by Jason F. Koenigsberg
About a year and a half ago I did a series of editorials about actors that should come out of retirement. Some were legendary screen icons like Sean Connery and Gene Hackman who stepped away from making movies during the mid-2000’s and even though they are in good health in their old age they just have no desire to return to acting. Well one of the names, certainly not as recognizable as some of the others but obviously touched on something with the readers was Linda Fiorentino. An actress who had her breakthrough as a female lead in 1985’s Vision Quest and worked steadily during the rest of the 80’s, throughout the 90’s with some of her biggest roles and basically disappeared shortly after the new millennium began. She only acted in 32 films in the span of 24 years and 1997’s Men in Black was the highest grossing one of them and the most exposure she got from the general public. A role she allegedly won from winning a poker game against the director Barry Sonnenfeld.
Well the Pan and Slammers have spoken. The article about Linda Fiorentino is consistently one of the most searched and read articles on panandslam.com. She is more missed and inquired about than I realized. She was also relatively young at the time she retired from acting on screen and still had her sultry good looks so perhaps she is one of the more perplexing actresses to disappear from the spotlight completely. She made three films in 2000 and one in 2002 before taking a long hiatus only to return for one acting role in 2009 so at the time she walked away she was seemingly still in demand despite the fact that all four of the films she starred in between 2000 and 2002 flopped at the box office. She did have a reputation of being difficult to work with on set. Just ask Kevin Smith. He hated filming Dogma (1999) with her and regretted giving her the part and wished he gave it to runner-up Janeane Garofalo. A shame since both Smith and Fiorentino have roots in New Jersey so making Dogma could have been a sort of homecoming for the actress. She was born in Philadelphia but grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey, hence making Linda Fiorentino a Jersey Girl.
Regardless, Linda Fiorentino paved out a career that is stagnant right now but still admired and has the internet questioning where she is now and why she walked away. So without any further ado. Here are the Top 5 Best Linda Fiorentino Roles.
5. What Planet Are You From? (2000) directed by Mike Nichols
One of the biggest bombs of her career as well as everyone else involved. I have written about this movie twice, once in my Mike Nichols tribute after he passed and also in my list of stupid movies for smart people. This may have been a black eye on the careers of its cast and director and it lost tens of millions at the box office making Columbia executives wish they never greenlit the film, but it sure is a one of kind farce. The story of a species of men who need to procreate with a woman on Earth in order for their society to continue. It marked the beginning and the end of the late Garry Shandling as a leading man in motion pictures and was another in a string of movies where Linda Fiorentino plays a sexy seductress after she became typecast as that during the mid 90’s (more on that further down). She plays the cheating wife of a philandering Greg Kinnear, Shandling’s coworker at a bank. She sleeps with Shandling’s character and he feels guilty for cheating on Annette Bening. Fiorentino’s deadpan delivery and seriousness is a stark contrast against Shandling and Kinnear’s comedic wackiness and makes her scenes with them even funnier. This sort of role for Fiorentino was par for the course at this point in her career and she looks as sultry as ever and her husky voice made her stand out among other actresses playing similar parts at the time. What Planet Are You From? was just such a bizarre and random comedy that it made her normal shtick seem different from some of her other recent roles and therefore made What Planet Are You From? work even better.
4. Jade (1995) directed by William Friedkin
Another overlooked film that bombed big time, Jade was coming at the end of a string of overpriced erotic thrillers that underperformed at the box office in the wake of the Basic Instinct (1992) craze. Directed by William Friedkin at a tough point in his career and written by Joe Eszterhas, the same guy that wrote Basic Instinct and Showgirls (1995) so everyone should have known what they were in for. It is the story of a woman (Fiorentino) with aberrant sexual taste who sleeps around behind her husbands back and may be involved in the murder of a prominent politician that she may or may not have slept with the night of his death. Sound like Basic Instinct or every other 90’s erotic thriller? Well, it is but it manages to be entertaining on its own terms. It has glossy cinematography, better than average Asian influenced set design, and some cliches that actually work in its favor and make Jade more memorable and entertaining than it should be. Fiorentino’s performance is one of the highlights but also just look at the stars names listed above the title. David Caruso, Linda Fiorentino, and Chazz Palminteri, it is a who’s who of 90’s has-beens. Even after the title, the other featured names in the cast are Michael Biehn, Richard Crenna, and Angie Everhart. This is the quintessential relic of the 90’s erotic thriller with names that could only headline a movie between 1994 and would be gone from the A-list by 2000, if not sooner. Jade has a twist ending, a sterile atmosphere and cold performances by men trying to act as emotionless as they can to be tough guys in a non-action movie. Jade does not deserve its bad reputation, or non-reputation since it is on the verge of being a forgotten film. It should be seen on its own merits and is one of the best roles of Linda Fiorentino’s career. Plus, it made for one of the funniest jokes in The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) that only people who have seen and appreciated Jade will find hilarious.
