I’m ashamed to admit it, but I recently watched the Lifetime “Pregnancy Pact” movie. I’m not going to try to pin the blame on anyone else (though I should probably blame our commenter Kerry, who covered the real story extensively at bostonist); I watched the movie because I wanted to see what happened to Thora Birch.

If you asked me years ago, I would have bet that Thora Birch would have become a major actress. There’s nothing delicate about her performance in “American Beauty,” a role that doesn’t require her to leave the archetype of sallow, disaffected teen, but her performance in “Ghost World,” showed an actress of real complexity. She easily could have fallen into the trap of reiterating her character from “American Beauty,” but instead she added nuance and charm to Enid. You can see it in her mannerisms; she carries Enid with what can only be described as an awkward strength. It’s a very physical performance, even as it’s mostly static; Enid is often still or stilted, turning the frame into a comic book panel.

But then she disappeared into a glut of Lifetime and low-rent horror movies (these are arguably the same thing). And when Ellen Page burst on the scene, Thora Birch became the former Ellen Page.

So too, it seems, did Claire Danes. In a profile this weekend, the New York Times referred to Danes as “the Ellen Page of the 90s” given her clear on-screen intelligence. This intelligence became blunted by a series of roles that saw her as nothing more than love interest.

“For quite a while I was bemoaning the fact that I kept playing people who fell in love,” Ms. Danes said. “That was their primary job and experience, to become gaga over a man. It was just starting to feel routine.”

The Times goes on to mention “Shopgirl,” where it’s more correct to say that she is the object of affection rather than the emotional one. Still, the point is taken: in “Shopgirl,” our proto-Ellen Page hardly had to stretch herself.

Are there only two emotions for women on screen: to be scared, and to be in love? Read the rest of this entry »