Forget Proof of Life. We need proof of a career. How did Meg Ryan go from commanding $15,000,000 a picture just seven years ago to playing bit parts in low-budget indie failures, like last year's In the Land of Women, or this year's straight-to-video My Mom's New Boyfriend?
Age discrimination? Poor choice of roles? The death of the respectable romantic comedy? Call it what you want to, but it's clear that one of the biggest box-office stars of the 90's (over $1 billion grossed worldwide between '93 and '98) has dropped off big time. Here are the numbers.
It's not as if Ryan has moved on to another career, either. Sure, she hasn't kept up the same pace as she used to, but aside from a three year hiatus after the legendary 2004 bomb Against the Ropes, acting has still been her main gig. You've probably even recognized her in the trailer for the upcoming The Women, where she'll join Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Jada Pinkett Smith, Debra Messing, Bette Midler, and Candice Bergen in a remake of the 1939 classic that no doubt provided inspiration for "Sex and the City" so many years later. Was Ryan included in this ensemble because of lingering doubt that she can still carry a movie as the lead, or is this what's left of her career going forward?
Let's go back to my three initial inquiries.
Age discrimination - If you ask me, she still has star looks at 46 years old (above in The Women), so aside from there being few parts written for 40-somethings, this doesn't seem like it would be the major issue. It's just that she'd have to fight Diane Lane over those few roles.
Poor choice of roles - Certainly something to be said here. Following up You've Got Mail in 1998 with the sci-fi romantic comedy Kate and Leopold in 2001, she completely changed gears with Proof of Life (which was decent, mostly because of Russell Crowe), In The Cut (in which she appeared nude and simulated oral sex with Mark Ruffalo), and the aforementioned Against the Ropes (in which she played a female boxing promoter). Read through those again. Meg Ryan?
I'm not advocating that actors do the same thing over and over again, but there has to be some understanding of risk, and it's hard to argue that Ryan's early 2000's character choices did not do serious damage to her career. Blame can be placed at other weaknesses in those films, or poor execution overall, but it's a moot point by now. If you're going to branch out, you have to do it wisely.
The death of the respectable romantic comedy - If we consider Notting Hill the last peak in romantic comedies (earlier eras belonging to Woody Allen), there haven't been too many in the last decade to speak of. Every now and then one will come along, like 2 Days in Paris or Definitely, Maybe (which I include based on hearsay alone), but the genre hasn't been very healthy since J-Lo and Jessica Alba received the baton from Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, or even Cameron Diaz.
But if Ryan deliberately moved away from romantic comedies in the early 2000's, the lull of romantic comedies shouldn't have made a huge difference.
So it comes down to possibly choosing the wrong roles at the wrong time...or, a wild card. While promoting In the Cut in 2003, Ryan had an infamous interview with British talk show host Michael Parkinson. The only summary I could find was from IMDb:
[The October 2003 episode of Parkinson's chat show has become part of British television history due to the actress's bizarre behavior in which she gave only one word answers to questions and stared icily at the host. Ryan appeared on the program to promote her erotic thriller, In the Cut (2003), but refused to answer Parkinson's questions about the drastic change from her typical romantic comedy roles. At one point Parkinson said in exasperation, "What would you do now if you were me?" to which Ryan replied, "Why not wrap it up?" About the televised debacle, Parkinson later said that Ryan was his "most difficult TV moment." He felt her rude behavior toward his fellow guests, Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine, whom she deliberately turned her back on, was unforgivable. Parkinson said, "I should have closed it. But listen, it happens. She was an unhappy woman. I felt sorry for her. What I couldn't forgive her for was that she was rude to the other guests." In a 2006 interview with "Marie Claire" magazine, Ryan blamed Parkinson's paternal manner for the failure of the interview. Ryan said, "I don't even know the man. That guy was like some disapproving father! It's crazy. I don't know what he is to you guys, but he's a nut. I felt like he was berating me for being naked in the movie. He said something like: 'You should go back to doing what you were doing'. And I thought, are you like a disapproving dad right now? I'm not even related to you. Back off, buddy. I was so offended by him." Ryan also underscored the difference between American and British TV interviewing styles. "I realized it's not like an American talk show where it's seven minutes and then there's a commercial break. I had to do 20 minutes straight with this guy, and I could either walk off - which wouldn't be good - or try to disagree with him very respectfully."]
Maybe not a fair reason for her career to tank, but still an example of how bad P.R. can have serious repercussions. It's really too bad for Meg Ryan, who was great in the 80's (Top Gun, Innerspace, When Harry Met Sally) and on fire in the 90's (Sleepless in Seattle, Courage Under Fire, City of Angels).
Next up after The Women is next year's Serious Moonlight, starring Timothy Hutton, Kristen Bell, and Justin Long. The synopsis?
"When a high-powered female attorney discovers that her husband is about to leave her for another woman, she prevents him from doing so by binding him to the toilet with duct tape. Complications ensue when burglars break in to the couple’s home."
*shakes head in pity*