A Price Above Rubies 1996 Directed by Boaz Yakin. An excellent film showcasing the actress early on as well as traditions about which most people know little or nothing. Pushed into an arranged marriage with devout Hasidic Jew, Mendel (Glenn Fitzgerald), Sonja (Renee Zellweger) finds herself with a husband interested only in his studies and obtuse about her needs. He’s cold, annoyed or absent. The restrictive, smiling community suffocates her.
When her amoral brother-in-law takes her in her own home, then offers a job in his jewelry company, she’s passive about the first and grateful for the second. Sonja was taught the business by her father and is expert. She’s a great success but Mendel resents her time away and, when she stays out late in search of new design sources, suspects her of adultery. Things come to a head. The heroine is true to herself though what occurs is painful and, in many ways, unresolved.
The producers faced backlash for casting Zellweger, who did not follow Judaism, in the lead role. Director Boaz Yakin remarked, “Zellweger was the best actor for the part. She is an actor. The Jews that worked on this film knew less about the Hasidic lifestyle than Renee did after reading ten books about it. So, being a Jew doesn’t qualify you to act the part any more than any other thing. It was more important for each actor and actress to find the emotional light of their character and learn to wear it like a second skin.” dailybruin.com Rent on Amazon Prime.
Jerry Maguire 1996 Written, produced and directed by Cameron Crowe. The source of “Show me the money!” A look into the back-stabbing, competitive world of sports agents through young, cocky Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise), who unadvisedly suggests his firm take on fewer clients giving them more attention. Jerry is unceremoniously fired. In sympathy (and attracted), secretary/single mother Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zelwegger) leaves with him. The two go after anyone on his Rolodex he thinks might jump ship, beginning with disgruntled Arizona Cardinals Wide Receiver Rodney “Rod” Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). Jerry’s protégé Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr) makes the same calls on behalf of the firm.
Jerry has no luck, but Rod is waffling. That he might be the agent’s only client means more pressure to succeed for him. Meanwhile, Jerry and Dorothy grow closer. When she sees signs reminiscent of his prior cutthroat mentality, she lets him have it. His relationships go through big changes. Cuba Gooding, Jr. won Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. With Kelly Preston, Jerry O’Connell, Bonnie Hunt, Regina King. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Nurse Betty 2000 Directed by Neil LaBute. In small town Kansas, diner waitress Betty Sizemore (Renee Zellweger) witnesses her husband’s brutal killing by drug hitmen Charlie (Morgan Freeman) and Wesley (Chris Rock). In a fugue state, she suddenly imagines herself affianced to handsome Doctor David Ravel (Greg Kinnear), a character on her favorite soap opera, A Reason to Love. Betty hops in a borrowed car (her rotter husband is a car dealer) and heads for Los Angeles to reunite with her love. She’s appealing, wide-eyed innocence on the hoof.
With no training, she dresses as a nurse to look for David and accidentally saves someone, securing a peripheral job. Betty becomes popular and finds roommate Rosa (Tia Texada) who, when she discovers the truth, can’t wrap her head around the reality of the situation. At party for the soap, Betty approaches the actor who plays David AS his fiancé. Her behavior is interpreted as an off screen audition. Meanwhile, the hitmen are tracking Betty to retrieve something in the car trunk. The way everything works is a clever fun. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Chicago 2002 Based on the 1975 stage musical by John Kander/Fred Ebb/Bob Fosse. Directed by Rob Marshall. Best Picture Academy Award. Competitive for notoriety, murderesses Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) and Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) will do anything to secure more attention from the press through flashy attorney Billy Flynn (Richard Gere). Both also cozy up to corrupt Cook County Jail Matron “Mama” Morton (Queen Latifah). Billy turns Roxie’s trial into a media circus. She has her moment, but only until another woman shoots her husband. Roxie is cleared. Velma gets out of prison. Neither can make it in vaudeville alone, but together…! A good musical, but I miss the seasoned Broadway cast. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Cinderella Man 2005 Titled after the nickname of world heavyweight boxing champion James J. Braddock, inspired by his life story. Directed by Ron Howard. Predictable, but well shot and acted. After breaking his hand in the ring, Irishman James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe) leaves boxing until The Great Depression when he’s forced to make money any way he can. Zellweger plays loving, stoic wife Mae – clearly a saint; Paul Giamatti (Best Supporting Actor Academy Award) his manager. Fight scenes are apparently authentic. An epilogue reveals that Braddock would lose his title to Joe Louis and that he and Mae used his boxing income to buy a house, where they spent the rest of their lives. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Judy 2019 Directed by Rupert Goold. Adaptation of the multiple award winning play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter. A biographical drama depicting the last year of Judy Garland’s life. Best Actress Academy Award. After a glimpse of 15 year-old Garland, we meet her in her forties (Renee Zellweger). Judy is forced to leave her two children with ex-husband Sidney Luft ( Rufus Sewell), in order to perform in England, one of very few options since her reputation became one of unreliability. There are flashbacks to initial amphetamine use promoted by the studio. Anxiety, pills, and missing her children plague her abroad. We meet nightclub owner Mickey Deans (Finn Witrock), who becomes her fifth husband. There’s a wonderful scene when a gay couple who are abject fans end up spending an evening with the icon. Zellweger did her own singing which emulates Garland. A solid portrait despite all the skeptics. Free with Amazon Prime.
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