No one believes me when I tell them that Winona Ryder was born in the sleepy, scenic southeastern Minnesota college town that bears her name. Or maybe they just don’t want to claim the face of Gen X angst cinema, better known these days for her 2001 pill-fueled shoplifting binge at a Beverly Hills Saks Fifth Avenue. Can’t we show a little love for the woman who made parole a career move long before Lindsay and Paris?
Ryder’s Minnesota roots don’t go very deep and, frankly, the hippie childhood that followed in a California commune (godfather Timothy Leary, family friend Allen Ginsberg) pretty much negates all that Hot Fish Shop wholesomeness. In recent years, though, Ryder has been lying low and slowly piecing together her rudderless career in a fashion that is decidedly Minnesotan in its unpredictably stubborn way. A scandal-surviving celeb’s second act usually includes a teary Dateline NBC interview and ironically self-mocking SNL skit. Ryder did the SNL gig long ago, but she seems to have an admirable disdain for press-junket born-agains and as of late has taken to ungraciously bitching about how she’s still paying the price for her youthful transgression.
Still, I detect a career rehab in progress. Just check out this month’s Vogue, in which cover babe Ryder is anointed an “Ageless Beauty.” Or, if you’re desperate for an air-conditioned respite from the Uptown Art Fair, catch her in The Ten, a raunchy comedy that opened yesterday at the Uptown Theater. After this weekend, though, all bets are off. This clinker is going straight to DVD.
The Ten’s interconnected shorts are ostensibly about the Ten Commandments, but the film’s ribald humor and sketch-comedy sensibility is more Wet Hot American Summer (writer/director David Wain’s other film) than Kryzsztof Kieslowski’s Decalogue. Which would have been perfectly fine if any of its blasphemous conceits (a prisoner negotiates for a different jailhouse rapist in “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife,” to pick a particularly naughty example) were actually developed into stories.
So formless, though, are most of the segments that each time Wain cuts to his lazy framing device—actor Paul Rudd introducing each commandment while negotiating his own marital strife—it’s jolting. Rudd’s narrator, who has a dismal segment of his own, isn’t the only one breaking the fourth wall. Two other stories also end with characters addressing the audience in lame asides that seem to serve no other purpose but to save the writers from having to come up with a third act.
How bad does it get? So bad that the talented Liev Schreiber plays a man competing with his neighbor to see who can own more CAT scan machines. Their wives leave them when their houses are overtaken by the machines, but then the rivals become buddies over beer and Bonnie Raitt songs, while schoolkids exposed to radiation die on their lawns. Someone thought this was funny?
Ryder makes an appearance in two of the strongest stories (relatively speaking), but she chews the scenery viciously. In the opener, she plays the girlfriend of a man (Adam Brody) who jumps out of a plane without a parachute, survives the accident, but is forever stuck in the ground, unable to be moved or he’ll die. He gets his own TV show, covers of magazines, and a cult-like following, but Ryder leaves him for a slick TV news reporter. Playing the same character in the wink-wink “thou shalt not steal” segment, Ryder makes off with a ventriloquist’s wooden dummy she has taken an, er, intimate liking to. It’s a wild (okay, gross) concept that Ryder commits to fully, hell bent on replacing her Court TV perp walk with a decidedly more indelible image.