One for Me / One for Them: Susan Sarandon
For a movie star who has made their mark, the "One for me, one for Them" stratagem is a good way of maintaining one's career path. By taking "one for them," i.e. commercial pictures that pay well even if they're not hugely artistic, they can give themselves the freedom and clout to take "one for me," i.e. more creatively challenging/daring projects. It's the Matt Damon approach. The George Clooney approach. And it seems to have been, at least for the last six years or so, the Susan Sarandon approach.
Sarandon has reached that precarious age in Hollywood where good roles for women are even harder to come by than usual (and they're already pretty hard to come by). In the 1990s, there were few actresses more prominent than she, but as the 2000s rolled on, navigating the waters of studio/indie cinema became something of a dance. How has she been doing lately? Let's take a look back:
This was a THEM-heavy year for Sarandon. Coming off of her lead role in the HBO film Bernard & Doris, Sarandon went back into theaters as the wicked witch to Amy Adams's fairytale princess in Enchanted and Seann William Scott's mom, dating his childhood gym teacher, in Mr. Woodcock. Both were big, commercial, wide releases. In the Valley of Elah was much, much smaller, and so was Sarandon's role, as she played grieving wife to grieving husband Tommy Lee Jones.
At $120 million, the Wachowskis' Speed Racer was Sarandon's highest-budgeted film to date, but it ended up falling well short of expectations. The failure wasn't on her shoulders, as her role was rather small. Her personal movie that year was the mother-daughter tale Middle of Nowhere. It didn't make much of a splash with the public at all, but Sarandon got to act alongside her daughter, Eva Amurri, so the experience was likely well worth it.
If nothing else, 2009 will be the year Susan Sarandon gave us "YOU HAVE A TOMB IN THE MIDDLE OF YOUR HOUSE," and I am being 100% honest when I say it's one of my favorite line-readings of all time. It's tough to gauge where The Lovely Bones sits on the HER/THEM scale. On the one hand, it was a hugely commercial prospect based on a hugely commercial novel, with big studio backing and a giant marketing pitch. Then again, who wouldn't have wanted to work with Peter Jackson after The Lord of the Rings? (Remember, before The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson hadn't yet directed The Lovely Bones.)
The other two movies she made in 2009 were definitely art projects. In The Greatest, Sarandon played one of her most common role types: the grieving mom (she was a grieving grandma in The Lovely Bones, but we'll count it). In Solitary Man, Sarandon plays the gravitational center to womanizing Michael Douglas's world and really gives that movie a boost.
Michael Douglas again would be front and center in Sarandon's next film, the decidedly commercial Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. By now, the big studios' refusal to write a role worthy of Sarandon's talents is getting noticeable and frustrating. Later that year, it was back to HBO for another actor's showcase, this time Al Pacino in You Don't Know Jack.
After an uneventful 2011, Sarandon came roaring back with her best year in recent memory. After collecting a paycheck in the most decidedly paycheck-cashing manner possible (i.e. co-starring in an Adam Sandler movie, namely That's My Boy), Sarandon got an unexpectedly rich role in the Duplass brothers' Jeff Who Lives at Home. She followed that up with critical favorites Robot & Frank and Arbitrage. She also took a chance with the Wachowskis again, taking a small role in Cloud Atlas (though her voice-over in the trailer will endure forever).
She's starting things off with one for THEM, the drug-dealer thriller Snitch, though the trailer promises what could be a juicy antagonist role for her. Beyond that, The Big Wedding definitely looks like a big release, but the Errol Flynn biopic The Last of Robin Hood seems like it's more geared toward the art house crowd (she plays the mother of a teenager Flynn was accused of having a sexual relationship with), and Ping Pong Summer should, if nothing else, give her a chance to indulge her semi-famous love for America's preeminent basement sport.
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