3. Vision Quest (1985) directed by Harold Becker
Linda Fiorentino’s first film role was a big one and remains one of her very best. She plays a drifter that ends up in the arms of a high school varsity wrestler. Not only that but this was Fiorentino’s very first audition right out of acting school and set her career on a path where she would constantly play mysterious females seducing less sophisticated men. She takes her cues from Lauren Bacall and is like the 80’s high school version of Bacall. This movie probably is just as much a relic of the 80’s as Jade is for the 90’s except that Matthew Modine is no longer a leading man star but still a very reliable and bankable actor. It also stars 80’s mainstays Ronny Cox, Daphne Zuniga, and Forest Whitaker before he broke out and became a bigger name. Plus, the soundtrack featured two songs that were major hits and still get replayed on the right 80’s stations with ‘Only the Young’ by Journey and ‘Crazy for You’ by Madonna (who also makes a cameo as a singer at a bar in Spokane, Washington). That was one of her biggest hits at the time when she was still an up and coming star. The producers even tentatively titled the movie ‘Crazy for You’ since they thought maybe people would think Vision Quest was some sort of epic sci-fi film and were not aware of it as a Native American test for young warriors to go through. Fiorentino’s role makes it easy to understand why a young, naive coming-of-age varsity wrestler would fall for her. She stands out from all the other girls in high school and makes him feel like more of a man and is more mysterious and sexy than anything else in his life as he tries to find himself and become the best athlete he can be. Vision Quest is a rip off of Rocky (1976) and The Karate Kid (1984) but it is still easily the best movie made about high school wrestling.
2. After Hours (1985) directed by Martin Scorsese
A supporting part in a strange comedy, but After Hours is also probably the best movie of her career. It helps that she was directed by Martin Scorsese, but this was Scorsese’s first movie as a director for hire. He was unable to get funding for The Last Temptation of Christ or Gangs of New York greenlit. So this was the first time he was directing a script from someone else that he did not have a strong passion for the material. The result is a dark comedy directed with the visual camera style that Scorsese uses in all of his films. He brought his A-game to the material about a guy who had a date that turned into a strange and long night that seemed as if it would never end. After Hours remains one of Scorsese’s best films and makes one wish that more comedies were shot with his camera movements and editing style. Fiorentino does her part, once again as a sexy mysterious roommate of Rosanna Arquette whom the lead played by Griffin Dunne is trying to sleep with. She is a Soho artist who makes paper mâché sculptures of bagels and is working on a much larger sized man sculpture when Dunne walks into their apartment to take out Arquette. Her small role is one of the most memorable in a very talented cast that takes the main character through a lot of unusual trials and tribulations all in the name of trying to spend the night with the pretty girl he met at a diner. After Hours has sadly become one of the lesser known Scorsese pictures and it has the 80’s signature all over it, but it also has Scorsese’s signature in every shot and that makes it timeless. This is one of his most essential works to understand how he evolved and survived as a filmmaker to later thrive in the 21st century. He took a silly farce and made it his own and that makes After Hours one of the best films of his career. Fiorentino was fortunate to be a part of it, and to have such a pivotal and memorable role and for that she deserves a lot of credit.
1. The Last Seduction (1994) directed by John Dahl
This is the role Fiorentino should have won an Oscar for, or at the very least earned a nomination. This was where Fiorentino cemented herself as being the raven-haired Kathleen Turner of the 90’s. A sexy femme fatale who can manipulate her man into almost anything by using the allure of sex. Hundreds of critics were outraged when Fiorentino was ineligible for an Academy Award nomination because it played on cable TV before being released in theaters. 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 risqué sexual situations and that was not her in real life. But she was sort of playing that same part all along ever since Vision Quest. This was just the film where she perfected it and owes a lot of credit to director John Dahl as well as her supporting actors Bill Pullman as her husband who is tired of her crap and Peter Berg who is blinded by her sexuality. This was a great film noir for the 90’s and she takes the femme fatale to new places as a dangerous woman who gets away with whatever she wants by using sex. Perhaps there is a lesson one can take away from the career of Linda Fiorentino. All of her best and even mediocre work are very much films of their times. Only After Hours serves as a timeless film but even that has a ton of 80’s cliches with its smaller elements. She never really made a film that has stood the test of time as a modern classic and something that people still reference. None of her best or worst films have been remade but as evidence from the readers on this site she is one of the most searched actresses and therefore is one of the most missed. Hopefully she decides to come out of retirement and still has a few good performances to give us all.