Before there was Natalie, Scarlett, or Mila—or any of the young Jewish actresses that so frequently dot our (virtual) pages with news of their achievements, newborns, product endorsements, and professions of faith—there was Winona Ryder. She is brainy, beautiful, and far, far quirkier than any of our current crop of nice Jewish girls—remember when she was engaged, at 19, to Johnny Depp, then at the height of his Viper Room fame, or that odd, shoplifting incident? Winona was the emblematic star of her ‘90s heyday: waifish but iconoclastic, and equally at home in buttoned-up period pieces like The Age of Innocence as she was in Tim Burton films or the iconic coming-of-age portrait Reality Bites where she played a grunge-era everygirl. Then came the detrimental aging inevitable for a star who oozed “gamine” from her very pore— and the shoplifting—and the plum roles dried up and started to going to other, younger, more of of-the-moment actresses. Not for nothing did Darren Aronofsky—perhaps Hollywood’s number one aficionado of beautiful Jewish brunettes—cast her as the washed-up ballerina to Portman’s unbalanced ingénue in his tour de force film Black Swan.
But now, Ryder is back, winning a SAG award, along with the rest of her cast for “Best Ensemble in a Drama Series,” for her comeback role in the lauded Netflix horror series Stranger Things. And while co-star David Harbour forcefully and joyfully delivered the official acceptance speech—speaking on everything from the importance of empathy, intimacy, and humanity in our dark times, to vowing that he and his colleagues would always stand up to bullies (no points for guessing who he was referring to)—it was the diminutive Ryder, standing at his side, who stole the show: During his speech she let out a cavalcade of bizarre and often indecipherable facial expressions that recalled nothing so much as that old Vanity Fair feature in which an actor is given instructions like: “You just ran over your neighbor’s dog but you’re also seeing your neighbor for the first time and it’s love at first sight,” and told to make the appropriate face.
Ryder looked, by turns, amused, horrified, confused, offended, joyful and overwhelmed—almost as though she was seeing things that no one else could, or at least, witnessing something so portentous and imaginable that she refused to believe it was happening. In short, Winona Ryder, in the space of 45 seconds, was running through every reaction many American have felt over the events of the past week: Horror, shame, disbelief, anger, and even occasional, uncontrollable mirth. Sure, she might be totally out of her mind, but who isn’t at this point? The controlled, cerebral Obama-era needed the controlled, cerebral Natalie Portman and her brand of pride-inducing, always tasteful achievement. But the insanity we’re going through now, where we all feel like we might be hallucinating? Winona Ryder has stepped back into her moment. Let’s just hope we all survive it.
— Michelle Collins (@michcoll) January 30, 2017
Related: ‘Stranger Things,’ a Show of Faith