Herbie's Love Bug

June 20, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

Based on a sampling of e-mails I received this morning, I am in the position of having to defend my decision to review Herbie Fully Loaded while ignoring The Perfect Man. Both are targeted at pretty much the same demographic, although one could make a case that Herbie is a little more family friendly (it also has the "nostalgia" thing going for it). The reason Herbie is more interesting to me is that Lindsay Lohan is more talented in front of the camera than Hilary Duff. The latter "actress" is a pretty face with the ability to manipulate girls into thinking they want to be like her. Lohan, on the other hand, has the potential to grow into a capable thespian - if she doesn't lose her focus.

The problem with Lohan is that, like many girl performers of her generation, she is trying to "branch out" into other fields, such as music. Looking back through the years, it's difficult to come up with more than a handful of performers who were capable actors and popular singers. (Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and Cher are the best examples, but there aren't many in that club.) Plenty of recent singers have tried to bridge the gap into movies, but the list of failures outnumbers the list of successes. And few who have gone in the other direction (acting to singing) have been able to keep their theatrical career moving forward. Jennifer Love Hewitt (who?) and Jennifer Lopez are prime examples.

Lopez is an especially sad case. Looking back to her early career, before her recording took off, she showed a lot of promise - the kind of promise that, if nurtured, could lead to an Oscar. Remember Selena, Out of Sight, and The Cell? Then Jenny from the Block arrived, and Lopez's acting went into a tailspin from which it never recovered. The Ben Affleck debacle didn't help, but that was only a symptom. Now, she's a box-office name without a lot of clout, and an actress who has lost sight of her craft. Lopez is someone Lohan would do well not to emulate.

The best idea for those who want to be both pop stars and actors is to do them separately. If Lohan wants to make a few albums, she would be best served to take a few years off from acting. Billie Piper, the British teen pop princess, turned her back on music after a few years of stardom so she could focus on acting. Now 24, Piper has turned into a respectible actress with an increasingly impressive resume. If what Lohan really wants to do is act, then she should ignore the Hilary Duffs and Mandy Moores of the world and throw herself into movie roles. She'll be collecting award nominations long after everyone has forgotten who they are.

So Herbie represents an interesting litmus test. To this point, Lohan has been gaining momentum with each release. She was good in Freaky Friday and better in Mean Girls. But it was during her Herbie work that she became paparazzi fodder and started "branching out." So the question for Lohan over her next few films (including this one) is whether she can continue to differentiate herself from the pack, or whether she'll just become another of the many attractive had-beens in waiting.