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July 11, 2012


Janis Joplin biopic surges boozily back to life

Janis Joplin and Nina Arianda

There have been Janis Joplin biopics in development for the last 12 or 20 years, with all kinds of problems related to rights to songs and biographies preventing such a movie from actually getting made. There's also been the problem of finding an actress to play Janis. If you're going to create a credible movie version of Janis Joplin, you've got to find someone who can sing, has magnetic charisma and bold sexual swagger, combined with agonizing vulnerability and self-doubt. (See the great Vanity Fair feature on Janis and the early San Francisco hippie scene.)

And, most of all, she can't be pretty in a conventional Hollywood kind of way. Clearly, this last point has been the toughest, stickiest point for producers. This isn't the 70's, when Sissy Spacek could pull off Coal Miner's Daughter, win an Oscar, and bring in loads of money at the box office. Now if you need an actress to play a real-life person who wasn't beautiful, you cast Charlize Theron or Nicole Kidman, and if you need someone to play the dorky, not-pretty girl on TV, you choose Lea Michele or Zooey Deschanel.

Deschanel was one of the many actresses briefly attached to a Janis Joplin movie over the years. Here are some others:

Britney Spears
Scarlett Johansson
Lindsay Lohan (in retrospect, maybe a smart choice?)
Renee Zellweger (in a rival project that was going to be called Piece of My Heart)
Lili Taylor
Brittany Murphy

The wrongest candidate to date: Amy Adams.

And maybe the best candidate to date: Pink. Pink had the flamboyant grit, gutsy voice, and appropriate unattractiveness to be a compelling Janis, but dropped out in 2006 when the project floundered. Clearly, casting for this movie has always been more about popularity than getting the right person for the role. Pink said at the time, "They're trying to turn it into some circus pop contest - who's the 'it' girl who wants to play Janis."

Today's it girl is apparently Nina Arianda (above), who in yet another iteration of this tired old story, got cast in a movie called Joplin. BUT: this one sounds good. It has a producer, a budget, and even a director--Sean Durkin, who did last year's Martha Marcy May Marlene--and might actually get made.

Arianda has only done a few movies (a small role in Midnight in Paris as Michael Sheen's wife, and a better role in Higher Ground as Vera Farmiga's drug dealing sister) but her real claim to fame is her freaking super-humanly amazingly sexy and incredible performance in Venus in Fur, which was on Broadway until last month. In this play, she goes from desperate to absurd to funny to seductive to ferociously powerful to actual human embodiment of a Greek god in 90 minutes.

She's really unlike any actor I've ever seen on stage, and she is gonna play the shit out of Janis Joplin. But can she sing? Of course she can! She can do anything! The New Yorker says she grew up singing both the male and female arias in Rigoletto, and it's just a tiny baby step from opera to ballsy Texan Southern Comfort-soaked blues, so, there you go.

Just one thing: couldn't we get a better title than Joplin for this movie? Something like, say, "Sing Them Blues, White Girl: The Jackie Jormp-Jomp Story"?

categories: Celebrities, Movies, Theater
posted by amy at 10:48 AM | #

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I'd see a movie with Pink; I love her! Hey,context is everything, and I saw a Pink video while at the Osaka Hard Rock Cafe. I'd been in Japan, surrounded by awful twee pop music sung by squeaky-voiced Japanese girls for a few years at that point, and Pink just seemed so bad-ass in comparison (I think it was her first hit). Cindy liked her too, after seeing the video, so we used to listen to her in the car all the time.

But Janis Joplin? Meh.

Posted by: Tim at July 14, 2012 5:38 AM

Yeah, Pink really had it going on for a while there. I liked her punked-out, tough style in her early days, too.

I don't listen to Janis, either, but as a subject of a movie I think she would be fascinating--she had more than her share of style, guts, and charisma, even if her brand of singing isn't your thing.

Posted by: amy at July 18, 2012 1:08 PM

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