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Zellweger Faces Uncertain Future as Case 39 Flops

by Anne Thompson
October 3, 2010 5:49 AM
28 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

Signature line: "You had me at hello."

Career Peaks: In 1996, Zellweger played the lovable chipmunk-cheeked girl next door who wins the love of jacked-up talent agent Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. Women also identified with her as a Jane Austen-inspired chubby Brit diarist in Bridget Jones Diary and its sequel.

Awards Attention: Bridget Jones Diary--and her flawless Brit accent-- garnered Zellweger an Oscar nomination, as did her show-stopping turn as murderous song-and-dance girl Roxie Hart in the Oscar-winning Chicago. Zellweger finally won for her folksy supporting role in 2003's Cold Mountain.

Latest Misfires: Back in 2006, Zellweger filmed her role opposite Bradley Cooper in Christian Alvert's genre thriller Case 39, as a social worker who adopts a little girl who is nastier than she looks. Long before a stalled stateside opening, Paramount released the film overseas before targeting it to Latin audiences in America, where the tainted thriller finally opened to a dismal $5.3 million. Zellweger starred as a Miami career woman who moves to a small town in Minnesota in Gold Circle's 2009 fish-out-of-water comedy New in Town. The badly reviewed romance co-starred Harry Connick Jr. and grossed $22 million worldwide. This, after dipping box office receipts (Nurse Betty, Down with Love, Miss Potter, Leatherheads, Appaloosa).

Biggest Problem: The gifted actress is facing an unforgiving industry that doles out few juicy roles for women over 40. Too long in the tooth to play the cute and spunky ingenues that worked best for audiences early in her career, Zellweger has lately starred in several indies financed overseas (My One and Only, New in Town), where her marquee bankability (like most stars these days) is fading. Unable to land a stateside distributor for My One and Only, a road movie starring Zellweger as a 50s East Side socialite Mom who takes off with her two teen boys after catching her bandleader husband (Kevin Bacon) with a floozie, Zellweger's reps signed up indie self-release outfit Freestyle. The movie earned a 69% fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating and decent numbers in limited release, winding up at $2.5 million.

Biggest Assets: She's an enchanting character actress and audiences like her.

Current Gossip: For over a year, the actress, 41, has been dating hunk-du-jour Bradley Cooper, 35, who she first met on Case 39, amid constant wedding/break-up rumors. She's writing songs after performing a Dylan cover on her upcoming indie My Own Love Song. And everyone comments on her looks: "She's messed up her face and doesn't eat," snipes one marketing exec.

Next Step: Her role as a wheelchair-bound singer opposite Forrest Whitaker in My Own Love Song (which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival to dismissive reviews in April) suggests that she may be in danger of falling prey to Noble Actress Syndrome (see: Cinderella Man). "She takes herself so seriously," sighs one studio exec. Zellweger takes a different turn with the indie drama Pillage, which she is producing, to be adapted by writer-director John Krokidas from Brantly Martin's novel about four pals in Manhattan seeking to escape via the ultimate downtown party. They plan a 2011 New York shoot.

Career Advice: Mix it up. Be open-minded. But finding the love of her life in a film may no longer be the answer, cautions one talent agent. "She should do more comedy like Jerry Maguire," says one casting director. "She could do a villainess with comic overtones in a comic-book action ensemble, as Heath Ledger did in Dark Knight, or Scarlett Johannson's Black Widow in Iron Man 2. Or a play on Broadway. You've got to be out there in the universe so people see you're working." There's debate about whether she's ready yet to take a television/HBO detour like Drew Barrymore (Grey Gardens), Kate Winslet (Mildred Pierce) or Evan Rachel Wood ( True Blood). "She needs a Charlize Theron/Monster indie film role," suggests one studio exec. "What's a hit now? Isn't it about people thinking you're good? There's no work out there."

