In the late 1980s and early 1990s, thanks to a string of off-kilter films like Beetlejuice, Heathers, and Edward Scissorhands, Winona Ryder became America’s unlikely sweetheart: dark, waifish, quirky, intellectual, and somehow eternally innocent yet wise beyond her years. At 44, Ryder is still active in television and film, but in the minds of many fans and movie executives, the actress is still associated with her beguiling adolescent image. This is the dilemma at the heart of “Winona, Forever,” a thoughtful and sympathetic career respective by writer Soraya Roberts at Hazlitt. The title of the article refers to a tattoo once sported by actor Johnny Depp, Ryder’s boyfriend of two years and, in many ways, her male equivalent in the movie business. The article points out that Depp was an alternative to Tom Cruise, just as Ryder was an alternative to Molly Ringwald. So why has Johnny Depp been allowed to age and take on a variety of offbeat roles, while Ryder has been relegated to secondary parts as wives, mothers and girlfriends? Soraya Roberts speculates:
Even into her twenties, in Reality Bites and Girl, Interrupted, she was more of a delayed adolescent than an adult. Ryder was unable to move on because of what moving on meant. And we weren’t either. Our Nonistalgia keeps her cloistered to this day in adolescence, alongside then-boyfriend Johnny Depp, before he cashed in on his eccentricity. But despite our attempts to resuscitate the past—Beetlejuice 2, Heathers: The Musical, Marc Jacobs—and as young as Ryder continues to look, and as young as Ryder continues to look, she is no longer that ’90s ingénue.
The article follows Winona Ryder over the course of her three-decade career in show business, beginning when she was a genuinely misunderstood teenage outsider who obsessed over Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye. In those early days, she truly embodied the iconic roles she played onscreen. She didn’t have to pretend to be a morbid, wide-eyed misfit; that’s who she really was back then. Even at the time, Ryder told a reporter that finding roles for strong women had been easy for her. Great parts seemed to fall into her lap in those days, though she had to fight tenaciously for Heathers. Ryder became a fashion icon in the 1990s and achieved the peak of her fame as the subject of tabloid fascination during the grunge era, first for her relationship with Depp, then for a string of relationships with rock musicians. Today, Winona Ryder exists in a weird career limbo, not fully accepted as an adult but no longer the teenage girl she once was. Soraya Roberts’ article culminates with a sad anecdote about Ryder trimming her trademark eyelashes because a director didn’t want her character to have “Winona eyes.” The actress, it seems, remains a prisoner of her illustrious past.