Wednesday, April 11, 2012

When Meg Ryan Met Russell Crowe

I watched when When Harry Met Sally last weekend and found myself wondering afterwards, whatever happened to Meg Ryan? There was a time when she was America’s sweetheart; when she was the queen of romantic comedies and was considered an A-list actress; a time when, well, she made movies. How did the actress who reigned the box office in the 80s and 90s wind up making commercial and critical bombs like The Women and straight-to-DVD schlock like My Mom’s New Boyfriend in the last decade? Proof of Life happened, that’s how.

Meg Ryan epitomized sweetness, wholesomeness and effervescence. Years earlier, she and co-star Dennis Quaid fell in love on the set of their successful sci-fi comedy Innerspace and married in 1991. Theirs was a beloved Hollywood union that seemed destined to go the distance. She was making movies regularly and scoring hits consistently, like 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle, and had appeared to cement her status as an A-list actress and America’s sweetheart until she encountered Russell Crowe.

In 2000, they co-starred in Proof of Life together; a film overshadowed by the media coverage of the actors’ purported affair. By this time, Ryan and Quaid had been married for 10 years, an eternity by Hollywood standards, and as far as the movie-going public knew, they had a perfect marriage and were living the American dream. When reports surfaced that Ryan had cheated on Quaid with Crowe, her professional image as America’s sweetheart was shattered. It came to light later that Ryan and Quaid’s marriage was all but over by the time she hooked up with Crowe, and Ryan dispelled the notion that theirs was a happy union when she stated that Quaid had been unfaithful during their marriage, but still the damage had been done and Ryan suffered the brunt of it. Her personal and professional worlds imploded and Ryan was branded with what was tantamount to a scarlet letter for her involvement with Crowe.

The scandal ruined Ryan’s public image and her career suffered a significant blow. Her career was largely built on the perception of her as a wholesome, old-fashioned romantic, girl-next-door in a long and happy marriage. Once the affair with Crowe surfaced, it seemed audiences and the industry no longer wanted anything to do with her. She made attempts to restart her career by retreating back into the romantic comedy genre with Kate and Leopold, but audiences did not warm to Ryan’s return to familiar territory and the film bombed. Then she took a couple of years off and returned with a completely unexpected role in a gritty and erotic thriller called In the Cut. Promotion of the film seemed to focus heavily on Ryan’s nudity in the movie rather than on its own merits or on Ryan’s acting in it, and even that didn’t generate enough interest to move audiences to see it.

Then in 2004, Ryan got another chance to reinvigorate her career post-scandal with a role as a boxing manager in Against the Ropes. The film was panned by critics largely due to its overuse of boxing clichés and overt likeness to the Rocky series, and grossed a paltry $6-million domestically. Then she starred in The Women – a female ensemble in the works since Ryan’s glory days as America’s sweetheart. When it finally got made, it suffered the same dismal results as Against the Ropes and it failed to reignite Ryan’s career or bankability.

After watching When Harry Met Sally last weekend, I was reminded of how much talent Ryan possessed during the golden years of her career as a romantic comedy leading lady. She was endearing, funny, warm and relatable, and she delivered performances with heart and humour, great comedic timing and wonderful sentiment. Her performance in When Harry Met Sally is my favourite with her role in Innerspace a very close second. It’s a shame that her career suffered so greatly after the Russell Crowe scandal and that she never really recovered professionally from it. Ryan’s career isn’t the same as it once was, but it still flickers with some life, and I, for one, hope that she is still offered some great opportunities with the promise of some good film roles ahead. Until then, we’ve got her great early performances when she was America’s sweetheart to tide us over.

What are your favourite Meg Ryan performances? Let us know in the comments section.

24 comments:

  1. If Ryan was better at picking good films then I don't think there'd be anyone looking back to her past in a negative way. The key to a good comeback is surely just that; make it good.

    Main problem for me is that hers just wasn't. Absolutely hated The Women and everything it stood for. Can't remember Against The Ropes although I'm pretty sure I've seen it, which is something in itself.

    Her next good comeback needs to be much better.

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    1. I agree that an effective comeback results from good film choices, and Ryan's most recent ones have been poor choices. I have to wonder, though, about the types of roles she's being offered and if all she's got to choose from is a bad lot? Apparently she's doing some directing, so it may be that her future successes will be from behind the camera. I agree that whatever her next moves, they need to be better.

