It's rough being a movie star today, with so many features leaning on CGI effects where they once banked on the name recognition of A-listers like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Star vehicles are fading quickly, being replaced with franchise juggernauts. Only a handful of actors and actresses really attract enough attention to sell a film by their presence alone anymore, and the lucrative production deals that they once commanded are a thing of the past.
The movie star era has been in decline for a while now, with no new names coming up to take the places of Meryl Streep and Will Smith, though there is never a shortage of contenders. Take Amy Adams, for instance, who won critical accolades and her first Academy Award nomination with "Junebug" in 2005 and made a mainstream splash with the much-adored "Enchanted" in 2007. You couldn't ask for a more promising leading lady. And to nobody's surprise, she has gotten a decent amount of work as a result of her recent successes, but it's depressing to see how little that means these days.
Looking at Adams' pictures that were produced after the release of "Enchanted," we've got "Doubt," "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," "Julie and Julia," and "Leap Year." All mainstream projects, all relatively successful, and all a total waste of her talents. Admittedly I haven't see "Leap Year," but it fits the mold of all the other female-friendly, lightweight, romantic comedies that tend to get released in late winter and spring. Every young cinema debutante has had a brush with them at one point or another. Alas, Kate Hudson and Jennifer Lopez never escaped their treacly pastel clutches.
"Doubt" was a well-regarded prestige picture based on the Tony Award winning play, where Adams had a small supporting part and garnered a few good notices and a surprise Academy Award nomination. Compared to the meatier roles of Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Viola Davis, however, she was easily overshadowed. The "Night at the Museum" sequel, which opened in the summer of last year was much more high profile, but Adams' role as an Amelia Earhart waxwork brought to life was brief and didn't leave much of an impression. Playing the love interest in a CGI-heavy effects picture, she didn't have much to do besides run around after Ben Stiller and shout one-liners at appropriate moments.
What should have been Amy Adams' big role of the year was Julie Powell in "Julie and Julia," the double-memoir of a culinary blogger and the legendary chef Julia Child. A late summer release for blockbuster-weary grown-ups, directed by Nora Ephron, it featured yet another fine performance by Meryl Streep in the Julia Child segments and an absolutely miserable one by Amy Adams in the Julie half of the picture. The problem wasn't the actress, but the character, an overwrought, self-obsessed young woman who spends much of the film's running time whining incessantly about how awful her picture-perfect life is.
The sad thing is, these roles are really about the best that mainstream Hollywood has to offer to young actresses these days. Neurotic romantic heroines, second bananas to Meryl Streep, and action movie love interests are par for the course in major studio films. A step down from there, and you're looking at thankless wife, mother, or girlfriend roles. It's only in the indies, art house pictures, and horror films that you see strong parts for women, the kinds of parts that are necessary to make lasting movie stars.
But then I look at Sandra Bullock, who is about as big and popular as it gets these days, and all of those dull, awful, romantic comedies she's made, and how few really great roles she's had like Leigh Anne Tuohy in "The Blind Side," and I have to shudder inwardly. Is it even worth it to try for mainstream success anymore if this is where it leads? The paychecks must be nice, but it's no wonder why so many of our best film actresses like Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Toni Collette, Laura Dern, and Sally Field have decamped for television screens. Or simply disappeared like Debra Winger.
Next up for Amy Adams, it's back to the indies with David O. Russell's "The Fighter," where she's playing Christian Bale's love interest, and there has been talk of an "Enchanted 2" project at Disney. I wish her the best of luck.