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Saturday, 23 June 2018

B-Movie Actress Feature Spotlight: Elisabeth Shue

Born in the mid-Atlantic of Wilmington, Delaware in 1963, Elisabeth Judson Shue is one of 4
children and the only girl, who has close ties with her brother, Andrew, who is a fellow actor.

After graduating from Columbia High School, Shue went onto Wellesley College and in 1984, transferred to Harvard University to study Political Science. Whilst at college, Shue took an interest in acting and with that afterwards, she starred and appeared in TV ads for Burger King and video game company, Atari. She dropped out/left Harvard one semester shy of her degree, although she returned to Harvard in 1997 to complete her studies and get her B.A Hons. Shue's family life was affected by the death of her brother, William in a swimming accident during a family vacation, which ultimately made her rethink her priorities. That gamble paid off, as at the time of The Karate Kid's release in 1984, Shue was a mere 21 years of age and it became one of the blockbuster hits of the year, leading to more film roles for Shue to sink her teeth into.

Up until 1995, Elisabeth was typecasted in wholesome, goody-two-shoes, girl-next-door type character roles in the Chris Columbus debut, Adventures in Babysitting, which also marked Shue's first leading role as Chris, and Back to the Future II and III as Marty McFly's girlfriend, Jennifer & The Karate Kid as Daniel Larusso's girlfriend in subsequent love interest roles. With Shue replacing Claudia Wells in the Back To The Future sequels. Wells chose not to pursue the role any further and with that, Shue took over the mantle. It was at this point in her career, in 1988 with Cocktail starring Tom Cruise and 1989's Back to The Future II, it started to flourish. But then came the 1990s where she attained supporting and bit-part roles in Soapdish, 20 Bucks, Deconstructing Harry, The Marrying Man, Dream On, Heart and Souls to name. These weren't the multi-million dollar big screen hitters, but they did the trick. Some of them that is. Major roles evaded Shue, but one that came and became a breakthrough and significant game changer for her career, well, briefly anyway, was as prostitute Sara opposite Nicolas Cage in Mike Figgis's drama, Leaving Las Vegas. Her performance in the film helped her land an academy award nomination, as well as BAFTA, Golden Globe and SAG Awards for best actress.

After that, she landed several diverse roles in a variety of movies, but with most of them, they never truly unleashed Shue's true talents and worth. 

Shue is another actress who should have set the world and Hollywood alight, especially after her Oscar nomination for best-supporting actress in Mike Figgis's tragi-love tale, Leaving Las Vegas. Yet bombs such as the remake of The Saint, as well as the derisory reception and negative feedback of Hollow Man all but ended her stardom for good, and she hasn't appeared in a commercial mainstream theatrical movie up until 2018's Death Wish. Her public profile diminished, over time since the 1980s where she was touted by many as a future Hollywood starlet who would go onto bigger and better things, and yet Shue's film career has oscillated up and down and she hasn't maintained that level of consistency that many would expect. By the late 1990s after Leaving Las Vegas, she was no longer a bankable leading lady and she mostly featured in supporting roles, whilst leading roles were not only a few but were mainly in indie and B-movies many people hadn't heard of, namely Palmetto, Cousin Bette, and 1999 bomb Molly, which made just under $18,000 apparently. Then came the killer in 2000's Hollow Man, which not only became a financial bomb for the controversial director, Paul Verhoeven but that Shue's role, which wasn't well handled by the writers, didn't elevate herself as an actress and star any further than it should have & it pretty much dug a huge hole in her movie career. For me, contrary to some, her career never went as far from then on from that flick. Whilst with the horror flick, Hide & Seek this did well financially, it was also trounced by critics.  

Shue took a hiatus from acting to raise her children and when they got older, she had to reacquaint herself with the business again when she returned as an actress. 2014's Behaving Badly had Shue playing the young best friend's mother who tries to seduce the lead character. The film also featured lesser-known actors in Heather Graham, Mary-Louise Parker, Dylan McDermott, Jason Lee to name. It was made in 2012, but studio head honchos let it sit on the shelves for 2 years (a sign that the film won't be good). When it did come out, critics weren't impressed, thus it was mercilessly savaged & it bombed at the U.S box office. 

Her last films to date that were released were 2017's tennis biopic, Battle of the Sexes & the 2018 remake of Death Wish where she played the onscreen wife of Bruce Willis's character - and a wasteful one too, as she gets killed off earlier on in the movie. The film received negative reviews. 

In some ways, I wouldn't say I looked up to her, but rather I saw her as an actress who could be up there with Angelina Jolie, Michelle Pfieffer of the cinematic drama world at least - and yet, it's unfortunate that it just never took off in that way. But as ever, Hollywood can be a very fickle place: they're the flavour of the year one minute, the next they're not, and next thing they know, it is over. It's odd really: when an actress or actor has dominated or be it been making and starring in movies for over 3 decades, not all of them become successes overnight - that, or that success is only shortlived, whilst a number of their contemporaries have been far more successful. This has been the case for Elizabeth Shue. 

That's not to say she isn't versatile - her body of work, especially during the latter stages of her career says otherwise; she's played different characters & she tried to break away from the nice girl image that she has initially built up, but it's the films themselves: they were not always the multi-million box office sellers I've come to expect, especially coming from a former Oscar and Golden Globe winner & nominee, and post-Leaving Las Vegas these have not been noteworthy. Shue should have done more mainstream, commercial movies and good ones too. Yet very few of her films had barely any real quality going for them and in especially where she bagged bit-part roles or as a foil to the lead, most of them just never really pushed and challenged Shue as an actress as much as they should have done. Although she has done a few films in recent years, so it kept her busy. 

Right after Leaving Las Vegas, she should have taken advantage of and capitalised on her success and tried to press on and aim for higher, bigger and better roles after that, but alas, Shue didn't do that & she made movies general moviegoers didn't care for, movies that were easily forgotten about, as well as movies that would've been rejected by many A-list actresses. 

As a result, her post-Oscar-nominated comeback - in reference to Leaving Las Vegas-, proved to be brief. 

Shue was more of an actress than a star than Meg Ryan and countless other big-name '90s actresses around at the time, who were (arguably) more famed for being stars than performers. With Adventures in Babysitting and Back To The Future, I believe that having established herself through those movies, she should have done a couple of more of those types of films. Not to say that playing against type is a bad thing for Shue, but the commercial, popular appeal, the fun side that they evoke, that is what she should have amounted to and aimed for, especially to boost her star power. Shue is an actress and a good one, but as a star, she should have been bigger. If it worked the first time for Shue with Adventures in Babysitting, Back To The Future, why not continue with this, as well as carving out decent and worthwhile dramas & thrillers to supplement it?


Elisabeth Shue has bags of talent and that longevity of experience, which was key to her doing so well in the 1980s, but that level of consistency and success just never carried over during the next two decades, the 1990s (where she did extremely well in Soapdish & Leaving Las Vegas, but that is pretty much it) & 2000s wherein Hollow Man all but ended her reign. She hasn't had more of the popular and highest grossing movies to really demonstrate her worth and it's a particular factor that differentiates her from other notable actresses of the same age range as herself, & yet of whom have far more successful careers. That, and she needed to provide something unique through her image as a star to not only set her apart but to really get audiences talking as well. 



Notable Favourites: Adventures In Babysitting, Soapdish, Leaving Las Vegas, The Karate Kid 

Notable Non-Favourites: The Saint, Hollow Man (for her character especially), Piranha, Behaving Badly, Molly, Death Wish (2018) 



Sources:

Elizabeth Shue- Wikipedia

Elizabeth Shue - Biography

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