Part of the fun of writing a blog dedicated to Hollywood’s Leading Ladies is rediscovering the moment you fell in love with an actress via the silver screen. Sometimes its not the first time you meet but often when they shine in a film that brings out their amazing talent. But then again it can be love at first sight as was the case with Elisabeth Shue. I first laid eyes on Shue in “The Karate Kid” way back in 1984. She played Ali Mills the love interest of little Ralph Macchio and just about the hottest teen heartthrob there was. Shue acquitted herself admirably as the girlfriend and love interest, something she would do again in “Back to the Future, Part II” (1989). For Hollywood, Elisabeth seemed just a pretty-face but that was about to change, radically.
Like so many actresses, Elisabeth was looking for a meaty role to break out of the cycle of girlfriend roles she was being offered again and again. wholesome, blonde and athletic she exudes the girl-next-door quality that made her initial break into features a no-brainer. But Shue knew she was capable of so much more and stuck to her guns to find a role that would highlight a darker side. And what better role against type for a wholesome, blonde and athletic girlfriend than a dark, disillusioned call girl based in Sin City.
Sera in “Leaving Las Vegas” (1995) was a tour-de-force performance for the golden actress. She falls hopelessly in love with Nick Cage’s depraved alcoholic screenwriter, on a weekend bender bent for oblivion. Shue received her only oscar-nomination for best actress and she should have won. The unflinching honesty of her damaged hooker looking for real love is a heartfelt and incredibly deeply personal performance that forever changed the way Hollywood would look at the actress. I couldn’t get over how Shue, the golden girl, became the worldly woman, trapped by circumstances barely touched on in the film’s backstory yet always apparent just behind her beautiful, slate-blue eyes.
The seasoned actress (she’d been acting for thirteen years by then) suddenly became Tinseltown’s It-Girl. But the film roles she received were almost always sub-par compared to her acting chops. “The Trigger Effect” (1996) was a dud as was “Hollow Man” (2000) a redux of the Invisible Man with Kevin Bacon going berserk and terrorizing his former flame. The best part about the movie was Elisabeth beating the hell out of a crazed bacon (or, his invisible alterego). Unfortunately, Shue never again received a role that would highlight her complex and multi-faceted talents. The vagaries of Hollywood casting never again aligned with this movie star’s unusual talent, a tragedy that befalls so many actresses in the fickle industry of show business.
But the great part about Elizabeth, other than the natural beauty and inner strength, is that she never gives up. And so, we can celebrate her 31 year career in film and television. An amazing canon of work in any business and one that we can revisit again and again. I’m so happy that she has her “Leaving Las Vegas” along with “The Karate Kid” and “Back to the Future, Part II and III” because we might never have realized this golden goddess of the silver screen is more than just a pretty, photogenic face. She is a serious actress who constantly works at her craft. That’s a rare thing in Hollywood, to say the least!
Keep on smiling, Shue!