(Photo by Fox Searchlight/ courtesy Everett Collection)
Reese Witherspoon rose to prominence in the late 1990s, a receptive era for twisted comedies (Freeway), teen thrillers (Fear, Cruel Intentions), and quirky satires (Pleasantville, Election). And Witherspoon would become a household name just a few years later through box office hit comedies Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama.
Johnny Cash-biopic Walk the Line would net Witherspoon her first Best Actress Oscar nomination and win for her portrayal as June Carter Cash. Going for more indie-focused, challenging material in the immediate years afterwards produced mixed results, with the likes of Mud and Inherent Vice at the top of that cult-movie pile.
Water for Elephants and Wild (which earned her a second Oscar nom) have been her most recent film glories, but Witherspoon is fully occupied now with her production company, getting women-led television projects off the ground like Big Little Lies, Truth Be Told, Little Fires Everywhere, and The Morning Show. Meanwhile, a third Legally Blonde has long been in the works; for now, we’re ranking all Reese Witherspoon movies by Tomatometer!
Rating: PG-13, for action violence, some suggestive content, and partial nudity.
Guy Ritchie’s big-screen version of the 1960s TV spy series is a great example of what the British director does so well through his signature style. It’s slick and sexy, fizzy and funny. But it can also be quite violent – although less so than his best films, the R-rated Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and RocknRolla. You don’t need to know a thing about the television show (I certainly didn’t) to have a good time here. Henry Cavill stars as a suave, American CIA agent sent on a mission to East Berlin during the Cold War to rescue a beautiful mechanic (Alicia Vikander) whose estranged father is a world-renowned rocket scientist working on a nuclear bomb. Also on the hunt for her is a Russian KGB agent (Armie Hammer), who’s as highly skilled as Cavill’s character but burdened with a beast of a temper. Multiple shootouts, car chases and fistfights ensue, including one in a men’s bathroom between the two spies. (Soon afterward, they learn they’re going to be partners.) Characters are fatally shot but there’s no blood. There’s also a bit of torture, with one supporting character dying in spectacularly grisly fashion – but we see it from a distance, so there’s sort of a detachment to how disturbing it is, and it’s played for laughs. If sex is what you’re worried about, Cavill’s character effortlessly beds the hotel’s front desk clerk, whom we see afterward from behind in nothing but a pair of lacy panties. And there’s a playfully flirty fight between Hammer and a drunk Vikander that results in a trashed hotel room. This is probably OK for tweens and older.
Rating: PG-13, for sexual content, violence, language and some drug material.
This mismatched-buddy comedy is probably suitable for tweens and older, but it’s terrible for everybody regardless of age. Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara co-star as obnoxious opposites forced together on a road trip. Witherspoon plays a fast-talking, by-the-book police officer who’s eager to prove herself after an embarrassing Taser incident. Vergara plays the sassy, flashy wife of a high-ranking drug cartel member whom Witherspoon’s character must escort to Dallas to testify before entering witness protection. When they’re confused for dangerous criminals, madcap hilarity (and misogynistic humor) ensue. There’s a bit involving a car crash which sends a cloud of cocaine floating into the sky — and into Witherspoon’s system, which makes her even more manic. Lots of gunshots are fired — some resulting in death — but since this is a PG-13 movie, we don’t see much carnage. There’s some language. And at one point, Vergara and Witherspoon pretend to be lesbian lovers, making out with each other to distract a suspicious farmer. It’s hilarious.
In another lackluster week on home video, we’ve got a road trip buddy comedy, a horror film with a unique gimmick, a couple of documentaries on celebrities who died before their time, and a selection from the Criterion Collection. Read on for details:
Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara star in this road trip action comedy about an uptight cop and a federal witness on the run from both gangsters and the police after an unfortunate mixup. Extras on the Blu-ray include a piece on Witherspoon and Vergara’s chemistry, a video of the two attempting to speak each other’s language, a gag reel, and an alternate ending.
Told in real time as an on-screen group video chat, this horror flick finds five friends terrorized in a chat session by a supernatural force who claims to be the spirit of a classmate bullied into suicide a year earlier. Unfortunately, there are no bonus features.
This documentary chronicles the life of the beloved Saturday Night Live star, featuring interviews with family members and famous colleagues like David Spade and Dan Aykroyd, photographs, video clips, home movies, and more. No special features listed.
One of two docs this year looking back at the life of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, Soaked in Bleach specifically takes a closer look at the circumstances surrounding Cobain’s death, via the research gathered by the private investigator Courtney Love hired to track him down just days before his death. Available on DVD.
