people watch wide-eyed, waiting for them to slip, but ultimately cheering as they pull themselves back on top. Below are a few of my favorite redemption stories- whether it be from drugs, pulling your dong out in public, or killing an entire film franchise by your shitty acting skills . Actors who at one point took a big stinkin’ dump on their career, but with enough strength and courage reinvented themselves.
What is your favorite career redemption story?
1.) Robert Downey Jr.
It’s hard to imagine that at one point this cherished and prolific actor was an absolute mess. Downey was born into a show business family where drug use was common. He claims to have started using drugs at the age of six in order to be close to his drug addict father. Whatever dependencies he had did not slow down his rise to stardom.At 20, Downey became a featured player on the absolute worse years of SNL and then went on to star in a string of Brat Packer movies such as Weird Science (1985), The Pick-Up Artist (1987), and Less Than Zero (1987). Less Than Zero being the crystal ball of his future. The 90’s started out with a bang for Downey with an Oscar nomination for his brilliant portrayal as Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin (1992). Maybe it was losing the Oscar to his equatable midget counterpart Al Pacino that made him spiral out of control, but everything seemed to go down hill from there. After starring in a string of mediocre romcoms, Downey’s drug abuse became awesome. In the train wreck sense. For the later part of the 90’s and early 2000’s, Downey could not keep himself clean or out of trouble with the law. Or wandering barefooted and aimlessly around LA. He found himself arrested multiple times and even spent a year in a California State Prison. He was fired from an applauded role on Ally McBeal and it appeared that no one would touch Robert Downey Jr. with a ten foot pole. So what brought ol’ RDJr. back from the dead? The fact that he is a damn fine actor, that’s what! Also, he has never appeared to take himself too seriously. Interestingly enough one of the few people who hung in there with Downey during this time was pre-messbag Mel Gibson, who repeatedly tried to revive his career and even put up the bond money for him to star his first post- rehab film The Singing Detective (2003). Ever since then, Downey has been on a roll. He not only made a comeback but has climbed his way to leading man and heartthrob status at the age of 45. Downey has another Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes film down the pipeline. Ok, maybe that’s a little overkill, RDJr.
2.) Paul Reubens
The story of Paul Reubens a.k.a. Pee-Wee Herman did not revolve around drug use or bad decisions. He simply needed to let go of a load and it ended up killing his career. We all know that Reubens downfall was a complete travesty. In 1991, Reubens was visiting his parents in Sarasota, Florida, and finding himself bored- like I’m sure most people under 40 find themselves in Florida- wandered over to a porn theater. Reubens was arrested for jerking off in the theater though he claims that the police said he was strokin’ it with his left hand and he’s right-handed. Some rookie reporter recognized Reubens’ name on the beat sheet and decided he will be her meal ticket. Bitch. The actor went into hiding at philanthropist Doris Duke’s house and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse– which was already in syndication- was canceled. Reubens resurfaced a year later with a brief cameo in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992) and as the villian in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992). The 90’s saw the actor popping up in brief roles in various cheesy movies and there was so no sign of Pee-Wee Herman ever seeing the late of day again- until now. Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably seen Pee-Wee Herman- yes, Pee-Wee, not Paul Reubens, gracing the late night talk show circuit. That is because Reubens brought back our beloved man-child in a string of successful stage shows called The Pee-Wee Herman Show. If you weren’t able to catch the actor’s show in LA or NYC, don’t fret, we’ll be seeing another feature-length Pee-Wee Herman movie with Judd Apatow at the helm soon.
3.) Sofia Coppola
It’s easy to forget that at one point this sweet and talented director was considered the sole destructor of the Godfather Series. Francis Ford, being the nepotism-loving Italian that he is, decided to cast his then nineteen year-old daughter, Sofia, as Michael Corleone’s daughter Mary in the 1990 film Godfather III. Sofia had few acting roles before this film- she occasionally starred as a baby or child in her father’s other movies. So, needless to say it was a great idea to cast a gawky teenager with no acting experience as a pivotal role in the final film of the Godfather franchise. Sofia’s performance was so panned that she won the honorable Golden Raspberry award and barely acted in another movie again. It wasn’t until the late 90’s that she found her niche as a director and hottie. Her directorial debut came in the form of the much praised The Virgin Suicides (1999). She then went on to direct the indie/hipster darling/I still don’t see what the big deal is about it Lost in Translation (2003). With this film she won an Oscar for best screenplay (still don’t get it). Coppola went on to direct Marie Antoinette (2006) and the recent Somewhere (2010) starring Stephen Dorff- who hopefully one day will be on this best career redemption list- as a confused famous person who tries to figure out what it all means. Awww poor famous person.
4.) Jean-Claude Van Damme
Much like his pony-tailed counterpart, Steven Seagal, Van Damme is the great butt of any a’ joke. With his thick Belgium accent, Zen-like wisdom, and string of martial arts action movies he has been an easy target generation after generation. Before JCVD became the cheese-hero that we all know and love, he was a respected martial artist and bodybuilder in Belgium before moving to Hollywood in his early 20’s. His first big break came in the form of the 1988 film Bloodsport. Van Damme had a string of successes- Universal Soldier (1992), Time Cop (1994)- before the bottom started to break away in the late 90’s. Van Damme was another victim of- surprise!- drug use and found himself in rehab and even out on the streets. Van Damme would not make another movie until 2008 when he starred in the crime/heist/comedy/drama/roman a clef JCVD. In JCVD, JCVD plays a down-on-his luck actor who is held hostage by a dude who looks like he’s trying to impersonate John Cazale in Dog Day Afternoon. Though the storyline is simple, what makes JCVD so wonderful is the blurring line between what is fake and what is real. Van Damme gives such a moving monologue discussing his drug use, divorces, and rocky career, that Time Magazine claimed he should have won an Oscar for his performance. Now if that is not a redemption story, then I don’t know what is.