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Scarlett Johansson's Early Career

Scarlett Johansson has developed over time as an actress. Four touchstones of Johansson’s early development are American Rhapsody (2001), Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003), A Good Woman (2004), and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008). Johansson is not without weakness as an actress, but she began with a bang and continues to create roles that more than make good on her early promise.

This is despite the “fluff” roles that she has undertaken from time to time, which show her charismatic charm but not necessarily so much her acting skill, especially when the character is so close to her own life as in In Good Company (2004) and Scoop (2006). In these, as well as in The Prestige (2006), Johansson demonstrated some of Brad Pitt’s early malady, that of being unable to stay in character, although, happily, Johansson’s is only a periodic affliction.

In Good Company, though her natural charm and charisma come through while costarring with Topher Grace and Dennis Quaid, and though she delivers some commendable scenes in this romantic comedy, there are instances in which a little too much of Johansson is apparent as in the tennis match scene with Grace. In Scoop, Johansson, playing a college news reporter, was having altogether too good a time with Woody Allen and periodically reacted to him with a little too much of herself and a little too little of her character, as in the scene when they walk the length of the theater and Woody Allen is explaining the reasons something can’t be…Woody Allen is always explaining the reasons something can’t be…I think he has made a career out of explaining the reasons something can’t be.

The Prestige saw the same problem in certain scenes, though like I suggest above, it happily comes and goes and is not evident in all scenes. An example in The Prestige is when Johansson is onstage as the magician’s assistant. She has no lines, she only has to appear and do as she is bidden for the magic trick, but it would have been better had she appeared as a little less Johansson and a little more of the character. Speaking of lines, in The Prestige, Johansson also suffered from the inability to hold her accent, a problem she shares with Leonardo DiCaprio as seen in his role in Blood Diamond (2006). Johansson beautifully conquered this problem for The Other Boleyn Girl, with Natalie Portman; they were both perfect in this film (well, Johansson did lose character a bit in the final scene in which all she has to do is walk in a meadow with children and look demur).

Enough of Johansson’s weaknesses, which are of the youth and experience kind and will be cast off with more experience and maturity, as was true for Brad Pitt—he never goes out of character anymore. Scarlett Johansson’s introductory film was American Rhapsody. She was showered with awards and nominations for her role as Suzanne, and rightly so. She showed a complex array of emotions in a family that mixes Old World respect with New World rebellion (rebellion may be universal but it is not inevitably universal to every person and every household). Her 2002 Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film - Leading Young Actress was justly deserved. Her entrée to stardom (American Rhapsody was her twelfth film--one of which was The Horse Whisperer (1998), which earned her a couple of award nominations and one win for the 1999 YoungStar Award)--was followed by a stellar performance in Lost in Translation (2003) with Bill Murray and again was well deserving of the accolades it garnered, including the 2004 Golden Globe Nomination for Best Performance by an Actress. The same year, she was also nominated for a Golden Globe and other awards for her work in A Girl with a Pearl Earring with Colin Firth. In my opinion, this is her best work to date with The Other Boleyn Girl either tied or a close second for her best work. Johansson was flawless and captivating in Girl with a Pearl Earring, a film scant on dialogue and big on acting.

Her film with Helen Hunt followed, A Good Woman, in 2004. In general, this film wasn’t anyone’s best work, except maybe the cinematographer and production designer. Johansson experimented with modes of characterization, like dangling her feet off the edge of the bed and wiggling them—trivial, yes—but the fact that I remember that and still wonder about it marks it as an experiment in characterization and as one that maybe fell flat. All in all, Scarlett Johansson started out as a dynamite young actress and has blazed a comet’s trail so far with no dimming in sight. Her maturity and depth of experience will conquer that Brad-Pittesque in-and-out-of-character problem and will see her grace the Red Carpet many more times.

The Horse Whisperer (Robert Redford, 1998); American Rhapsody (Eva Gardos, 2001); Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003); Girl with a Pearl Earring (Peter Webber, 2003); A Good Woman (Mike Barker, 2004); In Good Company (Paul Weitz, 2004); Scoop (Woody Allen, 2006); The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006); The Other Boleyn Girl (Justin Chadwick, 2008).

[DVDs reviewed from Reviewer’s private collection.]

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