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All About Eve
Why hasn't Hollywood yet seen a remake of All About Eve? I'm not talking about a cheap "homage" or "inspired by" where someone looks at the Leonard Maltin summary and goes, "Hey, let's do a movie where the older chick gets her job stolen by this evil younger chick" and then there's a TV movie where Shannen Doherty sings.
I mean the real deal, the biting, nasty, witty, rip-roaring talk-talk-talky script in all its scathing, melodramatic beauty. It's high time banter returned to the big screen, instead of being relegated to a couple of episodes of Sex and the City or Friends.
Of course, it might feel more contemporary if the setting were changed from the theater to the movies, but it's not entirely necessary. Sure, it would need to be updated with current references so as to sharpen its edge, but that's easy enough: lock David Mamet or Carrie Fisher in a room with paper and bagels for sixteen hours and just see if the script doesn't scream today's front page (or at least the latest issue of Movieline). But, believe me, the bulk of the old film as written is a gold mine.
And wouldn't it be nice for Hollywood to revisit and modernize a movie about the deceit, desire, greed, cleverness, selfishness, desperation, hypocrisy, neediness, betrayal, and rollicking booze-laden parties of their own folk, instead of constantly blaming these vices on suburbia? Come on, dudes, All About Eve is like a power struggle among Greek gods, only the deities in this case are actors and directors and writers, and hey, even columnists, just like the E! Channel would like us all to believe.
Most actors would kill to be in a movie where every scene is a showcase, every character is larger than life, and every line is a zinger. And wouldn't any casting director drool like an oral-surgery outpatient at the chance to build the ensemble of actors to breathe new life into the black-and-white Best Picture-winning behemoth of 1950?
So the most pressing question becomes -- who on earth could play Margot Channing, arguably Bette Davis' signature role and certainly one of her greatest acting triumphs? Well, the ideal person would need to have just as strong and riveting a presence on screen without ever trying to imitate Davis; someone who would have the courage and the freedom to make the character her own, because the absolutely room-silencing STAR POWER that is the essence of Margot's character will come naturally to the actress already.
The most obvious choice (and don't tell me you weren't thinking it) is Meryl Streep, whose legendary status is repeatedly likened to that of Bette Davis, in part because Katherine Hepburn still isn't dead. However, not to take anything away from her talent and great achievements, but casting Streep in this particular part is like only ordering glazed donuts at Krispy Kreme; of course it's classic, and reliable, and tastes good, but don't you ever wonder what's up with that one lonely cinnamon and raisin swirled raspberry and banana custard- filled chocolate iced donut with colored sprinkles on the special "unlabeled" tray?
Besides, while Streep has the undeniable presence and pedigree, she's not at her very best when she plays whip-crackin' bitchy (see Death Becomes Her), and the Oscar winner and perennial nominee may be on too high a pedestal in her career to give the role the right brand of passion. Remember, Bette Davis got her Oscars in the 1930's, and in the intervening years her career path had been rocky, so at the time she made Eve, though she played the established star in the film, she was hungry.
Now, starving for this role is not everything (put your feet up, Lara Flynn Boyle); that raw desire for a bravura performance needs to accompany the precision and technique of a hands-down excellent actress. Two of the ladies that best fit this criteria are Susan Sarandon and Sigourney Weaver.
Sarandon certainly has the eyes and the magnetism, and though she has her Academy award, she still seems to be searching for a character to completely attack. In many ways, she would be very good, but the drawback for me is her voice. Despite her air of complete confidence and authority (legend tells of Sarandon channel-surfing into a direct link with the Oracle of Absolute Truth, Political Sanctity, and Eternally Great Legs), her voice is somewhat thin, and I'm not sure it has the resonance and power to make speeches -- such as Margot's brilliant "fire and music" rant -- sing.
Then there's Sigourney Weaver. Look at her: no one needs to announce when she's entered the building. If "Get away from her, you bitch!" is the vocal audition, I'm sold. Watch Working Girl and Dave for her comedic flair and pitch-perfect timing, and then watch The Ice Storm and Snow White: Tale of Terror and try to tell me the gal hasn't got the range. And the cherry on top: guess what she hasn't got? That gold guy for her bathroom counter.
