If you had to make a list of Meg Ryan movies that someone should watch as a primer for Ryan appreciation; which would you choose? Drawing up a shortlist, leaving aside the popular films she made with Billy Crystal and Tom Hanks is difficult. But after careful consideration, these are the six Meg Ryan performances I’d prescribe as an antidote to Pfeiffer mania.Sally Albright in When Harry Met Sally and Alice Green in When a Man Loves a Woman are arguably her two most acclaimed performances. Both occurred in relatively weak years in The Academy’s Best Actress race, sadly neither gained Meg the nomination she deserved.
Addicted To Love was a polar opposite of movies like French Kiss and I.Q. and it was a typically bold move by the erstwhile queen of rom-com, to ditch her cute schtick persona to play the character of Maggie. Meg Ryan shamelessly flirts with the camera, looking incredibly sexy in biking leathers, boots and tie-dye dress, and she also adds a hard edge to her voice, that she uses to marvellous effect. My only complaint about the film is that director Griffin Dunne felt the need to smooth out some of Maggie’s rough edges in time for Addicted to Love’s predictably happy ending.
Three years before Sleepless in Seattle Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan co-starred in Joe Versus the Volcano, a film where Meg plays three distinctly different characters. Ryan distinguishes her trio of personalities using only wigs and good old-fashioned acting, even with the film on mute it’s quite clear which Meg Ryan is which. Safe to say, it’s the familiar Meg Ryan blonde that Tom falls in love with at the end.
A film featuring the transmigration of souls between a young woman and a dying old man was never going to be a hit with cinema audiences, but whenever I watch Prelude To A Kiss it still seems as enchanting and original as ever. Meg Ryan effectively plays two roles, but the real draw of the film is the wonderful, surprising romance between Meg and Alec Baldwin. They’re a great looking couple and the chemistry between them is beautiful.
Steve Kloves’ Flesh and Bone is a gothic Texas parable that opens with a horrific multiple murder; concludes with another murder, and in between examines the bond between an evil father and his conscience-laden son.
Of course, Kloves was the director of The Fabulous Baker Boys, a film where Michelle Pfeiffer burnt a hole right through the screen with her Susie Diamond, and his second film features another memorable female character, in the dark and complex figure of Kay Davies. Meg Ryan plays Kay, who’s been an orphan since before her first birthday. She’s wayward and unhappily married, and is in the process of leaving her low-life husband. When her money is stolen as she sleeps aboard a Greyhound bus, she is forced to take a job as a cake dancer, an event that brings her into contact with another lost soul, Arlis Sweeney (Dennis Quaid). Arlis and Kay are instantly drawn to each other and soon become intimate, little realising their prospects of a future together are doomed. By the shadow of a dark event from thirty years before. Flesh And Bone is every inch a film noir, but Kay is far too vulnerable to qualify as a classic femme fatale, although Arlis finds her so alluring he’s prepared to kill his own father in order to protect her. Femme fatale or not, I can’t think of another character in the career of Meg Ryan who provides such a plethora of memorable moments as Kay Davies. Drinking whisky from the bottle before for her ill-fated dancing debut. A bizarre and very funny wake up scene; where she tries to rationalise a motel room filled with painted chickens, blue dimes and boxes of condoms. Shooting up her house after being punched in the face by her husband, and a tear inducing monologue about ‘the people in the picture’, being four of many. Meg Ryan subtly subverts her innate cuteness during the course of the film to dovetail beautifully with the arc of her character, and she delivers in spades during the hard-hitting, emotional scenes in Flesh and Bone’s third act. No matter how many times I’ve watched this film, I always find myself hoping for a different ending; but it’s the tragedy of Kay that makes her so memorable, and her plight is so compelling, she doesn’t just tug at my heartstrings, she tears them asunder.