Big Little Lies, HBO’s most recent no holds barred, edge of your seat soap opera, wrapped up its all too short but perfectly paced seven-episode run last Sunday. If you haven’t seen it you’re in for a (spoiler alert) killer treat. If you don’t have HBO it’s time you ponied up for a subscription or tapped into your neighbor’s cable box if for no other reason than to revel in the tour de force performance by Reese Witherspoon. So mesmerized were we by this five-foot-one fireball we took it upon ourselves to review (in our mind’s screening room) her most memorable roles on the big screen. Here are our top five in reverse alphabetical order so we can save the best for last:
June Carter in Walk the Line (2005) – As a rule bio-flicks suck, for the simple reason that most life stories or portions thereof don’t conform to the classic three-act structure of conventional storytelling. This is one of the happy exceptions, and by that I mean joyous. What a story, what great music, and at the heart of it all is Witherspoon’s Oscar-winning portrayal of June Carter, a stellar talent in her own right, who single-handedly saves the self-destructive Johnny Cash (played by Joaquin Phoenix) by flushing his speed down the toilet and taking his mind off other women. Directed by James Mangold. Available to rent for $2.99 on Vudu, Google Play, or Fandango.
Jennifer Wagner/Mary Sue Parker in Pleasantville (1998) – We’ve always regarded this smart, entertaining parable as a 90s version of The Wizard of Oz. David Wagner, a nerdy 90s teen, portrayed by Tobey Maguire, is addicted to reruns of a 50s sit-com called Pleasantville. One evening, courtesy of an eccentric TV repairman (played by Don Knotts) David and his ultra-hip (read obnoxious) twin sister, Jennifer are transported to the seemingly perfect world of Pleasantville and must find a way back home. As you might suspect, on their return journey the pair have a profound effect on the inhabitants of the 1950s. Directed by Gary Ross. Available to rent for $2.99 on Apple or Google Play.
Dani Trant in The Man in the Moon (1991) – To quote Roger Ebert, who gave this film four out of four stars, “The Man in the Moon is like a great short story, one of those masterpieces of language and mood where not one word is wrong, or unnecessary.” This was Witherspoon’s feature film debut at age fourteen, and her performance blew away. critics and audiences alike. It’s one of those movies whose simple country plot is overshadowed by powerful themes and which takes a shot at deciphering the meaning of life. Take a hanky. Directed by Robert Mulligan, who earlier wove another girl’s coming-of-age tale in To Kill a Mockingbird. Free streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu.
Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (2001) – One thing Witherspoon has proven she can do is carry a flick and make it seem better than it is (Wild anyone). She does this here in spades. It’s the ultimate lightweight high-concept movie: Bubblehead gets accepted to Harvard Law and must prove herself in order to win back her unworthy boyfriend. We can hear you groaning. Sure, we could have picked Mud to round out our top five. But, despite a brilliant supporting turn by Witherspoon in that uncut diamond, it belongs to Matthew McConaughey. This semi-classic charmer belongs to Reese, lock, stock and diploma. Directed by Robert Luketic. Available to Rent for $2.99 on Apple, Vudu, and Fandango.
Tracy Flick in Election (1999) – Speaking of flicks. You’ve never met one like Tracy. Neither has Jim McAllister, her high school civics teacher (played by Matthew Broderick) who, threatened by Tracy’s carnivorous sexuality and concerned that her Mussolini-inspired platform will destroy the student body politic, attempts to rig the election for student body president. Object lesson: don’t meddle. This is one of our favorite Deja Views. Watch it once and you’ll have the itch for life. Written and directed by Alexander Payne, who went on to pen and helm About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendents, and Nebraska. Free streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu.
© 2017 Ron Dulaney