Being a successful Hollywood actress probably isn't that different from being a regular gal if you think about it. If you're too pretty, no one is going to take you seriously. If you aren't pretty enough then you are most likely going to be ignored. All of which makes for a tricky proposition for an actress like Scarlett Johansson. Granted, she is one of the prettiest women working in Hollywood, but unlike Megan Fox, she has fought against a career that hinges on her sex appeal. Now you won't get any argument from me (or 99.9% of the male population) that Ms. Johansson is one of the most beautiful women to ever appear on the silver screen...but that is usually where the praise starts to die down. Because we shouldn't forget that for every Lost in Translation, there has been a Nanny Diaries, and I don't think anyone can deny the cold hard fact that one of the reasons she has been so successful is her looks.
Now, I'm not saying the girl doesn't have talent, and when given the chance, she can deliver. But I've been a Woody Allen fan long enough to know that when she was being touted as his latest muse, it wasn't just her skills as an actress that had him so smitten. Which is kind of funny considering it was that dirty old man that was responsible for giving Johansson her greatest role as Nola in the crime thriller Match Point.
Match Point was the story of a social climber (played to smarmy perfection by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) who is willing to do some pretty terrible things for a chance at a country home and upper-class acceptance. What makes Johansson work as the object of Meyer's affection is that it finally used her persona as 'sex on legs' (a persona she could never escape unless she wanted to spend the rest of her career with a bag over her head wearing a burlap sack) and turned it upside down to reveal how dehumanizing it can be to be nothing more than an erotic obsession. Match Point is a dark film for many reasons, and is the perfect companion piece to Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors which asked the question: 'Is anybody keeping score in that big book in the sky?'. What struck me about Match Point was that it seemed to answer with a resounding no.
The tragedy of Nola is that she is good enough to sleep with, but when she becomes an inconvenience, the men in her life either move on or become downright cruel. It was Johansson's ability to make Nola so sympathetic that makes the performance so remarkable -- it isn't always easy to feel sympathy for the prettiest girl in the room, especially when she's the 'other woman'. But, by the time Nola has come to her pathetic end, Johansson has wiped away the glamor and the sex and all you are left with is a truly damaged woman. Most of the heart of the film rests squarely on Johansson's shoulders, and her turn as Nola was the perfect combination of Allen's own well-documented obsession with beautiful and 'crazy' women and the reality of what it means to be sex object -- with plenty of emphasis on the word object.
Nola was the perfect role for Johansson, who probably knows better than most of us what it feels like to be nothing more than a (very) pretty face, and thanks to her performance, Johansson's Nola is sad, unstable, and alone -- but no one sees that because they are too busy fantasizing about what she looks like under those clothes. So even though over her brief career, she has racked up plenty of award nominations and critical praise for her work in films like Girl With a Pearl Earring and Lost in Translation, in my mind, Johansson will never been able to top her performance as a lonely and unhappy woman who was never more than just a good time.