As an older actress, you're allowed to be a human being. As a young actress, you're the girlfriend or the friend of the guy or the one who has the good figure.
- Jennifer Connelly
Anybody wanna waste some time?
- Marion Silver, Requiem for a Dream
b: December 12, 1970
Jennifer Connelly is one of the great actresses of the modern era, turning in strong performances in escapist fantasy like Labyrinth and The Rocketeer, serious dramas like A Beautiful Mind and Higher Learning, and nuanced artistic films like Requiem For A Dream and Inventing the Abbotts.
Jennifer Connelly was born on December 12, 1970 in Catskill Mountains, New York, the child of Gerald Connelly, a clothier, and Eileen Connelly, an antiques dealer. Jennifer's early life was spent in Woodstock, New York, but at the age of four, her family moved to Brooklyn Heights, New York.
Jennifer attended Saint Ann's School in her early years, blessed with the opportunity to attend a top-notch private school. Along with this opportunity were her stunning good looks, apparent even as a child. At the age of ten, she was encouraged by a friend of the family to get into child modeling, so her family took her to the Ford Agency and shortly thereafter Jennifer began to appear in a number of television and print advertisements.
The opportunities presented to her as a model opened the door for her to be involved in acting. In 1983, she appeared in the Duran Duran music video Union of the Snake, in which she played a member of a cult of children. This experience, along with appearances in television advertisements, indicated to Jennifer that acting was something that she wanted to be involved in, and a great opportunity presented itself almost immediately.
Sergio Leone was in the process of casting for the film Once Upon A Time In America when he stumbled across one of Jennifer's television ads. Noting that she looked like a young Elizabeth McGovern, Leone quickly hired her for the role of young Deborah, playing a younger version of McGovern's character. While on the set, she met Dario Argento, a reknowned horror director, and he offered her a significant role in Phenomena (released in the United States as Creepers). Soon after this appearance, she landed her breakout role in Labyrinth, starring opposite David Bowie in what is now considered to be a fantasy classic. She played a girl frustrated with having to babysit her brother and in doing so wishes that "goblins" would take him away, and they oblige her.
After Labyrinth, she appeared in several independent films and then took a break from acting at the end of the 1980s to re-evaluate her desire to be an actress as she progressed from a child into an adult. She attended Yale University and, later, Stanford University, training in their drama programs; eventually, she decided to resume her acting career. In the interim, she had blossomed from the child of Labyrinth into a stunning young woman, so her return to the screen in 1990's The Hot Spot earned her a great deal of press, particularly due to the fact that she had a lengthy sex scene in the film.
Throughout the 1990s, she appeared in a number of noted films, including The Rocketeer, Higher Learning, and Dark City, but her true dramatic breakout came in 2000 with the release of Requiem For A Dream. In it, she played a drug-addicted young woman struggling with a life out of control; the artistic film earned her critical acclaim and several award nominations. This film propelled her onto the Hollywood A-List, and she's capitalized on the opportunity by starring in A Beautiful Mind, The Hulk, and House of Sand and Fog.
Jennifer has two children and is currently married to her A Beautiful Mind costar Paul Bettany.
Once Upon A Time In America (1984)
Jennifer's film debut as young Deborah set a precedent for the types of roles she would have in later films in her career. She appears onscreen for about three minutes, during which she (as a twelve year old, remember) becomes the object of lust for a made-up-to-look-young Robert DeNiro, who would go on to marry an older version of the character. Her appearance is brief, but she carries her small part in this enormous and overly-long film well.
Creepers / Phenomena (1985)
Seven Minutes in Heaven
This film is Jennifer's first significant role, in which she plays Jennifer Corvino, a girl who can communicate with insects and uses this ability to help her and a local entomologist solve crimes. The film itself is better than the brief summary, but it's not exactly a stellar piece, either; most of the film is carried by the dramatic stylization of Dario Argento's direction. As with the rest of Jennifer's early roles, she's adequate but not exceptional in the role.
