“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”
Now, to state the obvious: Angelina Jolie is about as distant from a washed-up Norma Desmond as it is possible to be on the celebrity-relevance spectrum. And her new vehicle, Maleficent, is not small in the traditional sense, but rather in the increasingly common contemporary sense: yet another in a string of gazillion-dollar special-effects extravaganzas grafted onto flimsy, nonsensical scripts and featuring an array of two-dimensional performances.
Still, the old line from Sunset Boulevard can’t help but resonate. Jolie is, after all, big in the way that silent film stars were big before the talkies swept them away. And as one of a tiny number of female stars who can open a major movie herself, she all too often finds her charisma swallowed up by the hubbub of blockbuster filmmaking: the stunts, the effects, the desperate pursuit of scale and velocity.
What was Jolie’s last genuinely memorable role? The Tourist? Salt? Changeling? She sauntered through her effortless brand of sexual cool in Mr. & Mrs. Smith as well as in supporting roles in Wanted, Beowulf, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. And of course she voices a tiger in the Kung Fu Panda movies. For an indisputably A-list actress, it adds up to an awful lot of B-list roles. Indeed, unlike fellow cinematic icons such as her quasi-spouse Brad Pitt and his pal George Clooney, Jolie seems almost to have transcended her film career altogether. Acting often looks as though it's an occasional sideline to her day job, the no doubt taxing business of being Angelina Jolie.