Do we like Cameron Diaz?
I can never tell. Mention her name to a friend or colleague, and watch his or her face recoil like they just watched a dog get hit by a car and smelled a fart at the same time. But even with an informal poll such as that revealing such distaste for the star, she’s still one of the most bankable actresses in Hollywood, with her movies averaging an $88 million domestic gross over the course of her career.
That career, by the way, turns 20 years old next week with the anniversary of her tongue-wagging debut in The Mask. Yet two decades since she worked every inch of that red mini-dress, it seems that Diaz has become the Hollywood equivalent of the Black Eyed Peas, a band that everyone bashes at the water cooler but clearly listens to in private—judging by their record sales—and most definitely dances to unabashedly after a few cocktails at the bar.
Well, I haven’t had much to drink yet, but I’m still not ashamed to announce that I love Cameron Diaz, and have proudly defended her against detractors who have told me they find her personality too annoying, her movies too slight, and her acting abilities lacking. I can’t be alone, either, as her box-office record speaks for itself. I am, however, mad at her, as she’s made it infinitely harder to stand up for her after this summer’s double feature of comedy caca that is The Other Woman and Sex Tape, which debuted this past weekend to limp reviews and an impotent box office to match.
Or maybe I should say that I’m mad at Hollywood, that this is the best it can offer Cameron Diaz, an actress I’d argue is unique in her ability to appeal to mass audiences and front blockbuster franchises while remaining utterly resistant to typecasting. Friends, readers, patrons in line for refunds after watching Sex Tape this past weekend: Cameron Diaz deserves better.
The incomparable Linda Holmes at NPR hit on this after The Other Woman was released in a must-read piece subtitled, “When Terrible Movies Happen to Funny Actresses.” She wrote that Diaz “continues to be an often funny mix of glamorous and goofy, just like she’s been since she was a young actress-model herself.” The film, Holmes says, is “deliciously, almost poetically, perhaps polemically depressing…a gift-wrapped boon to critics who have been looking for an opportunity to explain the miserable circumstances in which genuinely talented comic actresses—even powerful ones, even proven ones, even ones doing the absolute best they possibly can—still very often find themselves.”
If The Other Woman was the cautionary tale about those “miserable circumstances,” then Sex Tape is its disaster-story sequel. Holy hell was this movie unfunny, and confusingly so. A movie that uses sex as a selling point to the degree that it even put the word in its title, Sex Tape is remarkably starved of any titillation. It lacks any real raunch at all, actually, instead playing like slapstick Stooges comedy, but with the violence and four-letter words dialed up in order achieve an R-rating.
It has a third act trumpeting a heartwarming message about one couple’s love for each other and for their family that plays like a conversation between Danny Tanner and his daughters at the end of an episode of Full House. Only this wasn’t wholesome family entertainment. It’s called Sex Tape, and it stars Cameron Diaz, an actress who once confused ejaculate for hair gel and turned the moment into classic cinema. How could they get the tone so off? How could they not utilize her talents better?
And don’t pretend that Cameron Diaz is not talented. Such uninformed foolishness will not be entertained here. Could an argument be made that, especially recently, the vehicles she’s been given have been middling, bordering on terrible? Yes. Could someone say that her tendency to push her healthy-living philosophies like some insufferable heir to the GOOP throne can be a tad much at times? Yes, though I’d argue that her equally frequent frankness, crudeness, and down-to-earth sense of humor is as refreshing as all that “my body is my temple” garble is repulsing.
But because pop-culture enthusiasts have woefully short memories, we too often forget that Diaz is a talented actress. She shed the bombshell starlet image she was saddled with after The Mask in record time, first by playing the manic-yet-somehow-adorable bride in My Best Friend’s Wedding, garnering a Golden Globe nomination for accomplishing the impossible: snagging the guy from Julia Roberts and being so charming that the audience was OK with it.
She’s since done just about everything. If you look back at her career, the roles she’s taken, and the directors she’s worked with, you’d see that her body of work is more varied and therefore, in a way, more impressive than her peers’. It’s certainly more impressive than the growing chorus of critics give her credit for.
It’s rare for an actress to be able to move from a leading role in a Farrelly Brothers comedy (There’s Something About Mary) to an utterly deglammed and mesmerizing supporting part in a Spike Jonze indie (Being John Malkovich)—and be equally feted for both. Or to follow up a raunch-com like The Sweetest Thing with a role in a Martin Scorsese epic (The Gangs of New York). There are few actresses who can headline franchises like Charlie’s Angels and Shrek, and then make enough of an impact in a Tom Cruise flick that she gets awards attention for it (Vanilla Sky).
Diaz has an uncanny ability to vacillate between mainstream comedies for which she is the main box office draw and arthouse drama for which she is a supporting scene-stealer. She turned a sexed-up, foul-mouthed vixen into the comedic success story of 2011 with Bad Teacher and then flipped that character type on its head with her hypnotic femme fatale performance in last year’s The Counselor, coming out of the Cormac McCarthy flick with the best reviews of an ensemble that included Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, and Michael Fassbender. Hell, Cameron Diaz had sex with the windshield of a sports car in the film and critics applauded her. It takes a whole lot of something to pull that off.
She was the second actress ever, after Julia Roberts, to command a $20 million paycheck, beating fellow America’s Sweetheart contenders Reese Witherspoon, Sandra Bullock, and Drew Barrymore to the milestone by proving that America’s really more interested in sweethearts that have a bit of a saltier side to them. Even her more B- and C-level films prove that. Vanity would keep many actresses from playing characters as initially unlikable as her ones in The Holiday or What Happens Vegas, and it’s those down-to-earth character traits (so often confused in Hollywood for character flaws) that kept In Her Shoes and My Sister’s Keeper from becoming more maudlin than they already were.
Yet recently, and perhaps because her past two films have been creative disasters, there’s been a connotation associated with Diaz’s name that can best be described as: “Ugh.” There seems to be, if I could ambiguously diagnose a “sense” I get by perusing the world of pop culture opinion on the Internet and social media, a spike in negativity pertaining to Diaz’s career.
If you need more concrete evidence, feel free to google “Cameron Diaz” and the phrases “annoying,” “sucks,” or “bad actress” to survey the bowels of blogging bottom feeders and the worst of snark criticism. Or just read my personal favorite entry, a gem that appeared courtesy of the Today show’s website: the blurb devoted to Diaz in a masterpiece titled “Actresses Who Look Like They Smell Bad.”
Now, one would argue that a Hollywood megastar who commands eight-figure paychecks, has enough clout to open a studio film on her name alone, and has been nominated for nearly a dozen Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards doesn’t need defending. But maybe she does need someone to plead on her behalf, to beg that her talents are given enough credit in the industry so that our biggest fascination with her no longer pertains to the possible existence of body odor.
To that regard, Diaz is next slated to play Miss Hannigan in a remake of Annie, and recent trailers hint at a very different take on the child-raising tyrant than those who grew up on Carol Burnett’s character. Jarred by the campy, ghetto-fab spin Diaz appears to have put on Hannigan, critics are already fearful that the performance will be, well, awful. And it’s possible she will be or that the movie will be, as several of Diaz’s films—hello, Sex Tape—have been.
Call me naïve, call me optimistic, or call me just plain wrong, but I think there’s something admirable that Diaz, who has made a career of wildly unpredictable and risky decisions, is one of the few actors still working willing to put her neck on the line in that way. You might not think Cameron Diaz is a great actress, but hopefully you realize that she’s a brave one.
Or maybe you just think she looks like she smells bad. But then again, Cameron Diaz, proving what’s made her such an appealing star for two decades, would probably think that’s funny.