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The Jolie Conundrum: Talented or Just Ridiculously Hot?

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Jul 22, 2010 | 5:09am EDT

Angelina Jolie in SaltWe are mere inches away from the release of Salt, starring Angelina Jolie as a female spy. Salt is framed for a crime she didn’t commit and goes all one-woman-A-Team on her former bosses. The quality of the film itself may still be very much in question, but I’ll be damned if Angelina doesn’t look great in the trailer. Truth be told, you’d be hard-pressed to find a trailer in which she doesn’t look great. While I pondered that exact superficial nugget, a thunderclap of a thought struck me: The question of Jolie’s beauty is hardly debatable, but is she a talented actress? We’re talking about the top female box office draw in Hollywood, but is it really her competency in the craft of acting that provides for that distinction, or the fact that we can’t stop staring at her undisputed loveliness?

The frustrating part of this is that I cannot answer that question. For all my (admittedly limited) fluency in critical analysis, I am stymied. I honestly don’t know if I think Jolie has real chops as an actress or if her eyes manage to trap me in some kind of sex trance that clouds my objective judgment. I will therefore open it up to the room, hoping to collect a scientifically valid amount of data from our readership to arrive at some sort of conclusion. Let’s consider the following…

Is Screen Presence Tantamount to Talent?

I think about a movie like Mr. & Mrs. Smith and all the scenes wherein the director of photography lovingly photographs her come-hither gaze or her impressive silhouette. The word captivating seems to suit Jolie in that regard, but does that a solid performance make? She is able to be emotively expressive with her face, but there are some line deliveries in that film that fall so painfully flat that they call into question whether she had ever acted before. So while the camera loves her and she commands your attention, don’t we require more of our actresses? It is that she actually does deliver the goods but her talent is subsumed by her gorgeousness? Again, I have talked myself into a circle.

The Animation Argument

If the question really does boil down to beauty or talent, then it would make sense to decide it in the realm of animated films. If you can’t see the performer, then if nothing else we can judge their voice acting solely on talent right? It’s not the greatest of arguments but it serves as one piece of evidence. Unfortunately Jolie has done two: Shark Tale (terrible) and Kung Fu Panda (exceptional!). I’m starting to think I just can’t win.

The Jolie Type

I think one of the biggest dangers for any actor who reaches the level of celebrity as has Angelina is that your movie star persona begins to undermine your versatility. After a while, she lost the ability to inhabit characters and Angelina Jolie in Wantedsimply occupied the screen as Angelina Jolie. She developed a type that was the exact same exotic, mysterious sexpot that adorned the covers of countless celebrity magazines. I think Wanted is the best (or worst) example of this as her character work consists of being Angelina Jolie with a gun or Angelina Jolie in a slow-mo, vaguely sexual action pose. Her ability to play normal, everyday women has been forever obliterated by this 'Jolie Type'. But then again, this problem is not specific to Jolie but rather a byproduct of a sexist studio system. Again I find myself in a no-decision situation.

Her Critically Acclaimed Roles

In a career that boasts as many features as hers, Angelina has had trouble consistently attracting critical acclaim for her performances. Offhand I can think of four: Gia, Girl, Interrupted, A Mighty Heart, and Changeling. She won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for Gia, an Oscar for Girl, Interrupted, and was most recently nominated for another Oscar for Changeling. While on the surface this seems like a smoking gun, how many times have the political inequities of the Academy Awards been argued? How many times have we debated not only the deservingness of the winners of Oscars/Emmys/etc but their status as nominees as well? I loved her in Girl, Interrupted but thought she was wooden and generic in Changeling. I’m also not a big proponent of the number of statuettes an artist amasses as the litmus test for their worth. Again, I am perplexed.

The Conclusion?

I think the question of whether an ungodly attractive performer is a superstar based on their appearance or their talent is ageless; the performers however are not. Talent is timeless while beauty has a shelf life. I’m starting to wonder if I won’t have to settle this, at least personally, once Jolie is in her 70’s and playing sweet, retired assassins or matronly former strippers.

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