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An adaptation of the 1892 play Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, this quiet romantic drama fell far under the radar. Johansson plays Meg Windermere, the very young wife of wealthy aristocrat Lord Windermere (Mark Umbers). She faces competition from Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt), who has come to Italy from New York, driven away after all the wealthy men she has seduced, and their wives have shunned her from social life. With her target set, she goes about trying to lure the Lord from his naive wife. Or so it seems. Without revealing the central plot of the story, things are not as Meg first suspects as she takes drastic action to win the upper hand. Johansson is perfectly cast as the ingenue who still knows what a man likes, filling the screen with steam, revealing her famous curves (weakening a bit of the supposed virginal traits her character is meant to possess), throughout. A period drama that is dialogue heavy, Johansson is fun to watch as she keeps afloat with the more seasoned English actors in the production. Maybe not for everyone, this is worth a look for any fan of this star.
This adaptation of the 2001 Philippa Gregory novel of the same name, fictionalizes the story of two women in British history. Anne (Natalie Portman) is the much more well-known of the two sisters, both of whom where lovers of King Henry VIII (Eric Bana). She would eventually lose her head, but this story focuses on she and Mary (Johansson), whose troubled relationship is one wrought with betrayal and schemes, even though a tenuous connection remains. Directed by Justin Chadwick, the film is sumptuous to watch, with some great performances, even if the story strays from the truth. Johansson strips away much of the glamor she has come to be known for and portrays Mary with great passion, her moments with Portman easily the best in the film. Another period film, this one is a solid drama worth putting on your list.
Johansson plays Purslane Will, a young woman who learns that her long-estranged mother has passed away from a drug overdose. Living in Florida, she packs up to return to her hometown in New Orleans and discovers two men living in her mother’s rundown home. One is Bobby Long (John Travolta), a former literature professor now alcoholic and the other, his protégé, Lawson Pines (Gabriel Macht), a handsome young man who also finds comfort in the bottle. They convince Pursy that her mother willed them use of the house, so she moves in and a complex relationship begins between her and the men, who first try to drive her away but soon come to appreciate her company. A complex film led by Travolta, Johansson truly carries the film with a sensual and deeply personal performance. Directed by Shainee Gabel, the movie itself is moody and dark and takes its time, like a long slow walk in the evening. In a time when movies are about speed and hyper-action, this quiet character-driven film gets lost, but is well worth the investment.
Its safe to say that by 2005, Johansson was established by the media who covered her to be a bonafide sex symbol, a role she played into very well without overdoing it. Capitalizing on the appeal was Woody Allen, who cast her in three films, this one as the ‘other woman’ in Chris Wilton’s (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) tangled life. Wilton is a retired and highly ranked professional tennis player who suffers some financial setbacks as he becomes engaged to Chloe (Emily Mortimer), the daughter of a wealthy and successful businessman who offers Chris a high-paying executive position at his firm. At a gathering at the father’s estate, Chris meets a struggling American actress name Nola (Johansson), a breathlessly beautiful and sensual woman who knows very well her effect on men. The two begin a lustful affair that turns dangerous when Nola wants more. Johansson is electrifying as the jealous lover who demands attention from Chris, her emotional arc a devastating path of destruction. A far more serious Allen film than most, this one is a tour de force from Johansson and is a must see if you’re a fan.
Johansson plays Griet, a lowly maid living in the house of wealthy Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth). Unhappily married and with children, Vermeer thrives in the solitude of his studio at the top of his estate. The young, beautiful Griet is tasked with cleaning the studio and reveals an intuitive sense of art and color (witnessed earlier in a wonderful moment at the film’s start with a platter of food). Vermeer naturally become enamored with the girl and her unusual beauty, eventually using her as a model for one of his more famous works. A fictionalized account of Vermeer’s alluring and mysterious painting, Girl With A Pearl Earring, is a directed by Petter Webber and based on the bestselling novel by Tracy Chevalier. A patient film that is as much about movement and silence as it is about characters, Girl With A Pearl Earring is a richly rewarding film with a tremendously powerful performance from Johansson that is truly some of her best work. Subtle and inviting, she does much with few words, capturing the character’s importance from the start. If you see only one film on this list, make it this.