Here are my Moviefone Career Watch columns, and the Case 39 trailer:

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More: Headliners, Career Watch, Renee Zellweger

28 Comments

  • Bob Hawk | October 5, 2010 5:52 AMReply

    Renee has made some poor choices -- both in film roles and her augmented "look." Her main competition is Reese Witherspoon, who has taken good care of herself, aged well and IS a better actress. Same could be said for Amy Adams. Just wait until Reese comes out in James Brooks' HOW DO YOU KNOW and Amy opens in David O. Russell's THE FIGHTER. I can see them both in for the long haul -- and grabbing the choicer roles as they continue to mature.

  • Pat | October 4, 2010 11:17 AMReply

    Case 39 could have been a good film, but Renee didn't fit the role, she isn't a good enough actress.

  • Eric827 | October 4, 2010 3:37 AMReply

    >>>"The only actress over the age of 30 whose film career seems to be blossoming is Meryl Streep."

    That's going a bit far, isn't it? Cate Blanchett, Laura Linney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Sandra Bullock, Angelina Jolie, Marion Cotillard, and Kate Winslet are all over 30 and seem to be doing extremely well for themselves. Not to mention America's Sweetheart, Betty White, who hasn't been under 30 in nearly 60 years.

    Hopefully some of what Renee has done to her face is reversible. Nicole Kidman is looking significantly better than she used to lately - I think a lot of the problem was botox, and she eased up on it. In Renee's case, even if the problem is surgery that can't be fixed, she could improve her appearance a lot by just gaining some weight.

    Then, as others have said, she should try to find some "character" roles, rather than trying to be the same character she played in Jerry Maguire.

  • Dee | October 3, 2010 12:36 PMReply

    She could reinvent herself by doing more theatre. That's what Catherine Zeta Jones did. After her Oscar win, she wasn't in any more hit movies and she is a beautiful woman, but her persona did not resonate to make people want to see her as a lead in films. She won for Chicago but that was an ensemble film that was already a famous Broadway musical. It is sad but true, the work done on her face is terrible. Hollywood pushes women to distort themselves with plastic surgery and then they become box office poison. Makes no sense.

  • MBScott | October 3, 2010 12:35 PMReply

    I know Renee's mother. She is a friend of my mom's and Renee is adopted - thus the deep-seated unquenchable need for fame and attention, I would imagine...

  • Sergio | October 3, 2010 11:28 AMReply

    P.S. By the way, has anyone seen those pictures of those brand new breast implants she just recently got? A sad desperate attempt to stay in the game

  • Sergio | October 3, 2010 11:20 AMReply

    I agree with Bruce. Was she ever really a "movie star" in the first place? I put her along with other "movie stars" like Katherine Heigl and Kirsten Dunst, an actress of no particular uniqueness or charisma who lucked out and got cast in a few hit movies that anyone could have done with the same succcess.

    Oh yeah and that "sucking on a lemon" face of hers that got on my nerves.

  • Joe Valdez | October 3, 2010 9:35 AMReply

    Key quote in your piece Anne was the last sentence: "There's no work out there."

    The only actress over the age of 30 whose film career seems to be blossoming is Meryl Streep. What can a mortal being like a Renee Zellweger do? Those suggesting TV or the stage may be on the right track. She's got to do good work and CASE 39 hardly seems to qualify.

  • amanda | October 3, 2010 6:13 AMReply

    I love how critics only write these kind of things about actresses and not actors. Bradley Cooper was a big sell in the movie, no how much he was actually in the movie, and people still didn't go see it, but nothing about his future.

  • dee | October 29, 2009 5:33 AMReply

    Renee does seem to to suffering; howeever, I liked her a lot in Cold Mountain; she just has a different look about her. Quite movie star looking, but yes a sour appearance. But I still would go to My One and Only except I cannot locate it in my area. She is unique; just needs to find the appropriate rolls to play.

