(Originally posted in OC WEEKLY, September 1, 2005)
Shortly after the last election, I found I’d developed an allergy to TV news so severe that even a few minutes of exposure to CNN was enough to leave me shivering, disoriented and covered from head to toe in itchy, foul-smelling blisters. So, nowadays I get most of my news from the covers of the glossy magazines I see when I’m waiting in line at the supermarket. As a result, I’m a bit behind on this whole Iraq thing, but I am avidly following the alarming deflation of Jessica Simpson’s butt. (Star Magazine recently devoted a cover feature to this mysterious phenomenon—“Jessica Simpson’s Butt Goes Flat!” The magazine pledged to reveal “what really happened,” but, curious as I was to learn the source of Jessica’s tragic ass-flattening, I had to get home before my Klondike Bars melted.)
If you study these covers with the full seriousness they deserve, you begin to notice something strange about people like J-Lo, Jude, Brad, Colin Farrell, Ben, Gwyneth, Nicole and many of the other tabloid darlings: mainly, that while these people sure do star in lots of movies, most of them haven’t had an actual hit in years, if ever.
For starters, let’s take a look at the eternal enigma that is Jennifer Lopez’s career. Jenny from the Block has never once starred in anything you could call a blockbuster. The Wedding Planner and Maid in Manhattan? Underperformers at best. Monster-in-Law opened respectably but soon petered out. Beyond that you’re looking at movies like The Cell, Enough, Angel Eyes, Gigli and Jersey Girl, each a more wretched commercial failure than the last. According to the Internet Movie Database, none of Lopez’s 25 movies has cracked $100 million; in fact, the majority haven’t earned half that. This is not exactly the résumé you’d expect of a superstar. Looking at Lopez’s career objectively, one might say she peaked as a fly girl on In Living Color. And yet, if that girl goes to the doctor to get a hangnail removed, you can bet it’ll be on the cover of People next week. (I don’t want to think of the bloody chaos that will engulf our nation if her butt ever goes flat.)
Jude Law, meanwhile, has been in, like, 15 movies in the past year, and every single one flopped. Alfie, I [Heart] Huckabees, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Closer, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events: flop, flop, flop, flop, flop. Law has even managed to jinx reliable hitmakers like Steven Spielberg, who cast Law in A.I. and lived to regret it when the film failed to earn back its budget. And yet people are strangely fascinated with Law: everywhere you turn there are articles about him shagging the nanny, and last week, when a British newspaper rudely printed unauthorized nude photos of Law, the entire Internet slowed to a crawl for hours while America’s citizens downloaded pictures of the flaccid, smallish wiener of an actor they wouldn’t pay to see at the local multiplex.
Nicole Kidman? Hasn’t starred in a blockbuster since 1997’s Batman Forever. Gwyneth Paltrow? Hasn’t had a proper hit since 1998’s Shakespeare in Love, 11 movies ago. Ben Affleck and Colin Farrell? Well, let’s just say that Daredevil is the highlight of both of their recent filmographies. Grade school astronomy teaches us that when a star collapses it becomes a black hole, a force of unstoppable suction that nothing can escape, not even light. Thus these so-called movie “stars” are more like movie black holes.
These days we’re much more concerned with the stars themselves than we are in any movies the stars might make. People were feverishly interested in the whole Ben Affleck/J-Lo thing, and while they didn’t go out and see Gigli, they were ravenous for news about the strain the failure put on the relationship of Ben and Jennifer. One could even argue that Mr. and Mrs. Smith only became a hit because people were so hot for the whole “Brangelina” thing. Certainly Pitt had been on a long, long slide before that; he did okay as part of the Oceans 11/12 ensemble, but otherwise he hadn’t had a solid hit in about a decade. Seriously, I don’t even remember half the films in Pitt’s filmography: The Dark Side of the Sun? The Devil’s Own? Even Fight Club, for all its notoriety, was a bomb. And yet, somehow, someway, Pitt’s probably the biggest star around . . . next to Jennifer “Box Office Poison” Lopez.
Finally, and perhaps inevitably, we arrive at Paris Hilton. Hilton is famous for being rich, and blond, and skinny, and bitchy, and dumb, and for carrying a shivering little dog around in her purse. That’s about it. She’s never had a hit movie or a hit song or anything, and her Fox show seemed to exist mostly so people could check in on her latest doings. She had a small role in House of Wax, and people enjoyed watching her die horribly (they cheered, I’m told). But that wasn’t enough to make the movie an actual hit. Paris Hilton is famous, quite literally, for being famous, and judging by her ever-present little smirk, I don’t think she minds a bit. Here’s hoping she is the nadir of modern celebrity, but I fear she may instead be a dark portent of things to come.
Much has been written about the dire box-office slump that shows no sign of ending any time soon. But I think all of these hand-ringing commentators are overlooking the real problem: movies have gotten so damn boring we’d rather stay home and make fun of the leading man’s penis online.