Pop Stars And Movie Buzz

Justin, Janet and Christina Prove Pop Stars Can Act With Buzzed-About Films
By John Mitchell Posted Sep 16th 2010 04:00PM

Justin Timberlake: Star of one of the best movies of the year. If those words don’t exactly roll off the tongue, try these on for size: Janet Jackson, Oscar contender.

Yes, this fall, the worlds of film and music will collide head on in a very big way, with Janet and Justin leading the charge, and so far the buzz is … well, overwhelmingly positive.

Pop stars have a long and complicated relationship with the big screen, and audiences and the media alike are always ready to hop on the schadenfreude bandwagon whenever a singer attempts to crossover ”“ despite a mountain of evidence suggesting that, for the most part, they usually pull it off just fine. We tend to recall cinematic tragedies like ‘Glitter’ and ‘Crossroads,’ before we remember that Cher won an Oscar and Mark Wahlberg’s films have grossed over $1.3 billion domestically.

Timberlake has already starred in his share of mediocre fare. From ‘Alpha Dog’ and ‘Black Snake Moan‘ to ‘Southland Tales’ and ‘The Love Guru,’ Timberlake hasn’t yet been able to translate his charismatic (and Emmy-winning) turns as a host on ‘Saturday Night Live’ into a credible film career. But early word is that ‘The Social Network’ is a “game changer” for the six-time Grammy winner.

Early reviews for the film, which opens Oct. 1, have already begun popping up online, and most have had nothing but high praise for the ‘Sexyback’ singer. CNET says he’s “surprisingly good,” while PopEater’s own Jett Wells wondered aloud if Timberlake could end up with a surprise Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his turn as Napster co-founder Sean Parker.

Awards Daily is calling ‘Network’ director David Fincher’s (‘Fight Club,’ ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button‘) best film: “Fincher’s coldness and [screenwriter Aaron] Sorkin’s passion are combustible … For parts of this thing, you might feel like you can’t breathe. It is a heavy metal song. It is an aria. It is two hour drum solo. And it doesn’t let up.”

Cinematical is getting in on the action too, calling Sorkin’s script “potentially Oscar-worthy” and saying that in an awards season packed with “bizarre psychological head-trips and horrific, stomach-churning set pieces, ‘The Social Network’ may creep to the top of the pack as a certifiable fan favorite.”

Timberlake already has two other high-profile film projects in the can; he’s filmed the Jake Kasdan-directed ‘Bad Teacher’ with real-life ex-girlfriend Cameron Diaz, and is presently hard at work on the star-studded romantic comedy ‘Friends with Benefits.’ So, he’s obviously confident enough in ‘Network’ that he’s set it up as a launching pad to make a play at a full-blown film career. And it looks like he may just pull it off like another on-time pop heartthrob: Mark Wahlberg.

It only took one good role to transform Wahlberg from a middlebrow rapper (‘Good Vibrations’) and underwear model into a major movie star. Since breaking out in 1997’s ‘Boogie Nights,’ Wahlberg has starred in one box office hit after another ”“ ‘The Perfect Storm,’ ‘Planet of the Apes,’ ‘The Italian Job’ and most recently ‘The Other Guys’ ”“ and earned raves from critics for his turns in ‘Three Kings,’ ‘I Heart Huckabees‘ and ‘The Departed’ (for which he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination). He is also an executive producer on HBO’s hit ‘Entourage’ ”“ the show’s premise is loosely based on Wahlberg’s own experiences as an up-and-coming actor ”“ and is again generating awards buzz for his turn as boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward opposite Christian Bale and Amy Adams in director David O. Russell’s ‘The Fighter.’

Jackson has been flirting with film stardom for a while now, but has had more success at the box office than with critics. After a promising debut in ‘Boyz n the Hood’ director John Singleton’s 1993 film ‘Poetic Justice,’ she disappeared from the big screen until 2000, when she appeared opposite Eddie Murphy in the hit sequel to ‘The Nutty Professor.’ She’s since formed a strong professional relationship with Tyler Perry, starring in two hits for the director, whose eight films have grossed over $431 million.