Lastly, from the Criterion Collection, we have Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons in Karel Reisz’s inventive, Oscar-nominated adaptation of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, alternating between a Victorian-era romantic affair and a present-day film adaptation of the same story. Special features include new interviews with Irons and Streep and an episode of The South Bank Show with Reisz, screenwriter Harold Pinter, and John Fowles, author of the source novel.
Cinema history is filled with movies that got burned under the hot summer sun, and every year, we get our share of critically panned big-budget duds (this year’s slate includes such low achievers asFantastic Four and Hot Pursuit). However, it takes a rare kind of awful to merit inclusion into RT’s Worst Summer Movies list, a compendium of cinematic horrors that were granted a wide theatrical release between the months of May and September in the years since the release of Jaws in 1975 kickstarted the blockbuster era. Without further ado, we present our countdown of the 50 worst-reviewed summer movies!
This week, Team Tomato tells you whether or not to pursue Hot Pursuit starring Reese Witherspoon and Sofía Vergara, in theaters this Friday.
Finally, Sarah interviews Curb Your Enthusiasm director Robert Weide [25:12] about his new Nick Frost series, Mr. Sloane, airing this month on KCET, Dish Network, and DirecTV. For more info, visit the Mr. Sloane Facebook page.
Mr. Sloane premieres on Link TV (DirecTV and Dish Network) on May 17 at 8 p.m. EST/9 p.m. PST, with encore presentations starting at 8 p.m. EST/PST on May 19, 20, and 21.
Grae Drake talks to Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara from Hot Pursuit about being handcuffed together, and who enjoyed it more. Also, director Anne Fletcher weighs in on who she would like to spend time shackled to.
She’s one of the highest-paid stars in Hollywood, with dozens of films to her credit and a lifetime box office gross total topping a billion dollars — and this weekend, Reese Witherspoon will add to that impressive sum with Hot Pursuit, an action comedy pairing her with Sofia Vergara. To celebrate Reese’s return to the big screen, as well as a terrific 2014 that included her Oscar-nominated work in Wild as well as a small supporting appearance in Inherent Vice, we decided to dedicate this week’s Total Recall to an appreciative look back at some of her best-reviewed releases.
Critics tend to vilify the romantic comedy, but it’s an undeniable rite of passage for twentysomething actresses in Hollywood, and with 2001’s Legally Blonde, Witherspoon managed to enjoy the perks of the genre (such as the pay raise that comes with toplining a $141 million smash hit) without succumbing to its worst pitfalls (including dreadful scripts and scathing reviews). While Legally Blonde is far from groundbreaking, and its plot hinges on any number of silly contrivances, it’s never less than likable — largely thanks to a magnetic performance from its talented leading lady. In the words of Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, “As an actor of distinction who’s all of 25, Reese Witherspoon reveals interesting dark roots even as she plays golden girls.”
In real life, Reese Witherspoon is a hair under five feet, two inches tall, which might be why the idea of playing a freakishly tall woman nicknamed “Ginormica” appealed to her — or maybe it was just the chance to score one of those cushy voice acting gigs that all the major celebrities seem to get these days. Either way, the result was Monsters vs. Aliens, Witherspoon’s only film of 2009 and a $381 million 3D hit for DreamWorks Animation. Alongside the famous voices of Seth Rogen, Kiefer Sutherland, Steven Colbert, Rainn Wilson, Will Arnett, and others, Witherspoon helped wreak family-friendly cartoon havoc — and helped earn praise from critics like the Houston Chronicle’s Amy Biancolli, who wrote, “True, the story doesn’t amount to much, but the plot tends to take a back seat when you’ve got a not-quite-50-foot version of Reese Witherspoon duking it out with a mighty alien robot alongside the Golden Gate Bridge.”
She’d made a few movies by the mid-’90s, but it was Reese Witherspoon’s work in 1996’s Freeway that really made critics sit up and take notice. At the center of this modern take on Red Riding Hood, playing a juvenile delinquent whose trip to her grandmother’s house is impeded by a wolfish sexual predator (Kiefer Sutherland), she essentially used her smoldering performance as a challenge, daring viewers to look away. It was a challenge unmet by many critics, including the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Margaret A. McGurk, who wrote, “I didn’t particularly want to like Freeway, but I couldn’t help myself. Reese Witherspoon made me.”
