With all the tabloid noise about her courtship with Tom Cruise, her marriage to Tom Cruise, her divorce from Tom Cruise, and the child she shares with Tom Cruise, it’s easy to forget that Katie Holmes is, y’know, an actress. With a career of her own and presumably ambitions that have nothing to do with an old relationship. In the past, she’s shown signs of that commitment with two mildly received runs on Broadway, but beyond that she’s mostly starred in some forgettable movies (The Romantics, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark) that haven’t done much to expand on the early glimmers of promise she showed in Wonder Boys and Pieces of April. Can this career be revived?
One small attempt at reinvention is currently screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, a peculiar dark comedy called Miss Meadows, which has Holmes playing a girly Miss Manners, a substitute teacher who wears tap shoes everywhere, who also happens to be a gun-toting vigilante. The joke of the movie, which takes a turn for the deadly serious toward the end, is one we’ve seen before. John Waters’s terrific, ridiculous Serial Mom perhaps did this dark, absurdist suburban tweak the best, twenty long years ago. I’m not sure that, in 2014, we really needed another reminder that the pleasant 1950s domestic ideal often has a sinister underbelly. In that way, Miss Meadows feels oddly dated. A “twisted” or “warped” take on chipper normalcy is awfully ‘90s, isn’t it?
What can be said for this tonally janky and oddly paced film is that it offers Holmes an interesting vehicle to try something new. She’s in early every scene of the movie, and does a respectable job of holding our focus even while the film pitches and yaws violently. She gets to lampoon the cutesy image that’s followed her since the Dawson’s Creek days, and shows some new, adult dramatic range. Miss Meadows is a pretty crazy person, and it’s surprisingly fun to watch Katie Holmes unravel as the movie lurches along.
Writer/director Karen Leigh Hopkins gives her kooky character a backstory that doesn’t really make sense, and then hangs her motivation entirely on that. So there’s a lot to play, but none of the character’s disparate parts—her fastidiousness, her violent tendencies, her elaborate fantasies/hallucinations—really relate to one another. And yet, Holmes somehow manages to find a path through it all, giving a modest point of view to a movie that seems completely unsure of what it’s trying to say.
This is the kind of stuff Holmes should be doing—edgier stuff that gives her the opportunity to let loose, to explore new territory previously not made available to her. Of course many actors before Holmes have tried to give themselves career makeovers with out-there little indies to no avail. And the novelty of seeing Holmes in a different light might eventually wear off. But for the time being it would be nice to see her working against type and flexing different muscles.
The news that Holmes is heading back to television to star in a modern update of Dangerous Liaisons could be good. Sure it’s network television and she’s playing the most boring part of the three leads—the goody-goody who’s forced to start scheming to keep her head above water—but at least the character isn’t just some doting wife or dewy innocent. If the pilot goes to air, she’ll be going up against Rufus Sewell every week, which would conceivably mean she’ll have to keep her game running at a pretty high level.