This is the first role that shows off Jennifer's acting chops. In the role of Natalie, Jennifer is the centerpiece in a tangled web of teen romances, and her acting ability carries the film from being a mediocre teen flick to a film with a number of poignant moments.
Most film watchers first became familiar with Jennifer through this movie, where she played the central character, Sarah. This movie is something of a fantasy classic for a reason; it plays like a perverted Alice in Wonderland
with a mad-as-a-hatter David Bowie
providing the villian and the music
. It is a great romp, and Jennifer imbues Sarah with the appropriate emotional tones.
This is an odd romantic film in which Jennifer plays Gabriella D'Arc, the product of an exceedingly strange family. Most of the movie revolves around Gabriella's struggle with her love for Michael, from whom she is trying to hide the many eccentricities of her family. The movie ends predictably, and this isn't one of her stronger roles, but it's still worth watching.
This film features the worst acting of Jennifer's career; she looks as though she'd rather be doing anything else than be in this movie. She plays the dual roles of Claire Hamilton and Natalie Horvath; Claire is a ballerina and Natalie is apparently her stalker. The plot is rather boring and predictable, and added to this is a mail-it-in performance by Jennifer. After this movie, she took a two and a half year break from films to decide if her heart was still into acting; it was probably a good choice.
The Hot Spot (1990)
This film represents Jennifer's return to the big screen. It's something of an odd noir movie in which Jennifer plays Gloria Harper, a young southern girl who falls in love with a new man in town. Unfortunately, this man turns out to be a bank robber; incidentally, Don Johnson turns in some of the best acting of his career in the role. Another noteworthy aspect: an almost NC-17-level sex scene in which Jennifer shows off her stunning body with an extended full frontal nudity shot.
Career Opportunities (1991)
The plot of this film is unbelievable, having enough plot holes to make a piece of Swiss cheese jealous, but Jennifer's portrayal of Josie McClellan carries the film. She plays the daughter of a rich businessman without any direction in her life until she's locked in a Target dressing room all night. She eventually wanders around the store and meets up with the night sanitation engineer and the two of them... fall in love?!
The Rocketeer (1991)
This is one of my "guilty pleasure" films, mostly due to the heavy retro feel and the over-the-top historical references (particularly everything involving Howard Hughes). Jennifer plays Jenny Blake, the "damsel in distress" girlfriend of Cliff Secord, a pilot who happens to find a rocket-powered backpack that enables him to fly through the air... like a rocket! The film is pretty lighthearted and Jennifer plays a pretty generic damsel in distress, but it's still a lot of fun.
Of Love and Shadows (1994)
This is a very good film, if for nothing else than the fact that it is a well-constructed historical romance. Jennifer plays Irene, a magazine editor living under the Pinochet regime in Chile (see CIA, Allende, and Pinochet for a lot of historical background). Antonio Banderas plays her romantic opposite, Francisco, who is a photographer who sympathizes with the underground resistance against Pinochet. The film is well-acted with a good historical background and is just on the verge of being one of the essential films starring Connelly.
Higher Learning (1995)
Jennifer plays Taryn, a white woman attending Columbus University, which is apparently some sort of ethnic and sexual melting pot. Unfortunately, this film falls flat on its face; as it tries to show a wide diversity of issues on a campus, it fails to portray anything with depth and ends up reinforcing the stereotypes that the movie seems to try to fight. Taryn is, of course, "the young white woman using this chance to experiment," but she's so buried under fifty eight unfulfilled storylines that she's not given any chance to shine.
Mulholland Falls (1996)
Connelly has only a brief but pivotal role in this one, playing Allison Pond, a young woman who is murdered at the start of the movie. The rest of the movie deals with the resulting chaos around her death, including the destruction of the lives of several government employees. The movie tries hard to evoke a 1940s feel, but every scene seems to be drowning in cigarette smoke and "hardboiled irony" and before long, you realize the movie is failing even worse than The Rocketeer at capturing the mood of the time.
