Scarlett Johansson became Hollywood Canary in a coal mine
As the spring of vaccination turns into a post-COVID summer – that’s what we all hope for – Scarlett Johansson is Hollywood’s canary in a coal mine. Like the James Bond film on hold, Johansson’s alleged blockbuster Black Widow has been postponed twice now, not for reasons related to the image itself, but because, of course, theaters have been largely closed, and Black Widow has too much box office potential to be relegated to the obscurity of streaming that has met the likes of Principle and Mulan.
Outside of all the Marvel Universe rigmarole that fanboys are obsessed with, not a small part of WidowJohansson’s potential lies in itself. Is it possible that she is only 36 years old? She’s been a star for 20 years, since many of us found her such a revelation in Sofia Coppola Lost in translation, when Johansson was 18; Most people didn’t realize that by then she had already made a dozen films, her first at the age of nine (Rob Reiner’s North).
I admit that I spent the decade after Translation trying to figure out if Johansson was really good. Hollywood didn’t make it easy, pushing her into the role of the sex bomb he could persuade her to accept; the fact that she was the Eternal Hottest Men’s Magazine Design in Hollywood only clouded not only her talent, but also her brains, clearly displayed in interviews that revealed her to be eloquent, literate, and intellectually fluent. Woody Allen didn’t make it easy either, adopting him as his companionship obsession with a series of lackluster efforts including just one, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, was not able.
Johansson’s breakthrough year capped 2013 and 2014 when, in three sci-fi films, she played characters that exist outside of time and space. At Luc Besson Lucy, Johansson was a reluctant drug mule whose abuse by men turned her into the embodiment of an evolutionary swerve, existing in the present, the past and the future all at once. In Jonathan Glazer Under the skin, she was an alien for whom “Scarlett Johansson’s” often naked face and body was a disguise donned at the start of the film and shed at the end, and for whom male attractiveness was a crucial function of the enigmatic narrative. On the other hand, in Her, she wasn’t on screen at all. She was a digital voice that Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with, a vanity admittedly made more plausible by the fact that audiences know the voice belongs to the hottest girl in Hollywood. In any case, the three roles allowed Johansson to mobilize the character represented by his physicality, transforming him into an instrument that is both non-human and beyond human. Whereas, ironically, while the computer Her, she was the most human of them all, conjuring up a connection to Phoenix’s lonely lover.
Johansson’s other key year came in 2019. She was all over in more earthly roles, if you consider Avengers: Endgame Earthbound, where the filmmakers trusted him to carry much of the emotional weight offered by the film. In addition to polishing her in good faith playing Maggie the Cat on Broadway in Tennessee Williams Cat on a hot tin roof, Johansson was the best thing about Marriage story, an extremely overrated film that even she couldn’t save, playing an actress struggling to save a marriage, career, and love for LA that the film’s New York writer-director implicitly viewed as grounds for divorce. Better was Jojo Rabbit, a satire of Nazi Germany haunted by Johansson’s free-spirited mother to the film’s titular boy. In a film filled with caricatures, Johansson sidestepped the temptation to play the not-so-secretly anti-fascist Rosie as such, and while it would be an exaggeration to suggest that the film never quite recovers from her departure, it certainly feels her absence. . once she’s gone.
With both Marriage story and Jojo Rabbit, Johansson has won two Oscar nominations at once, and few doubt that somewhere in the future there will be an Oscar with his name on it. If it’s too much to rely on Black Widow to take full advantage of Johansson as an actor, the fact that it’s as much of a spy thriller as it is another superhero image, and a buddy movie on top of that, promises of heart and heroism – a blockbuster worth it of her. For the sake of not only the movies, but a world struggling to get back to normal, let’s hope she’s the rare canary that comes back alive from the coal mine, shaking soot from her wings.
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