Friday, June 10, 2011

Getting Over Jennifer Love Hewitt

I wrote up a snarky blog post about Jennifer Love Hewitt last month, when I heard she was resurfacing on NBC's summer series "Love Bites," but decided not to post it. There are always those couple of actors and actresses who keep getting work despite constant mediocrity, that ping particularly strong feelings of disdain and resentment. How on earth is middling Actor X being cast in all these big projects, while brilliant, unappreciated Actor Y is toiling in obscurity? Jennifer Love Hewitt was always one of these for me, an actress whose appeal I just couldn't fathom and developed stronger feelings of rancor toward than I knew she really deserved. Now a Slate article analyzing data from Rotten Tomatoes has declared that the actress with the worst-reviewed films under her belt since 1985 is Hewitt, beating out such notable schlock luminaries as Carmen Electra and Paris Hilton. I could have taken this as vindication for my own dislike of Hewitt as an actress, but mostly I just felt bad for her.

In the late 90s, if you were a teenager or young adult, there was no getting away from Jennifer Love Hewitt. She was one of the breakout starts of the popular teen drama "Party of Five," and made the move to feature films with "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and "Can't Hardly Wait." There was also a brief recording career, probably best remembered for a music video that consisted entirely of her meandering down a city street while wearing a scarf. She was hyped up to such an extent by the breathless media, which billed her as one of the hot new Hollywood somebodies, it was inevitable that she couldn't live up to expectations. I was happy to ignore her as best I could until I ran across her performance in the 2000 TV movie, "The Audrey Hepburn Story." I love Audrey Hepburn. Hewitt was terribly miscast and gave a very weak, mannered performance, made worse by an awful script. I actively did not like her after that, and every time I spotted her in a commercial or on a movie posted, it rankled.

But my real beef developed when she refused to go away. Other mediocre young actors of the time had short careers that burned out quickly, like Tara Reid, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Denise Richards. At some point Jennifer Love Hewitt became a name actress, someone inexplicably marquee-worthy who was considered a draw for years after her teen-idol peak. Her performances never seemed to improve, but she kept showing up in movies with decent visibility, like "Garfield" and "The Tuxedo," and eventually she ended up as the lead of the CBS supernatural drama "The Ghost Whisperer" for five seasons. I've never seen an episode, but it was described to me once as "Touched By an Angel" sans the Christianity. Not really my thing, but it filled a niche for the network and won over a good amount of fans. I hope this means she's finally become a better actress, though I'm not prepared to spend any time finding out.

Is my attitude toward her petty? Absolutely, but I fully admit that it's not the actress's fault. It was really the the overexposure that galled me, not anything Hewitt did. There are plenty of bad actresses out there who have committed far worse cinematic crimes. It was the filmmakers who kept giving her work, and the fans who happily overlooked her weaknesses, and the media that kept her name in the papers that I really had the problem with. They overhyped her when I was still hadn't figured out how to tune out the breathless, meaningless pop culture popularity chatterers yet. I let them get to me, which is the part of all this I still regret. Looking over Hewitt's filmography, I've seen a grand total of three of her fifteen films, one of which was "Sister Act 2" where she had a bit part, and only a few brief television appearances. So why was I ever wasting my time being irritated by an actress whose work I hardly even saw?

Looking at Hewitt's dismal record of Rotten Tomatoes scores, I think she ended up on the bottom not because of her lack of talent, but because she always played it safe. Her film credits are full of cheap B-movies and C-movies where she didn't have to do much but look cute, never straying too far outside her comfort zone. She never tried to build up indie cred, never left Hollywood, and never did anything remotely risky. And there's nothing wrong with that. Hewitt is a mediocre actress, but I suspect she knows her limits, and she clearly understood how to take advantage of all that early hype and fuss to keep the work coming. The fact that she's still around, trying to launch more television projects is proof of that. She's figured out what works for her, and made a career of it.

Good for her.

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