Okay, enough about Margot. The movie is called All About Eve, darling, as Anne Baxter supposedly reminded Bette Davis when they both got nominations for Best Actress that year. Trouble is, Ms. Baxter did an adequate job, but in retrospect, she was the weakest link out of that cast. Her naivete was too unnatural and suspiciously fake right from the start; when she plays the sweet and sincere innocent, she often speaks with a stilted earnestness as if she were doing a high school reader's theater of The Crucible. I wouldn't trust her Eve to make me a smoothie without spitting in it, and yet Margot takes her in off the street and makes the girl her personal secretary! Did I miss the drug test scene where she has to pee in the cup?
Again, the obvious choice is Claire Danes, who should have a chance at some point to pervert her watchful gaze and guileless, expressive face into a mask for ruthless cunning and evil.
But there's also Alicia Silverstone, who doesn't get much respect and whose track record is shaky, but she pulled a marvelously deft comedic turn in Clueless, so with the right director she could finally have her second terrific performance . . . or she could suck.
So who else ... Leelee Sobieski and Kirsten Dunst are too young, Meg Ryan's too old, Gwyneth Paltrow and Winona Ryder are way too established . . . Natalie Portman, maybe, but she's almost too preternaturally self-possessed to fit. Jennifer Love Hewitt is wonderfully honest and bubbly, and Liv Tyler is radiant and sensual, but they still lack some dramatic heft and precision. Christina Ricci might be interesting and ironic, because she actually looks so reminiscent of Bette Davis, but she seems more at home doing the deadpan or quirky (even her breathless virgin in Sleepy Hollow came off exasperated and slightly put out, as if Johnny Depp had handed her a stale chip).
My two favorites would be Cameron Diaz or Reese Witherspoon. Witherspoon's always the best thing about whatever movie she's in. She's intense and sly, subtle and bold, wise and snotty, hilarious and somber, passionate and demure . . . just don't mistake her for an adorable pixie; when those nostrils flare with rage, she'll singe your eyebrows and exfoliate your face with her fury.
I've heard people say that Cameron Diaz isn't smart, but that just proves how easily they're fooled by smart acting. She has taken what could be dumb or bland roles, and invested them with an exuberant intelligence instead. She is also game to do anything, even at the actor's greatest risk: embarrassment and looking ugly. She sang like a strangled toucan in My Best Friend's Wedding; she was unrecognizably frizzed out and frumpy in Being John Malkovich; she had a moan-and-drool breakdown in a ratty bathrobe in the middle of the street in Very Bad Things; and her use of "hair gel" in There's Something About Mary could just as easily have been career suicide instead of a triumphant breakthrough. But she did all these things because she gets it; she knows what works for the story she's helping to tell, and she dives in and gives it everything.
Furthermore, if Diaz took the role of Eve, she would reverse the character emphasis. The clear way to play Eve, to make her appear trust-worthy and non-threatening, is to do the reserved, dull, and quiet wallflower thing, and only tinge her darts of greed and deception with any life and fire. But Diaz could take her sunny, sweet, eager, and unfailingly genuine character from My Best Friend's Wedding, subtract the golden girl sophistication, and become just as unassuming while remaining lively and fun to watch. Then, in the end, it's a better trick: Eve's act and Cameron Diaz's whole film persona become one big lie. It's like finding out RuPaul's a woman.
For the impressively terrific supporting cast that a movie like this must have, put in Joan Allen as the calmly down-to-earth confidante (she, like Celeste Holme in the original, can make listening a compelling action), and Linda Hunt in Thelma Ritter's part as Margot's weary sister, with the added bonus of imagining Hunt and Sigourney Weaver having come from the same gene pool.
As the cynical drama critic that garnered George Sanders a Supporting Actor Oscar, Kevin Spacey, Rupert Everett, and Colin Firth, in very different ways, each have the facility for the right brand of sinister wit, wicked intelligence, and subtle command of their domain, although it just occurred to me what a great showcase and a total departure it might be for the ever-more-dapper-with-age Morgan Freeman, who needs to get in touch with his sleazy side.
Finally, what a hoot if Britney Spears took the role of the wide-eyed, dense-skulled starlet that a young Marilyn Monroe played with the same type of raw comic charm Spears exhibited as a surprisingly entertaining host of Saturday Night Live. Hey, if the girl's following Madonna's career track, it's about time for a Marilyn homage, as long as she doesn't turn All About Eve into her "music inspired by" concept album.
I can see it now: "Oops, I Stole Your Part Again" and "Baby, Hit Me With a Dry Martini One More Time" each go number one on MTV's Total Request Live, and teenagers all over the country flock to my wonderful make-believe remake of an old movie they've never heard of . . . making it the biggest teen hit influenced by Bette Davis since the cast of Dawson's Creek starred in The Little Foxes.