Friday, October 26, 2012

Blow Out the Candles: Elisabeth Shue

Elisabeth Shue turned 49 on October 5th.  I remember my first Elisabeth Shue movie when she was just 21 – The Karate Kid.  Then I saw Adventures in Babysitting, a film which has become one of my all-time favourite 80s movies.  I was about 11-years-old and I remember thinking that Chris Parker, the babysitter, was pretty cool.  Recently, I watched my latest Elizabeth Shue, Piranha 3D, and, well, it was entertaining for what it was, I’ll give it that.  It got me thinking about the evolution of Shue’s career from a young 80s actress to an Academy Award nominated star to a B-movie character. 

It seemed in the early years of her career that she possessed the promise of an up-and-coming actress, securing supporting roles as ingénues alongside some of Hollywood’s heavyweights at the time (Michael J. Fox, Tom Cruise, Kevin Kline), but worked on the cusp of stardom, lacking that one movie vehicle that would allow her to really shine and showcase her true capabilities as an actress.  It did happen eventually, in 1995. 
 After starring in 80s flicks Cocktail and Back to the Future II and III, The Marrying Man and Soapdish, Shue seemed to sort of fade, doing some work on TV and appearing in little seen films like Twenty Bucks and Heart and Souls.  In 1995 she played a role unlike any we had ever seen her play before, as Sera, a prostitute who befriends a man intent on drinking himself to death in Leaving Las Vegas.  It was such a departure from the 80s teen comedies Shue had starred in previously, a far cry even from the most adult role she’d had to that point as Tom Cruise’s love interest in Cocktail. 

Leaving Las Vegas is a sad and tragic film about two characters who are deeply wounded and desperate though selfless and good.  They find a sort of respite in each other, a measure of grace and of redemption, a form of companionship and salvation. The film really becomes Sera’s story as she turns the clichéd role of a hooker with a heart of gold into a complex portrait of an unforgettable woman, who, through defeat continues to find a reason to hope, try and love.  It remains the performance of Shue’s career.

With Shue delivering one of the best performances in one of the best films of 1995, there was just cause to believe that the floodgates of good roles and opportunities would open up for the undercast, underappreciated actress, but it wasn’t destined to be so.  Shue made a string of forgettable movies like Palmetto, Molly and Hollow Man.  She starred in the action, thriller, The Saint, opposite Val Kilmer which was the most commercially successful film of the bunch.  Watching Piranha, I was happy to see Elisabeth Shue onscreen again, but I also felt a little sadness at seeing her in this cheesy B-movie parody playing it straight amidst the utter ridiculousness of all the gratuitous nudity, gory deaths and corny dialogue, a stark contrast to her finest role in which she was a true revelation.

What are your favourite Elisabeth Shue roles?  Let us know in the comments section.

6 comments:

  1. She was amazing in Leaving Las Vegas, it's a shame she is doing such terrible movies now. She definetly ddeserved better.

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  2. One of my favorite Elisabeth Shue performances as as herself in Hamlet 2. She was hilarious. I hope she does better films as well. She's really underrated.

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    1. I've never seen "Hamelt 2." Thanks for mentioning it. I'll have to check it out.

      She is an underrated actress and it's a shame that she isn't working more.

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  3. I first saw her on the TV show Call to Glory. She was very cute and I watched the show mostly just to see her (I was at that age.) I echo thevoid99's comments. Check out Hamlet 2 sometime.

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    1. Hamlet 2 is now on my to-see list.

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