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Because Our Beautiful Young Actresses Can Actually Act

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Maggie Gyllenhaal  

Yes, L.A., your stunning, supernaturally toned, and eerily tanned actresses may demonstrate their range by playing a midriff-baring dance instructor, a midriff-baring scuba diver, a midriff-baring stripper, and a leotard-wearing superhero (Pomona’s Jessica Alba). But our stunning, quite-often-pale-but-still-drop-dead-gorgeous actresses can actually act. In fact, it’s becoming obvious that the world’s best beautiful actresses either speak with funny accents—Winslet, Kidman, Blanchett, Mirren, et al.—or they’re New Yorkers: Streep, Moore, Portman, Connelly, Johansson, Mary-Louise Parker, and Thurman, for starters (Gwyneth, a New Yorker in London, and Rachel Weisz, a Brit in our Soho, diplomatically bridge the gap). Here, Streep is our undisputed queen (long may she reign!), but Maggie Gyllenhaal has shown that she may one day inherit the mantle. A politically outspoken, Columbia-educated fashion plate who just happens to be engaged to one of the city’s classiest young actors (Peter Sarsgaard), Gyllenhaal has always been one of those Über–New Yorkers you’re proud to call “neighbor.” This year, she proved she could be a star: Idealized in Stranger Than Fiction, she seduces her fans as a righteous baker with flour-on-her-nose charm. Sanctified in World Trade Center, she delivers the film’s most convincing performance, as a wife frantically sneaking cigarette breaks. But Gyllenhaal has always been at her best, as in Secretary, when she transgresses—and she’s ferocious in this year’s SherryBaby. She plays an ex-con with a kid and a drug habit, but without any award-begging showboating or dogmatic ennobling. She makes Sherry tough and sympathetic, sure, but also petty and even cruel—barking at her child, manipulating her brother, screwing loser men. She is crude and stupid but sexy, too—the kind of contradictory performance you’ll never see from the lesser coast.


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