  • Jenny | October 1, 2009 5:41 AMReply

    These days I avoid her movies, as I find her a distraction. She doesn't dissolve herself enough into the characters she plays; instead there's a "look at me-I'm Renee Zellweger" feel to her recent performances as though she is admiring her own acting - and herself - in a mirror. Maybe all actors do that; the trouble is, when it's too obvious, it seems like narcissism. Even with the stereotypic portrayals and underwritten parts Hollywood serves up to women, fine actresses can dimensionalize these roles so they don't seem to be playing the same character over and over. Maybe Ms Zellweger could reinvent herself if she stopped taking cutie-pie ditz roles and stopped delivering cutesy performances in roles that could be far more interesting. It would also help to stop getting plastic surgery to make her face more "cute". I don't skip her movies because I dislike her, I skip them because the Zellweger schtick is not cute anymore. It's boring and predictable.

  • bernard1422 | September 8, 2009 11:23 AMReply

    My subsequent remarks about Ms Zellweger may seem to be otiose. HOWEVER, I looked once more at at her last five pictures and discovered that there was too much face disfiguration( possibly as a result of plastic surgery[?]) which has brought her to the point where she is difficult to professionally photograph. As has been pointed out above, she has such a delicate face, and in scenes of Appaloosa I don't recognize her at times. She looks eerily ghostly. For the sake of his/her career, there comes a time when an actor must learn to say no to the surgeon's scalpel

  • Deb | August 30, 2009 2:50 AMReply

    The only memorable thing she did was play the "Buckle Bunny" who lead Luke Perry astray in "8 Seconds" -- also her entire time onscreen!

  • Bo | August 29, 2009 8:29 AMReply

    I think she suffered in Chicago by being in scenes with Catherine Zeta-Jones, who's sexy and can actually sing and dance. I don't know that audiences are so enchanted with any actress who can't grow and adapt. Renee would do well to look at playing an unsympathetic character, like Rebecca DeMorney did in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.

  • Cervesa | August 29, 2009 7:20 AMReply

    If I saw the whole of "Case 39" I would be a basket case. Too bad she took that role, I'd say it is a "killer" in everyway.

  • bernard1422 | August 29, 2009 5:25 AMReply

    Her best shot would indeed be character roles. In my reviews, I found her unacceptable in LEADERHEADS and in APPALOOSA, each one was to be a break-out role for her that simply did not materialize. Miss Zelweger, it appears, is a competent actress but not a gifted one, and, as pointed out above, she does have that pinched, sour look.

  • Essie | August 28, 2009 8:19 AMReply

    So, what is that "Case 39" supposed to be? A drama? Monster movie? Fantasy? Whatever, it looks dreadful!! Another bomb for Renee!! And, her voice is just terrible!

  • Xeresa | August 27, 2009 9:52 AMReply

    I think that one of the earlier commenters aptly summed up why I found Miss Zellweger so unappealing in most of her roles, and that is the sourness of her expressions.
    She has a pinched up,lemon-sucking expression that just detracts from her roles.
    Jennifer Aniston, a prettier version of Zellweger, also has that sourness of character that also permeates her roles in both film and television. I find them both unlikeable in the long-term and limited in their acting abilities.

  • Claire Marie Cooper | August 26, 2009 6:26 AMReply

    She's over. There are very few actresses who can transition to their 40's and be successful (Sandra Bullock seems to be doing okay but she is obviously overworking, what with 3 releases in 2009; and her tight facework is getting distracting). Jennifer Aniston also is on borrowed time.

    I never cared much for Renee and always thought she was a poser and career opportunist (Chicago, Cold Mountain). Meryl Streep is resurgent at 60 but she is Meryl Streep so she can work until she decides not to.

    Almost every woman in the 35+ bracket is having problems or not even trying (Julia Roberts, Halle Berry, Charlize Theron, Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicole Kidman, Susan Sarandon, it goes on and on).

  • Beach girl | August 25, 2009 12:28 PMReply

    I wish she would do another movie with Russell Crowe. They had a great chemistry as Mae and Jimmy Braddock in Cinderella Man, another true story by Ron Howard. They were great in this picture. She is also a very good comedian - as shown in nurse betty, great in chicago as singer, dancing and comedy, cold mountain with nicole (they were good together too) the funny one with Jim Carrey-me myself and irene, bridget jones,etc.
    She deserves a rest as Renee has had so many movies.. we would love to have her move back to TEXAS close to her parents. We miss her. She was a cheerleader and much more plus with to University of Texas..come home so you can get grounded and quit dating those goof balls.