Both Perry and Jackson are pushing into new territory with the upcoming drama ‘For Colored Girls,’ an adaptation of the acclaimed play. If the film stays true to its source material, Jackson and her co-stars (among them, Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg and Tony winner Phylicia Rashad) will be dealing with some pretty heavy stuff onscreen, including rape, abortion, love and abandonment. Whether Jackson can hold her own opposite a bevy of acting heavyweights remains to be seen, but she’s certainly a scene stealer in the film’s just-released trailer.

A common complaint when pop stars try to translate their chart success into movie stardom is that audiences find it difficult to separate the star’s larger-than-life persona from the character they’re trying to play. Madonna is the classic example of this, as she’s only ever been good when she’s playing some version of herself, be it as a Lower East Side club kid in ‘Desperately Seeking Susan‘ or a sexed-up Italian girl in ‘A League of Their Own.’ Ditto Whitney Houston, who pulled in major box office playing a pop star in ‘The Bodyguard’ but who was less believable as ‘The Preacher’s Wife.’

Simply put, for Jackson to really cross over, she’s going to have to be really good. Cher, most famously, revamped her entire career after a string of critically-acclaimed performances. Like Jackson is today, Cher was at a career crossroads in the early 1980s. Her singles and albums weren’t selling like they used to, and while she was committed to starting a film career, she struggled to land credible roles because directors doubted the flamboyant star’s ability to effectively portray anyone other than herself.

She proved them wrong in a big way, of course, earning an Oscar nomination for one of her first films, ‘Silkwood,’ and starring in a pair of high-profile hits, ‘Mask’ and ‘The Witches of Eastwick.’ She won the Oscar in 1987 for her turn in Norman Jewison’s (‘In the Heat of the Night,’ ‘The Hurricane’) ‘Moonstruck,’ and went on to star in ‘Mermaids’ and HBO’s Emmy-nominated ‘If These Walls Could Talk.’

Incidentally, Cher is looking to make a big screen comeback this fall with the musical ‘Burlesque,’ and she’s bringing another pop star along for the ride ”“ Christina Aguilera. ‘Burlesque’ marks Aguilera’s film debut, and she’s keeping good onscreen company; in addition to Cher, the film co-stars Eric Dane, Kristen Bell and theater vets Stanley Tucci (a recent Oscar nominee for ‘The Lovely Bones‘) and Alan Cumming.

If Timberlake, Jackson and Aguilera can deliver both good reviews and box office returns, they’ll join a surprisingly-long list of music-to-movie success stories that extends well beyond Cher and Wahlberg.

In the 1980s, Dolly Parton surprised everyone with earthy, relatable performances in ‘9 to 5’ and ‘Steel Magnolias,’ and Bette Midler earned an Oscar nod (for ‘The Rose’) and starred in a string of box office successes, including ‘Down and Out in Beverly Hills,’ ‘Ruthless People,’ ‘Big Business’ and ‘Beaches.’

More recently, music megastar Beyonce has had some luck on the big screen. As an actress, she earned strong reviews for ‘Cadillac Records’ as well as Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominations for her turn in ‘Dreamgirls.’ And she’s proven herself a box office draw in both comedy (‘Austin Powers in Goldmember,’ ‘The Pink Panther’) and thrillers (‘Obsessed’).

Of course, a major fringe benefit of being a multi-hyphenate is that you sometimes get to write and produce tracks for your film’s soundtrack. Seven of Madonna’s record 37 top ten hits are songs from films she’s starred in, and two others ”“ ‘Sooner or Later’ from ‘Dick Tracy’ and ‘You Must Love Me’ from ‘Evita’ ”“ went on to win Oscars for Best Original Song. Jackson, Parton, Bjork and Barbara Streisand have all scored best song Oscar nominations for films they’ve appeared in.

Now, all that’s left is for Justin, Janet and Christina to actually live up to the hype and deliver stellar performances in their respective films. We have faith in these hard-working superstars. Do you? Let us know in the comments

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