Far Harbor (1996)
This is a rather slow-moving film about seven people who spend a weekend together in Long Island in which the weekend becomes a microcosm of their lives. Jennifer is part of an ensemble cast, playing Ellie, but she seems very stilted in the whole film, which comes off as a two hour episode of Friends without the humor.
Inventing the Abbotts (1997)
Thankfully, Jennifer follows some mediocre films with one of her best. She plays Eleanor Abbott, the middle of three sisters of one of the main families of the "aristocracy" in a small southern town. The film is set in the 1950s and features the supposed rich girls finding love and lust with lower class men; think Common People: The Film. The film really succeeds when it shows the inherent cultural conflict between the women and who they choose to date, and all of the performances are strong; unfortunately, often the scenes dissolve into real stereotypes.
Dark City (1998)
This is a science fiction masterpiece, one that The Matrix stole from wholeheartedly. Jennifer plays Emma Murdoch, the wife of the central character John Murdoch, who becomes aware that the constantly-dark city that he lives in is actually a massive facade perpetuated by an alien race. Many of the ideas for this film were injected wholesale into the later film The Matrix, but this film exceeds it, with a deeper plot and more engaging performances all around.
Waking the Dead (2000)
Continuing her run of strong movies and performances, here Jennifer plays Sarah Williams, the dead ex-girlfriend of Fielding Pierce, a congressional candidate (played strongly by Billy Crudup). Although this movie seems at first glance to be a remake of Ghost, the movie delves much deeper into the issue - there's more here than just unrequited love. Interestingly, some aspects of the film harken back to Of Love And Shadows, as again Connelly plays an anti-Pinochet rebel.
Requiem For A Dream (2000)
This was Connelly's breakout role and is one of the great films of the modern era. Connelly plays Marion Silver, one of a group of four people whose lives are destroyed in various ways by drug addiction. Connelly is very strong in this movie, but the direction of Darren Aronofsky and the on-another-level acting of Ellen Burstyn really make this film one of a handful of movies that everyone must see. Beware that this film is very intense, both from a character and plot perspective and from an artistic perspective.
In this depiction of the life of Jackson Pollock, Jennifer plays Ruth Kligman, Pollock's mistress who is involved in some bitter conflicts with Lee Krasner (Pollock's longtime partner) near the end of Pollock's life. Connelly, along with Ed Harris as Pollock, carries the film, showing the contrasting sides of her character as both a schemer and one who truthfully cares for Pollock.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
This film won the 2002 Oscar for Best Picture in a relatively weak year, but the film perhaps gave Connelly her greatest dose of mainstream attention to date. Connelly plays Alicia Larde Nash, a woman who loves the central character John Nash but is carried along and blown away by the out of control freight train that was his life. Although I appreciate Connelly's appearance in the film, the film is full of too many major inconsistencies and flaws; the book is far superior here. Nevertheless, both Russell Crowe and Jennifer turn in great performances here.
The Hulk (2003)
Now we come to a film that didn't seem to be able to make up its mind what it was: was it an introspective psychological study or was it HULK SMASH TIME!? Connelly plays Betty Ross, again the love interest of a very troubled man, but this time the frightening emotions that welled up inside of our main character appeared on the outside. She plays this role very similarly to her role in A Beautiful Mind, which is not surprising given the similarity between the characters.
House of Sand and Fog (2003)
Here, Jennifer plays Kathy, a woman who has lost her husband and her father and in the resulting chaos, fails to make a property tax payment and is evicted from her property; when an Iranian immigrant tries to buy the house that holds so much love and memories for her, she fights for it with the remaining threads of reality she has left. She does a stellar job playing a woman whose life and soul is disintegrating around her, and given that her opposite is the always-amazing Ben Kingsley, this film is one of the most underrated films of the last several years.
Upcoming projects for Jennifer include Dark Water, The Berkeley Connection, and Little Children.
When I was eight years old, my aunt took me to a theatre to see Labyrinth and during those two hours, I developed my first crush. She was cute, she was brave, and she was very intelligent; how could I not think about her?