It’s been a long time since I used the phrase “movie star” to describe anyone, and for good reason. It doesn’t seem to apply anymore. The word has become quaint, something to be retired from Merriam-Webster to make room for ginormous.
Hepburn, Colbert, Garbo, Monroe — they were movie stars. The current crop of film actors are merely ginormous American idols, and their appeal is only to their immediate peers. My kids and their friends know Lindsay Lohan and can cite her films — The Parent Trap, Herbie: Fully Loaded, Mean Girls — but their mothers and fathers, when asked, usually just shrug.
The 21-year-old Lohan, who got her first modeling job at age three, would be aghast to learn how little anyone over 30 and east of Vegas knows or cares about her. The tabloids inflate their subjects to the point where Paris Hilton apparently believed it when she said, pre-orange-jumpsuit, “Every decade has an iconic blonde, like Marilyn Monroe or Princess Diana, and right now, I’m that icon.”
Until this week, I knew Lindsay Dee Lohan by name only, via the bad behavior that occasionally propelled her to the attention of Matt Drudge. I only realized yesterday that I had actually seen her act — in Freaky Friday with Jamie Lee Curtis — but I never could have summoned her name. This is the problem with American idols; there’s nothing memorable about them, since beauty and talent are optional.
Look at the mugshot of Lohan, arrested early Tuesday for DUI and cocaine possession. Her raccoon-like eyes are pretty in punk-rock groupie kind of way, but what’s really striking is how ordinary looking she is. They all are — Paris and Britney and Nicky and Lindsay — there’s not a classic beauty in the bunch.
You can’t even justify the new brat packers as the cinematic archetype known as the girl-next-door: the Sandra Bullocks and Julia Roberts of the film world, who manage to be ordinary and glamorous at the same time. It helps to have memorable characteristics, like Bullock’s jaw or Roberts’s legs. It also helps not to perpetually pout.
Hollywood’s purpose, besides the enrichment of Democratic coffers, has always been to inject a little glamour into the mundane. That “talking pictures” took off during the Great Depression was no accident; those of us who love movies know much of their appeal is escape. Hollywood used to be larger than life; its denizens were fantastic creatures, possessing beauty and sophistication that the rest of us could only gaze upon wistfully.
Now Hollywood seems to exist to make us mere mortals feel better about our ordinary lives. There’s Paris, weeping in the back of the police car; Lindsay, three rehabs this year. There’s bald Britney; the alarmingly tattooed Angelina; nut-job Alec Baldwin; and dead Anna Nicole, who, I learned from reading snippets of her diary, was less educated than my 12-year-old.
Meanwhile, actors who don’t engage in bad behavior still lose part of their allure every time they leave their homes. US magazine runs a photo feature called “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” in which actors are shown in mundanity: buying groceries, pushing kids in strollers, scratching behind their ears. Too much information and too many camera phones are killing the Hollywood mystique. Please, Antonio, I beg you: Get back behind closed doors.
For a couple of years, I’d been wanting to write about a small triumph: that I’d finally lived long enough to look better than Farrah Fawcett, whose toothy visage tormented me so in my 20s. But then Fawcett was diagnosed with cancer (the third of the Angels to get it), and so she’s off limits, but there are plenty more analogies around. Even without help from Botox, it doesn’t take long for clean living in the suburbs to trump cocaine in the city. My girls, who admire the reigning teen queen now, may discover 20 years from now that their lives, and complexions, are much better than hers. A funny thing happens on the way to middle age; some of us grow up.
Lohan and her lot will grow older, presumably, if rehab works (hey, the third time’s a charm!) and if lessons are learned. What’s unclear is if the newest brat pack will mature. Lohan’s “official website” — llrocks.com — has not been updated since 2003, when she wrote “hey, guys, I’m sooo sooooo sorry I haven’t written in a while!! I have been working nonstop!” Her actions of late indicate that working nonstop did little to age her.
Lindsay and friends are the first wave of the American princess culture, born of too much Diana and Disney. Our nation, God love it, has Princess Envy — we want one, we don’t have one, and so every four-year-old’s a princess, and Wal-Mart sells pink cowboy hats with embedded tiaras. But not every princess lives happily ever after; in Hollywood, at least, uneasy lie the heads that wear the crowns. — Jennifer Nicholson Graham is a writer in the suburbs of Boston.