Readers spar over the sexy stars of the '80s: Bring back the golden age of Karen Allen! Lay off Cameron and Brad already!

Published October 9, 2003 8:00PM (EDT)

[Read "Desperately seeking Susan," by Laura Warrell.]

This misdirected paean to a bygone age would have found a better target in Van Halen -- why did they have to break up, anyway?

Warrell's random attacks are often as grounded in reality as the claim that Poison was a good band.

Brad Pitt has transformed himself (like Denzel Washington) from People's Sexiest Man to one of the best leading men of his time. His string of performances in "12 Monkeys," "Se7en," "Sleepers," "Fight Club" and "Snatch" rank among the best of the decade.

Cameron Diaz? Her smile is one of the best to ever be captured on film; her impeccable comic timing and pearly whites give her a beauty and appeal that few other comic actresses have ever managed.

Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diane Lane and Kim Basinger have each marvelously become more beautiful, and better actresses, as the years have gone on; but their best work has all come in the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Debra Winger, Margot Kidder and, heaven help us, Kathleen Turner pale in comparison to the acting skills, hairstyles or honest beauty of Diaz, Pfeiffer and many of their modern peers.

-- Alex Remington

I'm a movie lover with no place to go, and this article hit home.

I thought I was the only one who was not willing to shell out $8 to see Gwyneth whine through another movie with her "English" accent, watch Cameron Diaz giggle and Catherine Zeta-Jones collect another paycheck for nothing special. Add J.Lo into the mix and you end up with a marketable sleep aid.

The dearth of interesting and sexy male actors makes the situation worse. If it weren't for the far too infrequent appearances of Edward Norton, Jude Law and Ewan McGregor, I'd have nothing to look forward to. For some reason Hollywood seems to think muscles and grunting are all that is required to make a woman swoon.

This is not just a case of "when I was young" -- the public is getting less for more. Bland, repetitive stories coupled with bland, repetitive actors makes TCM a better alternative to going out to the theaters.

-- Susan Appelbaum

Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyson Hannigan are a lot more interesting than Laura Warrell gives them credit for! But I guess she wouldn't know since she's in some kind of '80s movie time warp.

Warrell clearly thinks very little of today's actresses, but maybe she'd be change her mind if she'd only quit whinging and spend more time watching quality TV and film from 2003, where smart, sexy actresses like Hannigan, Allison Janney and Scarlett Johansson (who is great in this month's "Lost in Translation," especially in a couple of scenes with Anna Faris' yoga airhead L.A. starlet) are no more or less rare than they were during Laura's Golden Age of Karen Allen. After all, vapid, overprivileged beauties are hardly a recent invention, are they? Why should we be surprised to see Tara Reids wafting about the red carpet, when Jessica Simpson's got her own TV show? It may not be a good thing, but there's still a balance. Ms. Warrell sounds bitter and a bit foolish to me. It's too bad she can hardly think of anything nice to say about anyone. What was that expression again?

-- Vanessa Soto

Get Laura Warrell onto your staff full time! Her article on the drab, one-dimensional, Hollywood women of today is a revelation!

I'd like to take her to dinner and a screening of "White Palace."

-- Jim

I agree with almost everything in Laura Warrell's article. However, she can't deny that Leonardo DiCaprio did an amazing performance as a disabled character in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape."

-- Ruth Eremin

While I agree with the point of your article, the author has an extremely time-limited point of view. Movies didn't begin in the 1980s and neither did Susan Sarandon. Her sometimes game, sometimes gamy eroticism was one of the glories of 1970s American cinema, along with the carnal charms of Ellen Burstyn ("Don't you ever want to do something right now?"), Sissy Spacek, Beverly D'Angelo, et al.

Moreover, these actresses were worthy, liberatingly frank avatars of a tradition begun by such stars as Lauren Bacall ("You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve?"), Gloria Swanson, Rita Hayworth, Gloria Grahame and even a young Angela Lansbury (the carnal homewrecker wannabe of "State of the Union" and besmirched-and-loving-it victim of "The Picture of Dorian Gray"), to say nothing of such noir femme fatales as Marie Windsor, Yvonne DeCarlo and Peggy Cummins.

The more important divide that Hollywood can't seem to bring itself to cross anymore is the casting of women as opposed to girls: As an article I read years ago pointed out, Kathleen Turner was 28 and all woman when she made "Body Heat"; Julia, Gwyneth, Cameron, Tara and their ilk, however good some might be as actors, are merely grown-up girls, even as the oldest of them begin to push 40.

-- M. George Stevenson

Thanks for not mentioning Tom Cruise -- he's never done a thing for me in acting or otherwise. But what about Kevin Bacon? I think he deserves a line or so of accolades. Handsome and a hard worker. Otherwise, you hit the nail on the head, says a 40-something married mother of three. No wonder I have such a hard time finding a movie I want to see.

