Saturday (Oct. 29) is Winona Ryder‘s 40th birthday. We’d like to wish her a happy one, and also thank her for being a significant part of our pop-culture lives.
And by “we,” I mean “I.” I’m not (necessarily) speaking for the rest of the Zap2it crew here, but as a full-fledged member of Generation X, Ryder is something of a touchstone for me. Starting with “Beetlejuice” and continuing through the great “Heathers” and “Edward Scissorhands,” her early work formed the basis of a pretty serious crush for my teenage self (along with, I’m guessing, a whole lot of other guys born between 1969 and ’75).
Yes, she was very pretty, but the characters she played were also smart and sarcastic and gave as good as they got. She was basically the dream girl for a certain subset of the teenage male population. She was also the first movie star who really felt like she belonged to my age group. The John Hughes canon still feels like it was made for us, but the stars of those films seemed a little more distant, even if some of them (Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall in particular) were only a couple years older.
Ryder, though, was a teenager playing a teenager — she was 17 when “Heathers” hit theaters in March 1989. The fact that we’re the same age made it that much easier to identify with her and the people she played, in addition to making the wish that there was a girl as cool as Veronica at my high school that much more powerful.
With those things in play, it was probably inevitable that I’d retain a soft spot for Winona Ryder well into adulthood. It also helped that the decade-plus of her career included a lot of very good work — a pair of Oscar nominations for “The Age of Innocence” and “Little Women,” plus “Reality Bites” (which became almost too painful to watch when I was a new college graduate living at home and looking for work), “The Crucible,” “Mermaids” and “Girl, Interrupted.”
The early 2000s weren’t especially kind to Ryder, with her shoplifting case and movie duds like “Autumn in New York,” “Lost Souls” and “Mr. Deeds.” But things seem to be back on the upswing for her career-wise. She was fantastic in her brief “Black Swan” role, she earned a SAG Award nomination for her CBS movie “When Love Is Not Enough” and she’s reuniting with Tim Burton to do voice work on “Frankenweenie.” Here’s hoping that she finds more film work worthy of her — or maybe a really good cable series that she can tear into.
So cheers to you on your 40th, Winona, and many happy returns.