Witherspoon joined the ranks of Oscar-winning leading ladies for her sensitive portrayal of June Carter Cash in this Johnny Cash biopic, which follows the early years of the Man in Black (played by Joaquin Phoenix), including the beginning of his career and the romance that would endure through more than four decades of his life. One of the year’s biggest hits and a five-time Academy Award nominee, Walk the Line wasn’t without its concessions to Hollywood formula — or without its critics, including Cash’s daughter Rosanne — but most scribes had plenty of praise for the film, including Andrew Sarris of the New York Observer, who wrote, “I advise you catch up with Walk the Line, if only for Ms. Witherspoon’s transcendent joyousness as a still-growing legend within a legend.”
Gary Ross’ Pleasantville could easily have been nothing more than a gentle, simple satire about the way nostalgia changes our memories, but beneath the surface of the story — which sends a pair of squabbling modern teens (played by Witherspoon and Tobey Maguire) into the world of a 1950s sitcom — there’s some thoughtful commentary on civil rights and the cruelly arbitrary ways society can oppress those who don’t fit in. Pleasantville wasn’t a blockbuster hit, but it earned some of the best reviews of the year from critics like Louis B. Hobson of Jam! Movies, who wrote, “This wondrous little fable is a cross between The Truman Show and Back to the Future — and it’s better than both.”
Befitting its title, The Good Lie practiced a bit of well-meaning subterfuge with its marketing materials, selling this fact-based drama about the American lives of Sudanese refugees once known as “lost boys” by putting Witherspoon’s face front and center on the poster. But if her character — a Kansas City settlement worker given the life-altering task of helping her charges adjust to their new environment — isn’t truly central to the story, her performance remains a solid anchor in a film whose ingredients run the gamut from Hollywood gloss to real-life horror. “This is very much a mainstream movie meant to shine a light on the plight of people who were ignored for too long,” wrote the Arizona Republic’s Bill Goodykoontz. “For that reason alone, it’s well worth seeing.”
For her first film, Witherspoon found herself in good company, including director Robert Mulligan (concluding a career that included To Kill a Mockingbird and Summer of ’42) and co-stars Sam Waterston and Tess Harper. But in this sweet coming-of-age drama, it’s Witherspoon’s character that largely drives the story, and she carried the film with an assured performance that belied her youth and lack of experience. Man in the Moon “gets an outstandingly natural performance out of Miss Witherspoon, who has no trouble carrying a lot of the film single-handedly,” wrote Janet Maslin for the New York Times. “It falls to her to remind the audience that this story is at heart about a family, and she does.”
The sort of physically and dramatically demanding role that an actor can spend an entire career waiting to score, Wild gave Witherspoon the opportunity to shoulder an entire film pretty much on her own — and she more than delivered, bringing Cheryl Strayed’s unflinching memoir to the screen with a suitably fierce drama (directed by Jean-Marc Vallée from a screenplay by Nick Hornby) that takes viewers on a harrowing hike along the Pacific Crest Trail while reliving key moments from its protagonist’s bumpy past. At the forefront of it all are solid performances from Witherspoon and Laura Dern, both of whom picked up Oscar nominations for their efforts. As Mick LaSalle wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, “This pensive, reflective, complicated Witherspoon feels more real than the one she left behind — and more in keeping with how she started, in hard-hitting independent movies 20 years ago.”
It takes a special type of young actress to embody a character who is both seductive enough to destroy one high school teacher’s career and irritating enough to turn another teacher into an election-fixing madman — and that’s exactly what Witherspoon did as Election‘s Tracy Flick, the overachieving senior whose steamrolling campaign for student body president inspires one of her teachers (Matthew Broderick) to take desperate measures to keep her out of office. Critics expected great things from writer/director Alexander Payne after 1996’s Citizen Ruth, and Election delivered — and it also helped cement Witherspoon’s burgeoning reputation, thanks to reviews from critics like CNN’s Paul Clinton, who wrote, “Reese Witherspoon is proving to be one of the most versatile actresses of her generation.”
Just when it seemed like she might be forever doomed to a lifetime of romantic comedies like Four Christmases and This Means War, Witherspoon turned up next to her fellow rom-com refugee Matthew McConaughey in 2013’s Mud — and although he received much of the movie’s accolades for one of the roles that helped spark his so-called “McConaissance,” there really are no false notes or out-of-place performances in writer-director Jeff Nichols’ tale of a mysterious man who claims to be on the run from bounty hunters and desperate to flee with the love of his life. Calling it “More than a mere tribute to Twain and Dickens,” the Vine’s Alice Tynan wrote, “This has all the makings of a modern classic.”