Friday, June 4, 2010

Off Topic: Ode to Vanessa Lutz

I promised myself when I started this blog that I would not be a prisoner to it. “Blog,” I said, “You will not be the boss of me. I will only post when I have the time and something to say.”

Yet, even given that low bar for prolificity, I have been the lamest lamester in the town of Laminghood. It has been almost a month since my last post.

So, I’m forcing myself to post, even though I am going slightly off topic.

After reading EW's top 100 characters of the last 20 years, I was hurt, shocked, disappointed, dismayed, angry and every other adjective that describes a state of irritation to learn that they had overlooked my personal favorite.

Though they felt compelled to name Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston's portrait of a hairstyle on Friends) as #6, they completely dropped the ball by omitting Vanessa Lutz, the foul-mouthed, quick-tempered, violent, white trash spawn of a crack whore mother who was channeled brilliantly by Reese Witherspoon in the cult classic Freeway (1996).

Today, I will remedy that sinful omission by singing her praises.


"Fuck you, you piece of shit."

Where to begin? Vanessa Lutz, not wanting to end up a ward of the state again after her mother and molesting step-dad are arrested for solicitation and drug possession, hits the I-5 freeway-- towards her Grandmother's trailer park in Northern California. But, unfortunately, her car breaks down.

Further adding to her misfortune, she is picked up by an Orange County serial killer named Bob Wolverton (Keifer Sutherland). Bob gains Vanessa's trust through a series of increasingly personal questions that touch upon the abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather.

"I guess I trust you more than I've ever trusted anyone in my whole life, Bob."

There is one big obvious way that this modern-day take on Little Red Riding Hood could have gone from this point forward. Vanessa would be victimized, barely escaping with her life through much of Act 2, until finally finding the inner strength she needs to kill Big, Bad Bob Wolverton in the Act 3 confrontation.

But this is NOT that movie ... and this is most definitely NOT the Reese Witherspoon you may know and love from Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama.

You see, Miss Vanessa Lutz is no victim. She may be a traumatized and trusting child, but once her street smarts kick in and she sniffs out Bob as the wolf that he is, she turns the tables.

"You wanna get shot a whole bunch of times? Now do like I tell you, dumbass!"

Against all odds (and fully against audience expectations), Vanessa remains fully in control of her fate from the moment she turns the tables on Wolverton right up until the final confrontation at Grandma's house.

Vanessa Lutz, as written by Matthew Bright and as played by Witherspoon, is hilarious, heartbreaking, and more than a little scary. She flips between child-like vulnerability and cold, calculated violence in an instant. She lies, cheats, steals, and is responsible for the death of at least one person who didn't seem to deserve it, yet you still want her to win. She may be more "Hood" than "Little Red Riding", but you can't help but cheer her on as she makes her way through a series of situations that would make most grown men crumble.

By the time Vanessa is done with Mr. Wolverton, he's pooping in a bag, impotent and looking like this:

And we aren't even halfway through the movie, yet.

Freeway takes the "girl in peril" archetype, flips it over and body slams it. Vanessa Lutz has no reason for optimism in her situation, but she never collapses into self-doubt or self pity. She is a crafty survivor who is used to having the odds stacked against her and drawing on her seemingly infinite will to see her through.

But why does this girl who has nothing going for her find the relentless drive to survive and triumph over her tormentor? What is the reason for her ability to overcome every obstacle -- both physical and psychological -- that is thrown her way?

As Vanessa Lutz herself says:
"Because I'm pissed off and the whole world owes me."

Hell yes, Vanessa, the world does owe you. And EW owes you big time. You are one of the most original, funny, brutal, and (yes) loveable misfit protagonists of the last 20 years. You are the reason that I can forgive Reese Witherspoon for the string of less interesting roles she has tackled since (with the notable exception of Tracy Flick in Election).

The world owes you ... but, unfortunately, you will have to settle for this mere blogger shout-out.

(Just for the record, after seeing this movie, I had what I still believe to be the brilliant idea of casting Reese Witherspoon as the grown-up version of Newt in Alien 3 ... not that anyone ever asked me .... because if they did ... that's what I would have told them ... but instead they went and killed off Newt in the opening credits ... which still bugs me ... Reese would have rocked it...)


  1. well, it's ok if you post infrequently. quality over quantity is preferred.

    PLUS when do get off your lazy blogger butt and POST something already, it lights up in the readers and then I get all excited :)

    BUT OH MY GAWD! I had never heard of this movie nor the Reese Witherspoon displaying such talents. Sounds like absolute awesome fun!

    Nice to hear of a chick taking the reins and not being a pussy for once :)


  2. NICE. I echo the sentiments of Mrs. Hall. I will happily wait for quality over quantity.

    Okay, well, I may not do it HAPPILY but I'll deal. Excellent post for a character that had completely dropped from my radar. I know you have to balance these sort of lists when publishing to the masses but I hated how overwhelmingly pop centric it was.

    ... and yes, I know I was reading Entertainment Weekly. :)

  3. You're back! Hurrah!
    Thoroughly enjoyed this. I've always found there to be something about Ms. Witherspoon I like despite never having really seen her in anything as she does tend to do movies outside of my field of interest. This, however, I must try to see.
    Really nice to have you back.

  4. Thanks guys (blushing) ... please check out this movie and let me know what you think. I'm pretty sure you can stream it for free on the internet. Avoid the sequel with Natasha Lyonne, however.