-- Jill Miller Zimon

Laura Warrell nails her subject perfectly in this essay.

Several years ago, a critic wrote that Kathleen Turner was the last real woman in the movies; the others were just grown-up girls. Warrell makes a very similar point, except that she's dead-on correct about the unexplainable sexiness of women like Sissy Spacek and Ellen Barkin. I remember seeing Lea Thompson, first in the "Back to the Future" movies (remember that incredible shot of her cleavage in the second "Future" movie when she's in the car after George has rescued her from Biff?) and in her "Caroline in the City" series, and thinking, "Is it just me, or is she just the most desirable woman in the world right now?"

I would disagree only on a minor point: The cookie-cutter blondies of today do manage an occasional moment of pure, smoking cinematic eroticism. I am thinking of two in particular: Gwyneth Paltrow's reaction as Ethan Hawke inches his fingers up her thigh toward her panties in "Great Expectations," and Jennifer Love Hewitt walking away from the camera as she approaches the shuttered beach bar in "Heartbreakers." True, neither actress can sustain that sexiness beyond those isolated shots, but those are two of the hottest moments on screen.

-- Jeff Rice

Laura Warrell's thoughts on today's mediocre superstar actresses was sadly on the mark. For years, I have been annoying my friends with the challenge "yes, she's OK, but c'mon, who's the Jessica Lange of the new millennium?" We stumble and fumble around, and come up with names that Warrell granted possible -- a smarter Angelina Jolie, a buffed-up Kate Winslet, and always Cate Blanchett. Please don't forget the magnetic Julianne Moore -- who can avert their eyes from her? And Claire Danes -- more, please. But yes, for the most part, they are bland, they are cute, they are sassy, but they're boring. Industry takes us all further down the path of the commercial tie-ins and eternal spunk. Let's applaud the actresses who hoe their row alone -- and go see their movies.

-- Christine

"Audiences don't go to movies only to stare at pretty people. They want to feel something, to have their minds played with, to get a sensual thrill. They want actors to admire, sex symbols to desire and meaty relationships to horn them up."

This is the same argument I've heard for too long now about contemporary American film -- studios are run by execs who are interested only in formulaic plots and artificial stars. This claim may be true, but why isn't anyone willing to put the blame on audiences who have opportunities to see performances like Rebecca Romijn-Stamos' in "Femme Fatale," but choose not to. Laura Warrell doesn't need to tell us why audiences go to movies. Audiences tell us themselves when "Kangaroo Jack" grosses $22 million in its opening weekend.

-- John Newberger

Have you seen Chloë Sevigny in "demonlover"? Amongst other interesting film choices. She's the one you need to fill this gap.

-- Tara Bethune-Leamen

Thanks for mentioning Karen Allen in your article. I've been a big fan of her work since "Starman" with Jeff Bridges (even in the otherwise loathsome "Ghost in the Machine"), and find her deliciously attractive, with her warm brown eyes and smoky voice.

Your article addresses the physical appearances of actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow and Sarah Jessica Parker, but what about voices? The other problem with the actresses today is that they sound the same: They either sound like a perky cheerleader or a coy schoolgirl. Either way, they sound like none of the actresses you've mentioned: will we ever hear Ellen Barkin again, who'd sound sexy reading a phone book? Or the intelligence behind Jodie Foster's voice?

-- Vina Vo

I haven't seen this much cherry-picked evidence since the State of the Union address. Laura Warrell applauds 1980s actresses for appearing in uplifting stories about working-class women, but when Julia Roberts does it, she's showing how "righteous" she is in her trashy clothes (nothing like that good old sackcloth and ashes Sally Field wore in "Norma Rae"! -- and certainly nothing that a real lower-income single mom would wear). Back when, Debra Winger was a spitfire who gave 'em hell on the set -- but that Catherine Zeta-Jones and her "sprawling, Chicago-size ego"! Then there's the issue of looks -- seems the gals today are just too cute for their own good. (I notice Warrell doesn't discuss Toni Collette. Or Janeane Garofalo. Or Parker Posey. Or Hope Davis. Or any of the other extraordinary, real-looking younger actresses.) Oh, for a return to the good old days when all the actresses were plain -- except when they weren't, like Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathleen Turner, Jessica Lange, Kim Basinger and Darryl Hannah. (All of the actresses she mentions from the 1980s were also model-slim, speaking of how real women look -- but never mind.)

I agree completely with Warrell's view of Ewan McGregor and Jude Law, hot and talented young actors of today -- but alas, that point undercuts the whole "Things were so much better in the olden days" skew of the article. At least she doesn't denigrate McGregor and Law by comparing them to the young actors of the 1980s. Even she, I suspect, wouldn't trade those two for, say, Judd Nelson and Emilio Estevez.

-- Carolyn Lengel

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