Rewind: An Open Love Letter To Jennifer Connelly

With 'Dark Water' approaching, a look back at the star's career — so far.

Dear Jennifer,

When I saw the trailer for "Dark Water," the remake of Hideo "Ringu" Nakata's 2002 Japanese horror flick, everyone in the theater ... well, they laughed. J-horror is already repeating itself to the point of self-parody, and maybe the concept of a house being haunted by running black water just doesn't translate all that well. But that's not really the point. The point is that I surprised myself by becoming angry. How dare they laugh! In the eyes of millions of smitten men and women, you can do no wrong.

Click here for photos of Jennifer Connelly, Then and Now

While you first appeared onscreen as a youngster in Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984), you popped up on most filmgoers' radar in the sultry 1990 potboiler, "The Hot Spot." Playing Gloria Harper, the young secretary at a used car lot, you vied (with Virginia Madsen) for the attentions of drifter/ne'er do well Don Johnson. Nothing against the pre-Pinot Noir-appreciating Madsen, but honestly, was that even a contest? I was never a huge fan of that camp fest, however, and I'm sure there's a part of you that wishes you never made it, as your topless scene in the film has inspired a thousand scuzzy Web sites.

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I first fell in love with you two years earlier, in the little-seen coming-of-age film "Some Girls." Playing Gabriella D'Arc, part of an eccentric Canadian family, you tormented poor Michael (Patrick Dempsey) with your hot- and cold-running affections. Despite your ambivalence, I thought that Michael was insane to spend the movie juggling feelings for you, your sisters Simone (Ashley Greenfield), Irenka (Sheila Kelley) and your grandma. At the age of 18, you had already achieved the kind of pulchritudinous presence to which few actresses of your generation can even aspire.

After "The Hot Spot" you made the otherwise unwatchable "Career Opportunities" (1991) worthy of multiple viewings, if for no other reason than to marvel at your acting ability as you pretended to be attracted to Frank Whaley. (Sorry, I just think he's creepy.) But it was your next film that solidified your place in many a fanboy's heart.

Truthfully, nobody but you could've filled the, uh, shoes of Jenny Blake in 1991's "The Rocketeer." The adaptation of Dave Stevens' retro comic book may have renamed your character, but fanboys everywhere knew the inspiration for Cliff's (Bill Campbell) girlfriend was legendary pin-up girl Bettie Page. Who else was going to play the role? Winona Ryder? Please! You played Jenny with the requisite combination of innocence and oozing sexuality, creating a slightly dorky ingénue who has no idea the depths of passion she inspires in good guys and villains alike. Sigh.

For awhile after that, you were usually either underused in small roles in films both good ("Dark City") and bad ("Mulholland Falls") or you starred in movies that were so small ("Of Love and Shadows," "Far Harbor") that they barely got noticed. I was afraid that maybe your career had peaked, that perhaps you fell victim to the curse of Molly Ringwald.

Those fears were unfounded. The year 2000 saw you in two films that showed not only how your beauty had matured, but how much your range as an actress had grown.

In "Waking the Dead," you played Sarah Williams, an American activist whose relationship with political up-and-comer Fielding Pierce (Billy Crudup) is tragically doomed (and not just because Democrats should never date Republicans). The '70s period piece is a handsomely crafted, interminably depressing love story, and I honestly can't think of a better portrayal of the agony and the ecstasy of deep, true love than yours in this movie.

You next displayed an entirely different kind of ecstasy/agony in Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream." This parable about addiction is about as subtle as a two-by-four across the kisser, and its supposedly radical storytelling techniques are, in fact, rather unimpressive. Still, the movie caused a stir and you gained more recognition for your sometimes hard-to-watch depiction of a woman willing to be degraded and abused to support her heroin habit.

But I was again a little concerned when you deigned to accept a regular TV role in the Darren Star stockbroker soaper, "The $treet." Don't get me wrong, I'm no snob about television, but you are a movie star, a rare breed far more akin to Grace Kelly than Kim Cattrall. So, I was relieved when the show tanked. You deserved better. And thankfully, you got it.

I didn't love 2001's "A Beautiful Mind," Ron Howard's treatment of the life of schizophrenic mathematician John Nash. It was a bit too glossy and some of the dialogue was as painful as a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation. But again you managed to transcend the material, making the audience believe that the long-suffering Alicia Nash loved her delusional husband enough to stick by him even as he grew more and more distant (even though, in true Hollywood fashion, that wasn't the case in real life). I think the Academy Awards are a joke, but Hollywood doesn't, so when you won your Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the film, I was happy for your validation as an actor rather than as just the source of a million vidcaps.

And then came word that you were going to play Betty Ross in Ang Lee's "Hulk." While there's a part of me (the geeky part) that would love to see you star in every comic-book movie, I found it an odd choice for you to make. And, true to the comics, Betty didn't serve as much more than someone for Hulk to either rescue or as bait to lure him into a trap. "Hulk" is an odd bird of a movie, neither good nor bad, but (again) your presence raised the caliber of the movie at least a few gamma-radiated notches.

Far better was 2003's "House of Sand and Fog," a movie so depressing it made "Waking the Dead" feel like a romantic comedy. As Kathy, the alcoholic who loses her home to a former Iranian colonel and then fights to get it back, you were all over the map in this one. By the end of this tragedy about culture clash, longing, responsibility and the brutality of circumstance, you'd effectively portrayed almost every emotion in the human palette, save perhaps joy.

Which brings us back to "Dark Water," your first horror film since your first leading role in 1985's "Phenomena." It's doubtful that, being a genre film, this movie's going to earn you another nomination for any award other than those given out by MTV (when will the Academy loosen up?), and the movie may well turn out to be a stinker. But it doesn't matter. Those of us who love you will pony up the ticket price to see you in anything. Even "Hulk 2."

xo,

Karl

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