Total Recall: Reese Witherspoon's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Water for Elephants star.
She's one of the highest-paid stars in Hollywood, with nearly 30 films to her credit and a lifetime box office gross total topping a billion dollars -- and this weekend, Reese Witherspoon will add to that impressive sum with Water for Elephants, the adaptation of Sara Gruen's bestselling novel about a circus veterinarian (Robert Pattinson) who falls in love with a performer (Witherspoon) married to the troupe's cruel animal trainer (Christoph Waltz). To celebrate her return to the big screen, we decided to dedicate this week's Total Recall to an appreciative look back at some of Reese's best-reviewed releases -- an admirably eclectic batch that includes some of the most successful films of the last 15 years. Which ones are your favorites?
Witherspoon earned a Teen Choice Award nomination for her work as dreamy Cecily Cardew in this adaptation of the classic Oscar Wilde play, directed by Oliver Parker and written by Julian Fellowes, with a cast that also included the prodigious talents of Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, and Judi Dench. With all that going for it -- not to mention that terrific source material -- the 2002 edition of The Importance of Being Earnest should have been a big critical winner; alas and alack, it veered rotten, and wound up grossing under $10 million in the bargain. But it was good enough for plenty of critics, including Christine James of Boxoffice Magazine, who wrote, "On this esteemed list of players, Witherspoon may seem like the poor relation, but, like her rosy-cheeked, starry-eyed character, her beauty, poise and insouciance make her the center of attention in every scene she's in."
No, not that Twilight, silly. This here is the deliberately paced, smartly scripted tale of an aging gumshoe (Paul Newman) who's drawn into the dangerous web of intrigue surrounding the movie star husband and wife (Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon) whose garage he lives in. Witherspoon plays a supporting role as the couple's willful daughter, who runs away with Liev Schreiber in the first act (and makes a memorably unclothed entrance). It wasn't a huge hit, but Twilight gave Newman a chance to reunite with Nobody's Fool director Robert Benton, as well as writer Richard Russo, and mingle with an impeccable cast that also included Stockard Channing and James Garner. As Larry Carroll of Counting Down put it, "It's so good to see this cast working together that you're willing to forgive the film's little shortcomings."
It took nine years, but Bret Easton Ellis' controversial 1991 novel got the big-screen treatment with this adaptation, which cast Christian Bale as the loathsome, status-obsessed serial killer Patrick Bateman, and Witherspoon as his equally shallow girlfriend. Though many of the cultural touchstones described in the book had faded by the time American Psycho reached the screen, its central observations -- and the consumer culture that produced them -- remained as timely as ever. Its torrent of generally unappealing behavior and horrific violence make Psycho an unpleasant film, but one that, in the words of Time's Richard Corliss, "needs to be seen and appreciated, like a serpent in a glass cage."
Critics tend to vilify the romantic comedy, but it's an undeniable rite of passage for twentysomething actresses in Hollywood, and with 2001's Legally Blonde, Witherspoon managed to enjoy the perks of the genre (such as the pay raise that comes with toplining a $141 million smash hit) without succumbing to its worst pitfalls (including dreadful scripts and scathing reviews). While Legally Blonde is far from groundbreaking, and its plot hinges on any number of silly contrivances, it's never less than likable -- largely thanks to a magnetic performance from its talented leading lady. In the words of Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum, "As an actor of distinction who's all of 25, Reese Witherspoon reveals interesting dark roots even as she plays golden girls."
In real life, Reese Witherspoon is a hair under five feet, two inches tall, which might be why the idea of playing a freakishly tall woman nicknamed "Ginormica" appealed to her -- or maybe it was just the chance to score one of those cushy voice acting gigs that all the major celebrities seem to get these days. Either way, the result was Monsters vs. Aliens, Witherspoon's only film of 2009 and a $381 million 3D hit for DreamWorks Animation. Alongside the famous voices of Seth Rogen, Kiefer Sutherland, Steven Colbert, Rainn Wilson, Will Arnett, and others, Witherspoon helped wreak family-friendly cartoon havoc -- and helped earn praise from critics like the Houston Chronicle's Amy Biancolli, who wrote, "True, the story doesn't amount to much, but the plot tends to take a back seat when you've got a not-quite-50-foot version of Reese Witherspoon duking it out with a mighty alien robot alongside the Golden Gate Bridge."