Ever since she leapt to worldwide attention opposite Tom Cruise in “Jerry Maguire,” Renée Zellweger has proven to be an incredibly gifted actress who continues to surprise us. She could have been forever typecast as single mom Dorothy Boyd, but Renée has gone on to play an astonishingly wide range of roles that constantly has her challenge herself and what she can do. She continues to surprise us as much as she surprises herself, and her best movies are shining examples of that.
Dorothy Boyd in “Jerry Maguire”
Renée’s role in Cameron Crowe’s movie is more complex than upon first examination. Dorothy Boyd is infectiously sweet yet seems somewhat naïve, but Renée shows her to be strong willed and determined to follow what feels right in her heart. She’s had to raise her son by herself, and her life has seen much struggle. From beginning to end, Renée sells us on each facet of Dorothy and is such a delightful presence throughout. She more than holds her own with Tom Cruise and even bests him in the scene where Dorothy initially breaks up with Jerry.
Betty Sizemore in “Nurse Betty”
After doing a couple of movies that never got “Jerry Maguire’s” reception, Zellweger proved her acting chops once again with this Neil LaBute directed film. As Betty Sizemore, we sympathize with her immediately when her husband is murdered before her eyes, and she ends up escaping reality into the fantasy of her favorite soap opera. Zellweger creates a brilliant character we didn’t expect to see, and she is a great springboard for actors like Morgan Freeman and Aaron Eckhart to work off of. She takes Betty from being a victim to becoming a stronger and more self-assured person.
Bridget Jones in “Bridget Jones’ Diary”
Fans of Helen Fielding’s book did not want an American playing Bridget. The character is an overweight British woman, and Renée was born in Texas and was quite thin. In the end though, none of that mattered. She gained the weight necessary and perfected a strong British accent in a time where other American actors really stunk at doing it (thank you Kevin Costner). Renée ended up giving the world a British heroine it deserved, and it’s hard to think of any other actress (British or otherwise) who would have done as well. Renée makes Bridget a delightful character that takes her licks and yet rebounds, always getting the last word.
Roxie Hart in “Chicago”
I’m not sure anything could have prepared us for Renée’s performance as Roxie Hart. Apparently she couldn’t dance before she got cast in this Best Picture winner, but you sure couldn’t tell that from watching her here. Renée captivates the audience from the start, making a likable character out of one who is a shallow schemer, desperate to become famous however possible. She also holds her own against Catherine Zeta-Jones, an acting powerhouse and a musical veteran to boot.
Ruby Thewes in “Cold Mountain”
Renée finally got the Oscar that was coming to her in the late Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s novel. As the toughened Ruby Thewes, she never plays the character as much she becomes her. Watching her in “Cold Mountain,” you become convinced that she was born to play this role. You come out of the movie believing that Renée lived this kind of life once, and that she knows how to persevere through it. She was truly brilliant as she stole scenes from Nicole Kidman and Jude Law.
Now Zellweger’s career has not been as robust recently with duds like “New In Town” and “Case 39,” but there’s no doubt that she has many great performances in her. We look forward to her challenging audiences and herself in the future.