  • r | August 25, 2009 11:48 AMReply

    I thought Renee Zellweger was perfect in "Cold Mountain" and "Miss Potter" - although the latter, she did smile a bit too much. I think she has yet to find her herself as an actor. She needs to change her voice with each role, like her buddy Russell Crowe, and also should aim at least for meatier roles, like Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett. An ensemble would work wonders with a smartly written script and yes, indie films.

    "Leatherheads" was not her fault. The movie did not know what it was - it was suppose to be about football and not try to be a comedy. Clooney was out of his league there, too, and is way too older for Renee Z. "Leatherheads" really blew it; at least Clooney has "Michael Clayton."

    What's all this about botox? True?

  • cadavra | August 25, 2009 7:56 AMReply

    I've been enchanted with her ever since--wait for it--THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION. She suffers from the same problem Jennifer Jason Leigh does--she's so talented, and so NOT fitting the typical Hollywood glamour-puss stereotype--that people just tend to dismiss her. That said, she probably could do a better job of picking roles, and should, as mentioned, do more supporting work if the part is good.

  • Lindsay | August 25, 2009 7:48 AMReply

    Why is it that there aren't many interesting, believable, relatable characters for women over 40? Does it have to do with the purchasing power of the male demographic, and as a result, the lack of purchasing power with the female? I think the most tragic piece of the Zelllweger conundrum, and others like her, is that for Hollywood actresses fit into two categories: T&A or Character. Let's see some movies with female characters that aren't naked, stupid, boring or whiny... Bring us some stories with real women and I think that not only will Zellweger and others keep their jobs, the Hollywood slump would end and all of us would be a lot less BORED with this Hollywood SLUDGE.

  • MoroccoMole | August 25, 2009 7:33 AMReply

    I like to think that your use of the word "Faces" in the headline was meant at least a tiny bit ironically. If anything is keeping Zellweger's star from reaching its zenith, it's the face work that has limited her to one or two expressions, max. She, like Nicole Kidman, has become a cautionary tale about what too much plastic surgery and botox can do to an actress's instrument.

  • john | August 25, 2009 5:30 AMReply

    does it matter that she's a lousy actress?

  • Bruce Steele | August 25, 2009 5:16 AMReply

    I question the premise that Renee Zellweger was ever a movie star with box office clout. The only movies she headlined that were hits were the Bridget Jones movies, which had a built-in audience, and Chicago, which was more of an ensemble. Doesn't seem to me that anyone's ever been much interested in a Renee Zellweger vehicle, so it would certainly make sense for her to concentrate on the supporting roles that have always worked best for her. I agree she was good in Appaloosa (and brilliant, or at least perfectly cast, in Chicago) and I'm not much of a fan (HATED her in Cold Mountain). But in the right role, usually in an ensemble situation, she can be just dandy. She's just too sour to be Doris Day. And even Kate Hudson has so far failed to become "Kate Hudson."

  • Brian | August 25, 2009 3:09 AMReply

    She was very good in what was essentially a character role in APPALOOSA, a western released in 2008. Maybe she shouldn't try to remain a "star" but should focus on being an actress, something I believe she's much better at. I was very impressed with her in the first film I saw her in, THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD (1996), where she played a small town West Texas schoolteacher who strikes up a near-romance with pulp writer Robert E. Howard ("Conan the Barbarian"), played by Vincent D'Onofrio. It was the work of an actress, not a star. Why she's trying to be Doris Day or Kate Hudson is beyond me. Let Kate Hudson, Drew Barrymore and Sandra Bullock try to corner that market. (Although I think Drew has greater possibilities than that, also.)

  • Ryan Sartor | August 25, 2009 3:01 AMReply

    She should go the Ben Affleck route and start taking supporting roles in different films. I could see her finding a nice niche as a Patricia Clarkson-type actress as she gets older. But I do think her moment as a Movie Star is over.

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