Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Emma Watson Proves That There is a Life After Harry Potter

Emma Watson in The Bling Ring
I will admit that in the grand scheme of the world involving Harry Potter, I will always admire the books over the movies. It isn't some anal code in which literature trumps cinema, just that the films seemed a bit too streamlined to be more than good. Still, if the Harry Potter films had any success, it is the amazing longevity that most of the actors had. 12 years ago, director Christopher Columbus changed the world by teaming up with prepubescent performers who didn't have more than a few minimal credits to their name. When compared to most child actors, the fact that a near perfect record stands not only for those who made it to the final film, but also live somewhat decent lives, despite being among the highest paid performers in the world and forever icons in a franchise grossing $1.15 billion (with a "B"). Still, how do you follow up the phenomenon without being typecasted? Among the main players, I feel like Emma Watson is doing it right.
In a way, the recent news that "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" is being adapted into a movie, I immediately wondered how. I own the book, and it is nothing but a glossary. I understand the desire to expand on a billion-plus dollar franchise, but I almost feel like this is the final nail in the coffin. Even if J.K. Rowling has tried to move on with "The Casual Vacancy," it seems like there's no end in sight for her past phenomenon. Hopefully, I am proven wrong on its quality, but if I get one goal, I hope it is that the actors who came from Harry Potter surpass this rut that Rowling is unfortunately in.
In discussion with Mike, we decided to look at who we felt would have the most successful post-Harry Potter careers among the main three: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, or Rupert Grint. Sadly, we both agreed to sympathize with Grint's curse of a post-career (so far), but it did get me thinking about the one person that I feel is actually proving to be able to strip the persona well enough to at least do interesting projects.
My Week with Marilyn
Speculation for me started when I first began to see her in My Week with Marilyn, her first post-Harry Potter flick. It was a fun and radiant romp with Michelle Williams definitely earning that Oscar nomination. However, Watson's role almost seemed too thankless and it got me worried that this was her career: playing secondary roles. The movie itself was interesting and worth visiting, but that is the extent that I could give to Watson in the film. 
However, what it did get me to do is consider her future. Everyone was familiar with Radcliffe in Equus by this point, but Watson still had to make her mark. In some ways, my lenience makes no sense, but I do commend people who are not necessarily great, but take interesting projects. Ones that are ambitious and different and reflect someone wanting to try stuff. I am a sucker for effort as long as the execution is halfway decent. It is why I continually support Joseph Gordon-Levitt, even as he starred in the deliciously cheesy bike messenger action film Premium Rush.

Then came 2012, and the minute I went from claiming that she would be a success simply because she had more screen presence and played background characters well to actually thinking that she had promise. I wasn't a huge fan of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but I admired its audacity to tackle teen angst differently. While I feel that the film is essentially Ezra Miller's (he of the great We Need to Talk About Kevin), there is nothing wrong of Watson playing second fiddle here. While she is still playing a high school student, I feel like she adds some vulnerability to it. 
I'll admit that I don't usually respond well to coming of age movies anyways, but there was something honest here. Beyond the tropes and the riff on David Bowie's "Heroes," there was performances that moved beyond hackneyed. It gets intimate and tragic. Take the scene above in which the first kiss manages to be awkward without losing sentimentality. It is awkward, as the relationship can never be more than friends. It feels grounded. The chemistry is so sweet that you wish it would last.
Admittedly, she is only a few years out from Harry Potter, but I feel like she has a lot more going on. True, Radcliffe is making credible points with me, as Kill Your Darlings is on my anticipated list, but with 2013, things went up a notch. This is the year that she went from being on the same playing field to being leaps ahead. It is all thanks to director Sofia Coppola and her latest film The Bling Ring, which I consider to be my favorite of hers since Lost in Translation. In fact, on Watson, I wrote over at The Oscar Buzz: 
"One of the things that I would love to mention is that Emma Watson has surprised me in the past three years specifically. Not being the biggest fan of Harry Potter, I wasn't the one who immediately expected success. Alas, there was My Week with Marilyn, which was a rather bit part. Then it kept getting juicier until last year's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which was a solid coming of age story, though it was a little too trite and sappy for me. Watson appears to be having a lot of fun with her post Harry Potter career at a more successful level than any of her costars from the first days. It is also impressive to see her range. It hasn't been used in much, but I do feel like if she keeps taking on ambitious roles, we're only years away from a legitimate Oscar nomination."
It seems almost poignant that this is being written as The Bling Ring comes out on DVD this week. This enjoyable little film that is more divisive than I give credit for, reflects one of the more significant social commentaries of the year. The decay of morality due to pop culture and the rise of cynical idiocy. The film is at times unnerving, and it is largely thanks to Watson, who is playing a very different character here. She is jaded, adapting a valley girl accent, and just having fun playing an anti-hero of sorts. 
The performance is so uncanny that the humor is lost for me and it goes straight to haunting. Her blase attitude and desire to have unobtainable dreams (like be the president one day or something) is so familiar that she has captured an archetype that is tragically part of the landscape now. It is no wonder that she is also one of the biggest draws to the film, as she has the most memorable moments, mostly thanks to her lack of care. This role at very least shows that she has fun doing things that she hasn't been doing for the past decade.
I am not trying to accuse her of avoiding more dramatic and stern performances, but she is just so good at playing not Hermione Granger-type roles. Maybe it is a fluke and these two films reflect an actress only good at playing teenagers. At very least, she has made two of the most convincing films in that category. She is a lot of fun to watch and most of all, she has adapted the American accent quite well. Compare any scene from her movies to this interview that she did on The Late Show with David Letterman:

Not only has she mastered the accent so convincingly, but she is a delight to listen to in interviews. While there is large appeal in that she is an attractive British woman, she is also rather modest. She compares the differences between British and American culture in such a way that it sort of sweet, and when she whispers "condom," she is either trying to get around the FCC, or she really is really awesome at playing innocent. She seems like a joy to be around and while that is an unfair thing to argue in the case of why she is going to have the best career, it really just makes her more appealing overall.
The great thing is that she has an even more promising career ahead. She is set to headline one of my most anticipated films of 2014, director Darren Aronofsky's follow-up to personal favorite Black Swan called Noah (along with Perks costar Logan Lerman). I may be wrong, but it is going to be even more of a stretch, especially since this is being billed as an epic of the bible's Noah's Ark story and thus can't allow her to play a modern teenager. Even if it isn't great, I will give her points because it is interesting.
In the long run, I think she is poised to be the best of the two because she takes on interesting projects. I presume that she will continue the duality between blockbusters and dramas that express her range. I don't know if they'll all be as poignant as The Bling Ring, but she is capable of making her own history. After all, that Harry Potter money means she could have retired by now. Even if she just takes to bit parts (like an infamous scene in This is the End), I feel like she has charisma to survive. She may still be working up a catalog to become more than Hermione Granger, but she has started off pretty well with her first three post-Harry Potter films having Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 84% (My Week with Marilyn), 85% (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and 59% (The Bling Ring). 

This is the End
She may not be bankable as she once was, but I'd like to think that her income from the past decade has given her free rein creatively in ways few rarely take advantage of. Still, she has maintained critical success and has done interesting roles. Even her turn in This is the End proves that she works in a comedic landscape. It may be awhile before she can prove to be one of the greats, but for now, she is rather promising and charismatic to a ridiculous degree. This is just about as impressive as the survival rate of Harry Potter actors between 2001 and 2011. Here's hoping that her career will continue to grow with interesting, juicy roles.

1 comment:

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