There was a moment during the early 2000s when it seemed like Gwyneth Paltrow would become the queen of Hollywood. Blessed with the kind of timeless beauty that always elicits comparisons to Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, as well as lucky enough to have been born in one of Tinseltown’s most influential families—her father was the late director Bruce Paltrow and her mother is the multi awarded stage and television actress Blythe Danner (Steven Spielberg is her godfather)— Paltrow’s incursion into the movies seemed nothing if not inevitable.
After small turns in forgettable movies and a stint as Brad Pitt’s girlfriend, in 1998 the young starlet had a year the likes of which others only dream of (similar to what Jessica Chastain had in 2011) appearing in five high profile movies throughout the year, all culminating with the role that would win her the Best Actress Oscar. After winning, Paltrow’s career seems to have stalled as she got married and became a full time mother, now only gracing movie screens sporadically.
United not by themes but by the presence of the lead actress, this boxset shows that Lionsgate needs to make the most out of the catalog titles it inherited from Miramax. At one point Paltrow was the poster child for the Weinstein brothers’ studio, headlining some of its biggest projects and becoming part of the wave of performers that flourished under their sponsorship (others included Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Renee Zellweger) but unlike her peers, it can’t be said that Paltrow ever became known for a particular trademark.
At first she was thought to be a new princess of period pieces, playing ingenues in corsets with an assured charm and grace that made some people think she was British. In Douglas McGrath’s Emma, Paltrow plays the title role of Emma Woodhouse, a well intentioned young woman who decides she’ll become a matchmaker. Adapted from Jane Austen’s lovely novel, the film went by slightly unnoticed, given that just the year before it was released, the novel had been adapted for modern audiences in Clueless which became a ‘90s pop culture landmark. In spite of this, McGrath’s adaptation is just as significant because it’s one of the greatest Austen reworks and Paltrow is absolutely luminous as the heroine.
After losing the lead in Titanic, Paltrow ended up starring in Shakespeare in Love, her Oscar winning turn which is also the centerpiece of this collection. Tom Stoppard’s inventive screenplay tries to figure out how William Shakespeare (played with effervescent charm by Joseph Fiennes) ended up writing Romeo and Juliet, and so creates the fictitious character of Viola de Lesseps, played by Paltrow. The movie itself is a joyous, clever comedy but it can be said that it’s a showcase for its leading actress.
Up to that point Paltrow had starred in movies for which she was just too bright and she ended up looking too affected and even bored. In Shakespeare in Love she found a movie that truly matched her wit and effortless luminosity. Watching her play four different characters isn’t especially fascinating from a technical point of view (she’s certainly no Meryl Streep), but she shines with such sensuality and joy that you truly believe her Viola did indeed inspire Shakespeare.
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
After her Oscar win, Paltrow laid low for a few years until she starred in Bounce, Don Roos’ tale of star-crossed lovers and messed up fate that has Paltrow play a widow who falls in love with a man (Ben Affleck) who might be indirectly responsible for her husband’s death. The film has its ups and downs, mostly because Affleck can’t muster the energy to play someone who would deserve this woman’s love, problem which seems to be the major issue in Paltrow’s career.
When she’s good, she’s absolutely brilliant, when she’s bad, she just seems deeply uninterested, as is the case in View from the Top, a movie that takes the concept of Legally Blonde and moves it to the skies. Paltrow plays Donna, a small town girl who dreams of becoming a flight attendant. The film follows her as she goes through airline-school (Candice Bergen and Mike Myers are her professors) falls in love (with an extremely bland Mark Ruffalo) and ultimately realizes that home is where the heart is. The film is uneven and sloppy, but in some moments it announced Paltrow’s ability to be extremely funny, something that she would fulfill almost a decade later on in Glee.
For those looking examples for of Paltrow’s finest work, this boxset might not be specially satisfying. View from the Top could’ve been switched for Proof or Possessions for example, but as it stands it’s decent evidence that Paltrow is one of the most underrated working actresses. See the way in which she elevates the material she’s given, there are several scenes in Bounce that could be cringe worthy for example, but she plays them with such a self effacing dignity that you know she’s in the joke and you laugh with her.
Extras in this boxset are exactly the same as each of the individual DVD releases, with Shakespeare in Love containing the richest roster of bonus features. Buy this set if you’re a big Gwyneth Paltrow fan/completist and don’t own a couple of these movies.