Tuesday, July 26, 2022

24 Hours of Movies: Jennifer Connelly

 by Patrick Bromley
Everyone's favorite star of 2022 gets her own marathon.

Those of you who are just discovering Jennifer Connelly thanks to Top Gun: Maverick haven't been paying attention. She's been the best for almost 40 years.

10 am - Labyrinth (1986, dir. Jim Henson)
You know, for kids. I've learned to appreciate Labyrinth more in recent years than I used to, in large part thanks to Jennifer Connelly's lead performance as a girl on the verge of womanhood. All the cool Jim Henson shit doesn't hurt either. 

12 pm - The Rocketeer (1991, dir. Joe Johnston)
Let's follow our kids movie opener with one of the great family entertainments of the early '90s, an adaptation of the Dave Stevens comic about a pilot who becomes a superhero with the help of a jetpack. Jennifer Connelly plays his love interest, modeled after pinup Bettie Page in the comics but softened for the movie, and she perfectly captures the innocence of the character and the glamour of the period. 

2 pm - Seven Minutes in Heaven (1985, dir. Linda Feferman)
This is not a great movie, but it's the kind of thing that feels like I saw it a dozen times at 2 pm on a Sunday on HBO in the '80s. Connelly plays one of three friends (the other two are played by Byron Thames and Maddie Corman) coming of age in suburban Ohio. The whole thing is slight but sweet, with Connelly a standout as an ambitious wannabe writer who's inexperienced in love. If nothing else, we'll have "Dear You, Love Me" stuck in our heads the rest of the marathon.

3:30 pm - Hulk (2003, dir. Ang Lee)
I'm trying hard to program some more contemporary Connelly performances into this marathon, and by "contemporary" I mean almost 20 years old. While I still find Ang Lee's adaptation of Big Green from the early days of the now-omnipresent Comic Book Movie to be something of a mixed bag, I admire its ambition and miss when there was some variety in the way superhero movies were made. Jennifer Connelly plays Betty Ross, the film's female lead opposite Eric Bana's David Banner/Hulk in Lee's aesthetically faithful, psychological examination of the title character. Unfortunately, she gets little to do in the movie but look concerned, which would be the fate of many an actress in this genre for the next two decades. Ironically, she would be replaced a few years later by her Inventing the Abbotts co-star Liv Tyler in the 2008 reboot.

5:45 pm - Inventing the Abbotts (1997, dir. Pat O'Connor)
While maybe not as charming as Irish director Pat O'Connor's previous feature Circle of Friends, there's a lot to like about Inventing the Abbotts, which casts Connelly alongside Liv Tyler and Joanna Going as one of three beautiful, rich sisters being pursued by brothers Joaquin Phoenix and Billy Crudup. I was so deep in the throes of my Liv Tyler crush when I saw the movie in 1997 that I couldn't even appreciate Connelly's performance, which is good but too brief (spoilers: her character is shipped off fairly early in the film). The movie was made during a somewhat transitional phase in Connelly's career, during which she was still too often cast as the sexpot because Hollywood didn't know what else to do with her talent.

7:30 pm - Once Upon a Time in America (1984, dir. Sergio Leone)
Runtime be damned, let's watch one of the best movies ever made in the primetime slot. Jennifer Connelly (in her first movie, playing the younger version of Elizabeth McGovern) doesn't appear very much over the sprawling four-hour runtime, but she makes the most of her limited screen time and clearly made an impression on the filmmakers and casting agents who saw the Leone classic, as it kickstarted her entire career. As for the movie, it remains a messy masterpiece.

11:30 pm - Dark City (1998, dir. Alex Proyas)
We can start getting weird as we head into the overnight slot. Dark City is pretty mainstream weird nowadays, but I think it's fair to say that a lot of people (save for Roger Ebert and me) didn't know what the fuck to make of it back when it was released in 1998. Connelly is her usual wonderful self as the ingenue love interest of a man (Rupert Sewell) who wakes up and has no idea who he is or what he's done in a city where it's always night. Let's watch the Director's Cut so we can hear J. Connelly's real singing voice.

1:30 am - Phenomena (1985, dir. Dario Argento)
God bless Jennifer Connelly for having made this insane Dario Argento-directed horror movie so that we can keep the tradition of Italian horror in this time slot alive. This one creeps (pardon the pun, IYKYK) higher up my list of favorite Argentos every time I watch it. Connelly is sufficiently dreamy, as is the movie itself.

3:30 am - Dark Water (2005, dir. Walter Salles)
This movie is...not great, coming from a period when Hollywood was remaking a lot of Asian horror film with very, very mixed results. I'm including it because it's one of the few horror films Connelly ever made and because I don't want to program Requiem for a Dream. The movie is unfortunately indicative of Connelly's career in the 2000s in that both her character and performance feel stripped of life, requiring her only to be glum and glassy-eyed. I suspect that's part of the reason people are responding to her so strongly in Top Gun: Maverick -- because it brings back the old Jennifer Connelly.

5:30 am - Career Opportunities (1991, dir. Bryan Gordon)
This one absolutely has to be in the lineup, as it's the movie that a) launched my crush on JC and 2) made me a man when I saw it on my 14th birthday. Frank Whaley plays a liar who gets hired to work overnights at Target (which wasn't a thing here in Chicago in 1991; now it's pretty much the only place we shop) and is locked in the store with Connelly's town rich girl. Hijinks ensue. The John Hughes-scripted movie is light and short enough (about 80 minutes with credits) to be perfect as we come to our senses after a long night.

7 am - Waking the Dead (2000, dir. Keith Gordon)
I don't know, the title seems appropriate for this time slot. Inventing the Abbotts co-stars Connelly and Billy Crudup reunite as lovers on different paths: she's a liberal activist and he dreams of being a politician. The timeline jumps around quite a bit as Crudup is haunted by their relationship, which makes sense -- anyone who has ever dated Jennifer Connelly is never getting over her. This one is based on a book and it shows, but it's a very good look at grief and loss. It threatens to veer into full-on hoke by the end but it's so sincere and well-meaning that I can forgive its trespasses.

8:45 am - Little Children (2006, dir. Todd Field)
Prior to revisiting it for the purposes of programming this marathon, I hadn't seen Todd Field's Little Children (adapted from the novel by Tom Perrotta) since theaters in 2006. It's good! Kate Winslet is a frustrated and lonely suburban housewife, while Patrick Wilson plays the slightly ditzy former prom king who's psychotic enough to cheat on Jennifer Connelly. The movie comes from the time when Connelly was being so often misused in movies, here meant to represent cold perfection in contrast to Winslet's more earthy, flawed protagonist. I'd rather have seen Connelly take that part.


  1. I confess that I haven't watched top gun yet, but I really like Jennifer Connelly's talents. I think they were very unfair to her. She's my number one actress. She's still beautiful.
    I'm from Brazil. 🇧🇷

  2. That would be a great lineup of movies. She's been my "actress crush" since a long time, and I'm happy that everyone is cluing in. My favourite role for her was in Blood Diamond (followed closely by Dark City). I know it's not a movie people love for some reason, but she's great in it, and I kind of love the movie despite the obvious issues with it.

    I didn't even know she was in Once Upon A Time In America, a movie I haven't seen. It's on my watchlist. As is War And Peace, Cleopatra, and The Godfather (and sequels). They're "important" movies, so I want to watch them with my full attention, but the runtime and full attention requirement means I keep putting them off. War and Peace I will watch soon though. I've committed myself to watch it in September.