by Jason F. Koenigsberg
Linda Fiorentino never quite crossed over from a consistently working actress to being famous enough to be a household name. Despite starring in big name films opposite huge stars and giving critically acclaimed performances often ignored by the Academy and other major awards groups. Linda Fiorentino was born in Philadelphia but grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey.
Her film debut was actually her first audition straight out of acting school in the 1985 teen drama Vision Quest. She was the lead female role, a drifter who crashes in the lead male characters home of Matthew Modine’s high school wrestler. Vision Quest was a modest hit, a film of its time but it is easily the best movie ever made about varsity wrestling. Today it is probably more famous for its soundtrack featuring “Only the Young” by Journey and the Madonna classic “Crazy for You”, which was it’s title in some other countries. Vision Quest also marked Madonna’s film debut in a small role as a singer at a local bar in Spokane, Washington. If you have not seen Vision Quest, I urge you to. It is certainly worth checking out.
Her next two films were also moderate hits. Nothing earth shattering but they both found their audiences and have their ardent defenders. Following Vision Quest, Linda Fiorentino’s second feature film was Gotcha! (1985) opposite Anthony Edwards. This is a very cheesy 80’s movie about students playing a game with paintball guns and once again Fiorentino is the sexy mystery woman. Somehow they end up in a Cold War espionage plot being trailed by East German spies. Gotcha! is even more a film of its time than Vision Quest, however her third feature film is probably my favorite movie Linda Fiorentino ever starred in, Martin Scorsese’s After Hours. Released in the fall of 1985, this was probably the best year of her career with these three films. After Hours was Scorsese’s first foray in comedy as well as being the first time he worked as a director for hire on a script that he had no influence on. The result was surprisingly better than anyone could have thought. I wish more comedies were directed with the ambitious camera moves and kinetic editing that After Hours contains. After Hours was critically hailed and won several Independent Spirit Awards. Not a box office hit but over the years it has found its audience and Scorsese completists are well aware of After Hours and how important it was for him to sustain his career, dividing his time between studio films like The Color of Money (1986) and Cape Fear (1991) so that he could make his passion projects like The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Silence (2016). Linda Fiorentino was not the lead role but just one of many people our main character played by Griffin Dunne encounters on his wild night through New York’s Soho neighborhood. She once again plays a seductress and makes her scenes involving plaster sculptures very memorable.
Although After Hours is my favorite movie Linda Fiorentino starred in, it is not her best performance. After 1985 she would star in a series of box office bombs and TV movies, all of which were forgettable up until 1994 when she teamed up with director John Dahl where she once again plays a sexy femme fatale in the revisionist film noir The Last Seduction. This is her most critically acclaimed performance and it is the film where she best used her husky voice and sultry looks to play a seductress which she was typecast as before and after this film. The Last Seduction was the high point of her career. Critics were outraged when she was not eligible for an Academy Award nomination that year because of a technicality that The Last Seduction played on HBO. Siskel and Ebert were particularly vocal about this injustice and Roger Ebert had it as #5 on his top 10 of 1994. She owned that role and said it hurt her chances getting parts in other movies because casting agents and directors really thought she was that cold, calculating and manipulative. She also stated that it hurt her dating life since men wanted her to be that sexy character and get into wild and risque sexual situations but that was not her in real life.
After The Last Seduction, Linda Fiorentino would work in the rest of the mid to late 90’s usually in similar roles as the mysterious sexy woman with something up her sleeve but now she started to appear in bigger budget films opposite big stars and with big name directors attached. She was the title character in William Friedkin’s erotic thriller Jade (1995) which flopped but I think is an underrated gem. She starred opposite Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the summer blockbuster Men in Black (1997) where she allegedly won the part by beating director Barry Sonnenfeld in poker. From a box office standpoint Men in Black would be the biggest and most profitable film of her career. She started to get a reputation of being difficult to work with. According to Kevin Smith who directed her in Dogma (1999) he said Linda Fiorentino would go weeks without speaking to him on the set and that she was very difficult to work with and he immediately regretted giving her such a pivotal role in his religious comedy. Her sexy seductress reputation earned her another big role with an all star cast and a big name director in Mike Nichols’ monumental flop What Planet are You From? (2000), a film I found charming but few others did. Most of Linda Fiorentino’s biggest roles were box office stinkers, some eventually found their audience, some were critically acclaimed from the get go, and others remain in movie purgatory.
After starring opposite the legendary Paul Newman in another box office dud, Where the Money Is (2000), her final acting role for a number of years was in Liberty Stands Still (2002) where she plays the wife of a gun manufacturer being held hostage by a sniper, played by Wesley Snipes, who wants revenge for the death of his daughter in a school shooting. Liberty Stands Still was a better concept than it was an actual movie. I initially thought that was her final imdb credit but upon writing this article I found that Linda Fiorentino made a movie in 2009 called Once More with Feeling opposite Chazz Palminteri (her costar in Jade) and Drea de Matteo most famous for playing Adriana on The Sopranos. I never heard of this film but it was her first acting job in seven years and her final one to date. Linda Fiorentino has not acted in eight years and she is almost sixty. It would be nice to see her back on the big screen since I liked many of the films she appeared in even though the public masses either disagreed with my opinion or just never bothered to see them. I am sure she could still enhance a motion picture with her presence and it would be nice to have her act again.