Spring's not typically the time of year most Oscar fare hits theaters, so the dramas that do get released during April and May tend to stand out. Last year, for instance, 42 made waves despite mixed reviews, and the year before, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel drew in millions to become one of the highest-grossing films of 2013. Studios usually put major effort into marketing these movies, because they know that even if they play too early for the Oscars, they still have a chance of standing out against the early-summer blockbusters and little-seen indies that generally take over the April/May season. So when I went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel last week and saw a preview for a movie called The Railway Man, I was confused. The film, it seemed, is a biographical drama, revolves around World War II, and stars Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth; in other words, it's exactly the kind of spring film we normally hear all about. Before that moment, though, I hadn't even known The Railway Man existed, and I expect neither had most others. But why not?
By all accounts, The Railway Man is not a bad movie. On Rotten Tomatoes, it's averaging a decent 73%, with critics complimenting Firth's performance and the film's moving storyline. The trailer I saw definitely piqued my interest, and, with a few exceptions, movies backed by Weinstein Company tend to be worth seeing. Despite all this, however, The Railway Man has barely gotten any attention from the media, and the few notices it has gotten have made more mention of its actors' personal lives or upcoming projects than the actual film. As for why this is, I have a theory: we forgot Nicole Kidman is a movie star.
Although Kidman is one of the most well-known actresses in Hollywood, her fame, in recent years, has revolved more around her marriage and her endorsements rather than her films. That's not to say she hasn't done work; since 2009, Kidman has acted in ten films and one TV movie, including four projects planned for release this year. One of them, 2010's fantastic Rabbit Hole, even earned her an Oscar nomination. Despite this, however, only one of those films, the Adam Sandler-Jennifer Aniston rom-com Just Go With It, could be considered a box office success. Several of the others received critical acclaim, but hardly any of them made an impression on audiences past Toronto and Sundance. Last year's Grace of Monaco, an assumed Oscar bait starring Kidman as Grace Kelly, was delayed month after month until it got moved from the schedule completely, and now is expected to come out sometime this year. In January, it was announced that Grace would play at Cannes this May, but out of competition.
For plenty of actors, that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Being an "indie star" can be great for a career provided enough roles are available, and an Oscar nomination certainly doesn't hurt. Yet for Kidman, an actress whose biggest films were all produced by major studios, being relegated to the star of box office-bombing, critically-loved darlings is a substantial step down. Even though the films may be good, their tiny audiences pose a threat to Kidman's career. Thanks to her celebrity husband and those gorgeous Jimmy Choo ads, she may not lose her celebrity anytime soon, but her cred as an A-list actress is a different story.
Kidman is immensely talented, and her films, by and large, are worth seeing. She needs, however, to find a movie that reminds audiences that she's a movie star; Grace of Monaco maybe once the potential to do that, but the release-date drama doesn't bode well for the quality of the film. As for The Railway Man, critics have praised Kidman's performance, but lament her character's lack of backstory and screen time. The other films of hers listed as coming out this year aren't any more promising. Paddington looks cute, but is more of a children's movie than a platform for acting, and Before I Go to Sleep, another film with Colin Firth, seems to be following the Grace of Monaco path of no release date in sight. All in all, 2014 isn't going to be the year Kidman re-becomes a movie star.
Next year, though, it could happen. There's Queen of the Desert, a biographical drama co-starring James Franco; Strangerland, a thriller with Joseph Fiennes; and, most notably, The Family Fang, a family drama directed by and co-starring Jason Bateman. The first two movies look interesting, but they're both indies that'll likely suffer from the no-marketing, little-seen curse that's plagued most of Kidman's films. The Family Fang is an indie, too, but with Bateman's involvement, it has serious potential to move into the mainstream.
Hopefully, it will. Kidman might be happy making a career in small films, but she deserves a return to movie stardom. She already has the talent and the celebrity; all she needs is a push from her fans, and, for once, some half-decent marketing by the studios who make her movies.
Images: The Weinstein Company