Requiem for a Crush

How Jennifer Connelly starved her way to seriousness

An unrequited crush can be a painful thing, but it's even worse when the object of your sweaty affections is a movie star you've never met, who will never know your name and who is so far out of your league that you may as well be members of different species.

My crush began sometime in early 1991, when I saw the trailer for a dire-looking John Hughes comedy, Career Opportunities. I was barely paying attention, when suddenly there was young Jennifer Connelly, wearing a white tank top that showed off her spectacular curves to perfection. She was bouncing up and down on one of those little mechanical horsy things you see at the mall, and she had this kinda bored, pouty expression that–oh, sweet Jesus, I still get woozy just thinking of it.

I'd first seen the New York native way back in 1986, when she'd starred alongside a fright-wigged David Bowie and a few dozen Muppets in the Jim Henson cult classic Labyrinth. But that Jennifer was just a kid, boobless and buttless, with the big, sad eyes of a lost kitten. She was old enough to be in my same grade at school, but entertaining sexual thoughts about her would've felt wrong­—like pedophilia, almost. Now here we were, just a few short years later, and she'd grown up real good. I was instantly smitten, but it didn't became a full-blown, John Hinkley-esque obsession until a few months later, when she appeared in the Disney bomb The Rocketeer. She spent much of that picture dolled up in this old-timey, low-cut, white dress, and she was simply too gorgeous for this world; it was like the skies had opened and a zaftig angel was walking among us. I saw that stupid movie at least three times in the theater, and I resented every moment when my girl wasn't onscreen. Who cared about that dork and his jetpack, when we'd just seen Jennifer in her bedroom, putting on her lipstick?

There is a reason why they call a crush a crush: it can be oppressive and exhausting, like a big, fancy, perfumed millstone around your neck. My Connelly crush began before the Internet became ubiquitous, so I couldn't just hop online for a quick Jennifer fix. I had to stay up to catch her (all-too-brief!) interviews on Letterman, or pounce on any magazine where she appeared on the cover. I never saw any Jennifer Connelly posters for sale, but I wouldn't have bought them anyhow. Owning posters would've been admitting to myself that she was the untouchable star and I was just one of her many anonymous fans, doomed to go to my grave without ever once knowing the smell of her lustrous, midnight-black hair. When I learned that she was studying English at Yale–brains and beauty!–I nearly perished.

I loved everything about Connelly: her smarts (after two years at Yale, she transferred to Stanford), her little mouse voice, her chubby cheeks, her untamed brows, and . . . well, let's not kid ourselves, the girl was built. On those rare occasions when I confessed to my girlfriends that I was hung-up on Connelly, they invariably sneered, "Oh, of course," rolling their eyes and cupping their hands about two feet in front of their chests. Sadly, my girlfriends weren't the only ones who had trouble seeing beyond Jennifer's double-Ds. Casting directors were equally blind to her other assets, and through most of the '90s she played a lot of bimbos in a lot of forgettable films. Her talent was obvious even in these thankless roles, and the two words that critics most often used to describe her were voluptuous and underused.

For a long time, Connelly's sexiness actually worked against her professionally. Sure, Hollywood likes beautiful actresses, and some sexiness is okay. But if an actress is, like, porn-star hot, with big, distracting boobs, it doesn't matter how talented or ambitious she might be—she'll still have a hard time ever being more than a pinup. Marilyn Monroe famously struggled with this, and she was cursed by being so far ahead of her time, so desperate to please, and so damn stacked. She was a Lee Strasberg girl in a Jayne Mansfield world. On the contemporary scene, Angelina Jolie strains the limits of acceptable sexiness. Usually, American leading ladies are the "pert," willowy, girl-next-door type: your Megs, your Julias, your Camerons, girls so well-scrubbed it's hard to imagine them ever getting dirty. The only time anybody noticed Julia Roberts' rack was when she shoved it in our faces in Erin Brockovich, and that was pure stunt casting. Roberts' utilitarian prettiness left her free to do drama, comedy, romance or whatever she felt like, while Connelly, Roberts' contemporary, spent much of her career playing pillowy girlfriends in whatever movie she could get.

Connelly briefly dropped off my radar in the late '90s, and the next time I saw her, sometime in the new millennium, I literally didn't recognize her at first. She'd lost so much weight I wondered if she'd been ill. (Seriously, she could practically live in one of her old bras now.) She looked grumpy, like she'd kill for a Twinkie. But what do you know, suddenly people were treating her like a "serious" actress, and she was winning awards. She won an Oscar, for Christ's sake! My Jennifer!

In interviews today, Connelly talks about how she almost gave up acting in the '90s because she was so frustrated with the unchallenging roles she was getting, how she's never been happier than she is right now and never felt more like herself. Even if looking at her just makes me sad now, if starving away her curves made her happy, if she did it for herself, well, God bless her. Still, I have this awful feeling that sometime around 1999, Connelly's agent took her aside and told her she was never gonna win an Academy Award with those boobs. She's so grimly, insistently thin. It looks like hard work. I miss her old, crazy brows, too.

The Jennifer I fell for, half a lifetime ago, was too big for the movies she was in. It was like they could hardly fit her on the screen. Today's Jennifer actually looks much more like the teenage Jennifer of Labyrinth: tentative and wispy, like a strong wind could blow her away. You see her in some grim, big-deal drama like Blood Diamond, and there's absolutely nothing, at all, to distract you from her performance. I still respect her talent, but her makeover has brought her full circle, and once again, entertaining sexual thoughts about her feels wrong somehow. Sadly, I suspect that was kind of the point.

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