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  2. I think this article is over-dramatizing. Meg Ryan's personal world never exploded for example. She leads a happy live with her two children and her BF of 1,5 yrs, John Mellencamp.

    She made some bad movie choices around 1999-2002 and that is what did her in, it had very little to do with her understandable relationship with Crowe. What Quaid did to her for so many years, the cheating, the boozing, the addictions, HE is the one who deserved the media's scorn, not here. It's sad that the media lets him get away with everything he does. He is a bad example for his children.

    I don't think she wants a comeback. She is working on directing a movie of her own, and gives her time to charity.

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    1. You haven't met Quaid, so I think it's kind of unfair for you to say he's not a good father. Anyway, you're missing the point of this article, talking about anything other than Ryan is deductive.

      The idea of a comeback in reality is intersting and rare. While I'm not as fond of her acting as you are JBT, I'm always hoping people can return to good cinema.

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    2. @Jane - her career did indeed suffer after the Crowe scandal and so, too, did her public image. Sure she made some bad choices, but so have so many other actresses (consider the numerous flops Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon have incurred, for example) yet they're still well-perceived and steadily working.

      I won't comment about Quaid and his abilities as a father since I don't know the man. They both had indiscretions, but my focus here was on how Ryan's relationship with Crowe impacted her career and the direction its taken since.

      @Sam Fragoso - I thought she was a very gifted comedic actress early in her career and her early films have great re-watch value. I often hope that people can return to good cinema too.

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    3. Anonymous4:45 am

      The public is fickle and the matter of celebrity affairs is always inconsistent. After-all, there were two people involved in the Ryan/Crowe affair and Crowe didn't seem to be hurt by it much, won a pretty significant award with Gladiator. Branjelina have no problems selling box office. Swarzinazi continues with film ambitions even after taking the entire State of California for a long ride of deception. If the public hasn't figured it out by now, affairs are pretty much a big part of celebrity territory. Duh. Isn't it time to get over it? Kate and Leopold is one of my favorite films. Small wonder if it didn't sell ... love and culture over money is not a popular theme of the last three decades and few Americans are familiar enough with American history to appreciate its historical references and somewhat scathing critical commentary on our contemporary greed culture.

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  3. While never a huge fan of her work, I think poor film choices rather than her failed marriage has to do with her fall from cinematic grace. Also she started to look like a muppet with her ill advised plastic surgery.

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    1. I agree that her film choices, especially in the last few years, haven't been great. If you don't make good movies, the movie-going audience will lose interest in you. But I think her image suffered after the affair and she never seemed to rebound from that career slide. As I said above, her choices have definitely been questionable, but I wonder about the quantity and quality of films she's been offered too, and if she's had slim pickings to choose from. Only she knows, I guess!

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  4. I have never been a huge fan of her work but I liked the movie, as well as her performance in In the Cut. She was raw, gritty, dirty, but also very believable in a role that I thought was going to get her more and more roles. I think for the future, she'll find her face in a Woody Allen movie and bring her career right back up to where it was before. Good post here.

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    1. I thought 'In the Cut' was a brave, bold move for her where she definitely played against type. It's unfortunate that it was so poorly received and that it did little to boost her career at the time.

      I hope she gets the chance to work with a great director like Woody Allen and is given the chance to do something reminiscent of her early work that was her bread and butter for so long.

      Thanks, Dan - glad you enjoyed the post.

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  5. I wasn't aware of the Russell scandal, though I too wondered why she disappeared after watching some of her films. I loved When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, When a Man Loves a Woman, You've Got Mail... I know, I'm such a girl. But to me these were golden times not just for Meg Ryan but for the romantic comedy genre as well. She was really sweet and funny, a delight to watch. It's a shame what happened, and I hope she does return!

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    1. I love those movies too! She was indeed a delight in those great romantic comedies and I do hope that she gets a chance to star in a good film soon.

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  6. I enjoyed your article JBT, I've been a fan of Meg Ryan longer than I care to remember and I think you sum up the reasons for the decline of her career perfectly.
    My favourite Meg Ryan performances came in WHMS, Joe Versus The Volcano, Flesh And Bone and Addicted To Love, I like almost every film she made in the late 80's and 1990's and I also thought she was incredible in In The Cut!

    As for her future I agree with Jane that sadly she shows no signs of wanting to make a comeback. At 50 years of age she's smart enough to realise that Hollywood is done with her.

