Helena Bonham Carter has had the kind of career that makes her difficult to talk about. She's a well-known, A-list actress but has become known for the weirder parts she's played. Tim Burton and Bonham Carter have been together for about 10 years and it's nice to see two people so perfectly suited for one another. When one eccentric finds another eccentric and they can contain their eccentricity, I'm all for it as it proves that there's someone out there for everyone. Tim Burton keeps making movies that seem to get weirder as he ages, and Helena ends up in many of them. In addition to appearing in Burton's films, she's made about a million movies, and ultimately it comes down to personal preference. Do you like your ladies crazy with a touch of classy sass? Bonham Carter has taken a turn at everything from period pieces to modern romantic dramedies, but seems best suited to wild and loose characters. But is she overrated? Has a once-good actress let herself slide into the easy roles?
I'm going to focus on a few of her most memorable performances. (Also, there are no catchy nicknames like HBC, no shortening of her impressively long and implicitly European name. Someone should get on that. Bon-Cart? Carty? Hell-cart?) One of my personal favorite performances is her turn in 1992's Howards End, which feels hardly fair considering all the work she's done since then, but she was just so stunningly good in it. Her gorgeous curly hair and delicate features were so well suited to playing a saucy middle-class English girl that with her prattling and rakish behavior, she steals scenes away from Emma Thompson. As she tries to do good, she ends up doing more harm and her character goes through such a transformation that this performance is anything but overrated.
She next surfaces on the radar as insane girlfriend Marla Singer in Fight Club. Fight Club was so original and mind-blowing, and her performance was filled with subtle nuances that you could only really appreciate upon a second or third viewing. Simultaneously she manages to infuse even small moments with a great range of emotion on several levels without giving anything away, making her work the perfect companion piece to Edward Norton's frail slide into mayhem and Brad Pitt's raucous insistence on chaos. HBC's performance in Fight Club? Totally right.
Some actors and actresses can command a scene, fill up the screen entirely with their emotions and use their eyes to tell you things that don't need to be said. This kind of subtlety was hugely present in Bonham Carter's earlier work, but these last few collaborations with Tim Burton have stripped her of that. I was going to say that Big Fish was a really different feel for Bonham Carter, but then I remembered that she not only played Jenny but The Witch as well, so even that was a weird character. Big Fish is easily my favorite Tim Burton film of the last 10 years, but even then, I'm not sure that the role of Jenny absolutely had to be played by Bonham Carter. Bonham Carter in Big Fish or any other Burton film? Overrated, and totally expected.
There was that film she did with Aaron Eckhart, Conversations with Other Women, annoyingly shot in split screen and impossibly self-involved. The premise was cute or interesting for maybe 10 minutes, but neither character could hold an entire film with their trite (but deep!) conversation and fancy film work. While bad scripts can happen to anyone, I have to say her work in this one? Overrated.
The Harry Potter movies were and are an amazing collection of the most reliable actors in Hollywood, each installment filled to the brim with the recognizable and beloved as well as new stars. HBC fits perfectly into her role as Bellatrix Lestrange, the madwoman dedicated to Voldemort and preserving the purity of the wizarding world. She flits about with rage in her eyes and murder in her heart and it's chilling. There's an infinite amount of cruelty in the character of Lestrange and HBC is just possessed enough to access it and bring it to the foreground. Her work in the Harry Potter series? Awesome.
So we are left to conclude that she's a good actress who is capable of amazing performances. She just needs to stay away from Tim Burton and his wacky ideas, as well as bad scripts, but that isn't likely to happen any time soon. Burton's just too over-the-top for her; she does her best work when she's given room to roam around within a character rather than flogging a one-dimensional idea. I'd love to see HBC take a turn in a serious television series or more period pieces such as The King's Speech, where she plays Queen Elizabeth. With her otherworldly looks and proven abilities, Helena Bonham Carter is not overrated, we just have to think a bit harder to remember why we love her: for her unique and subtle abilities, for somehow being both beautiful and frightening, and for living on that darker edge in her work where few of us dare to tread.