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Zeta and the cruelty of the critics

Oct 25 2003

Catherine Zeta Jones is either the epitome of style and 21st Century elegance or she is the worst type of Hollywood gloss, all tan and heavy make-up, according to her critics. The Welsh actress has not only found praise and critical acclaim for her acting this week, it seems her renowned beauty is being called into question by a lot of men. After this week the mother-of-two and Oscar winner might wish the reviews were consigned to the bin. Claire Hill sifts through the barrage of reviews for her latest film, Intolerable Cruelty, to try to find some gleaming nugget of praise

Claire Hill, The Western Mail


BY all standards of stardom Catherine Zeta Jones should have had a really good year. She has a sexy new look, is happily married and with the birth of her second child is creating an idyllic family life. She was awarded the pinnacle of an actor's career - albeit a supporting one - with an Oscar for her performance in Chicago.

Despite all this she just cannot seem to keep the London newspapers happy.

The backlash from her infamous Hello! court case was immense and many column inches were filled with comments about supposed money-grabbing tendencies.

The current obsession with attacking the Chicago actress is hijacking the publicity of her new film, with the papers being intolerably cruel to her.

George Clooney might have described her as "stunning", and said "she lights up a room" while director-scriptwriting brothers Ethan and Joel Coen also levelled praised at her.

But if some critics are to be believed she appears little more than a drag queen who has been hit with the perma tan, rather than the flawless beauty from Darling Buds of May.

Criticism of Zeta Jones's looks generally comes from women's magazines and female journalists who have commented on her often mumsy and staid appearance, but it is very rare that she garners criticism from men.

However, Daily Mail film critic Christopher Tookey almost spits his disdain of the actress onto the page.

"Zeta Jones, though stunning and sexy in an old-fashioned Ava Gardner way, is starting to look too hard and glossy for her own good,'' he writes. She "was much more fanciable in The Darling Buds of May, when she had youth on her side. Increasingly, she resembles a drag queen's version of glamour."

Tookey puts the boot in with the jibe that she is turning orange with age and her face is starting to resemble "a triumph of the mortician's art".

The only comments about her acting are about her limited facial expressions which "make Roger Moore's raised eyebrow and Joan Collins's pout look like comedic subtlety".

These comments are a far cry from the Mask of Zorro days when she was the darling of the critics who thought her beauty unparalleled.

"An instant star, the new Rita Hayworth," hailed one. "The [Zorro] movie hits a higher plateau the moment she enters the screen. Give her a Z for Zowie," gushed another.

The reviews have changed dramatically with the Coen brothers' updated version of the screwball comedies of the past These classic films such as Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday and It Happened One Night brought names such as Cary Grant, Spencer Tracey, Katherine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck to the fore.

The comedies played on the role reversal of the sexes with a hard-headed women, driven by career and money and a soft-hearted man ready to be put upon. That was the typical premise - the liberated women would liberate the stuffy man then fall in love.

While the Coen brothers' twist on the genre will no doubt please some fans, many critics deride what they see as a departure from their usual offbeat fare.

Constructive criticism of the film is lumbering under a backlash against Zeta Jones - while the main star George Clooney can seem to do no wrong.

Though the film does play heavily on the fact that her character Marilyn Rexroth is breathtakingly beautiful, there seems to be an unhealthy chunk of sexism in the reviews of the film.

Clooney is also supposed to be an immensely attractive man, the type who can turn women's heads when he breezes into a room. His only quibble is his teeth, with which he is obsessed.

But for a pair who are both supposed to be gorgeous and at the height of sex appeal, it is just Zeta Jones whose looks draw harsh comment.

The film might be a battle of the sexes, with Jones and Clooney on equal footing. However, in the real world, it seems the male actor is winning the race for praise.

The Mirror skirts the issue of Zeta Jones's looks. Instead it gives digs about a humour bypass which translates as "she was severely out-acted".

According to Anthony Quinn of The Independent, Clooney and Zeta are "lent the sheen of demigods".

However, Quinn goes on to say, "Zeta Jones has never looked more alluring, though she's hardly a comedienne, and the accent keeps slipping (you can still hear Swansea in the way she says 'slandered')."

This is possibly the problem. Zeta Jones has never had to prove herself with a comedy, and the style is possibly the most difficult to master.

It requires the ability to banter, to be witty, to be a strong woman with shades of weakness, comic timing and also the idea of always being that bit more smart and a step ahead.

But it seems it's not just Zeta Jones who falls short of the high standards set by those critics.

Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor's foray into the comedy of the '50s in Down With Love did not woo affection from the critics either.

They imitated the Rock Hudson/Doris Day skits which were a step on from the pre-war era of innocent men and strong women. By that time Rock was always a cad trying to trick a self-righteous and prudish Day.

The films that the Coens base their homage on have a much baser language and innuendo.

Some film reviewers have reserved a modicum of praise for the acting skills of the Swansea-born star.

The Channel 4 website commented, "Zeta-Jones gets the balance right - neither too bitchy nor too soft." The BBC website likens her to a "slow-burning flame alongside Clooney's storming performance".

In their opinion she does not match the whiplash tongue of Katherine Hepburn - but offers a "neat counterbalance".

Empire magazine is also complimentary about the film as a whole and restricts its comments to the 34-year-old's acting skills, "Zeta-Jones shines in a tailor-made role. Catherine does what she does best (however little that is) in an immediate story about avarice, divorce and love, in that order."

Chris Hewitt, deputy news editor of Empire, believes the recent tirades against her have been unfair.

"She does nothing wrong in the movie. I think the comments have not been fair as it is not really her movie and she is not really in it that much.

"But she is good in it, not bad."

This week's reviews of the film have not just focused on Intolerable Cruelty but also bring Zeta Jones's persona into the equation.

"They are reviewing a person and not a movie," says Hewitt, who also dismisses the "drag queen" remarks.

"I think she looks beautiful in the movie, absolutely stunning. She is meant to be the ultimate object of desire."

However, he believes the current Press surrounding the award-winning actress should abate in the near future.

"It is just the old British thing of building someone up then knocking them down. I think this will all stop in about a year but for now, for whatever reason, the Press seems to have fallen out with her."

Critics have had their say, but with the release of the film it is the viewing public who will ultimately judge.

It is a hard job to match such screen legends as Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Arthur, Carole Lombard and Katherine Hepburn, but it seems that Zeta Jones is giving it a good go.

Perhaps the last word should be a more complimentary one.

The Western Mail film critic Gary Slaymaker said, "Our Cath just oozes quality from start to finish."


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