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    1. Thanks, Paul. I'm happy to hear that you enjoyed the post. Joe Versus the Volcano is a fun, quirky film that I really like too. She's apparently doing some directing now, so it could be that's where she intends to focus her energies, though I hope that she doesn't give up on acting entirely and is given a shot at some strong roles and makes some good decisions about the kind of films she makes.

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  7. Anonymous3:19 pm

    You forget to mention that Meg Ryan was 38 years old when her marriage ended. 38 in Hollywood, and an actress? Your choices become limited, simply due to age alone. Her supposed "poor film choices" were more a function of her aging away from the "Rom Com Darling" roles of her 20s and early 30s. Ask any screen actress approaching middle age what kinds of roles they mostly get offered, and they'll tell you: Secondary characters or leads in 'chick flicks' about middle-aged women--rarely, if ever again, the kinds of films that become box office dynamite.

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    1. While I agree that aging actresses likely face challenges in regards to the kinds of roles they're offered as they get older, there are many actresses that are about the same age that Meg Ryan was when her career lapsed, and others who are even older than that whose careers are as diverse and active as ever. Consider Julia Roberts (45), Meryl Streep (63) (in a league of her own, I know), Viola Davis (47), Helen Mirren (67), Sandra Bullock (48), Susan Sarandon (66) just to name a few. They're among the older generation of actresses still being offered great leading roles and making a ton of great movies.

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  8. I try to stray from her personal life, notably the awful plastic surgery, as I really don't care what she does no matter how bad it is. When it came to rom-coms, I thought she was a pretty good actress in those roles. It's just that I couldn't see her do stuff that is more dramatic like In the Cut which I thought she was badly miscast for that film. That part should've gone to someone like Jennifer Jason Leigh who is a better actress. It's just that the film choices she made in the late 90s and early 2000s were just bad and I think she just got tired of living the Hollywood limelight.

    If I was to comment on her personal life. It would be towards John Mellencamp. Dude, what the hell? Why did you leave your gorgeous model wife who seemed so down to earth for someone who now looks like a fish.

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    1. The plastic surgery she's had is rather unfortunate. Rom-coms were her bread and butter. She was definitely cast against type in "In the Cut," but I have to give her credit for attempting a role that was a complete departure for her. Unfortunately, it didn't really pay off professionally, and it's probably because she was seen as miscast in the film.

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  9. Sorry about piling on, but I also have to say that I don't think her fling with Crowe had much of anything to do with her career slacking off. Affairs are commonplace. However, she did commit the one, true, cardinal sin in Hollywood; she got "old".

    This is a direct quote from my Sunset Boulevard review that I wrote in January 2011 - "Even though the movie was made sixty years ago, you can still draw a ton of parallels with Hollywood today. How many once-popular actresses are considered to be “too old” and get forgotten? Think it’s not that bad now? Ask yourself this: When was the last time you saw Meg Ryan in a new romantic comedy? Had to stop and think for a minute, didn’t you?"

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    1. Pile away! I certainly expected the viewpoint that her affair wasn't a factor in the decline of her career. It's all about personal perceptions, right?

      Yes, she did get old and she didn't age gracefully, but so many other actresses are aging and yet still working. Julianne Moore, Annette Bening - it could be that Meg Ryan carved a particularly niche for herself early on in her career as a romantic leading lady while many of the other aging actresses who are working more than ever have had more diverse careers and therefore are seen as being able to portray more than just a romantic leading lady.

      Exactly - when I saw 'When Harry Met Sally' last weekend, I did have to stop and think when the last time I saw Meg Ryan in a new romantic comedy was, and then I remembered "The Women." Now that was an awful film.

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  10. Anonymous9:57 am

    Pseudo-intellectual movie bloggers are so predictable.
    When they're not posting mind-numbingly boring and formulaic film reviews, the only insight they can offer is playground insults about a person's appearance.
    Quite sad really.

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  11. Pseudo-intellectual blog readers are so predictable. They criticize a writer for something they didn't even write about and they do so anonymously.
    Quite sad really.

    Nowhere in my post did I insult Meg Ryan's appearance.

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  12. Anonymous2:02 pm

    Of course you didn't, you were more than fair, it was threeeguys1movie.com and thevoid99 who I had a problem with.
    Sorry for any confusion!

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    1. It helps when you reply directly to the commenter(s) or name who it is that you're responding to in order to avoid confusion.

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