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Then & Now: Jenny Lewis

11.03.2012by: Salacious Crumb

Time: The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole. I have a hunch the lot of you will be going out this weekend to catch the long-awaited WRECK-IT RALPH, whether it be with the little ones or your stoner buddies. It has Sonic in it, it's gotta be good, right? It also seems like an easy distraction from that big, annoying thing happening this tuesday (Now 44: That's What I Call Music comes out in stores). It's interesting how most of the best video-game movies aren't based on any particular game. Take THE WIZARD from 1989 for example. That's a pretty good original film that happens to be up to its neck in '80's video-game nostalgia, much like WRECK-IT. It had Fred Savage, Christian Slater, Beau Bridges and that one chick... what's her name? Jenny Lewis. What in the name of Mrs. Pac-man happened to her?

Jenny grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada where her mother was a professional singer and her father was a member of the Harmonica Gang (a group of thugs who mugged tourists with their deadly harmonicas; or not). She got into acting by being cast in a Jell-O commercial as a child. Jenny, like many others featured in this column, had a pretty unique first acting credit, as a "ghost child" in an episode of "The New Twilight Zone". In 1986, she was cast as one of Lucille Ball's grandchildren in the short-lived sitcom "Life With Lucy". After that, she was in all sorts of crap; episodes of "Baywatch", "The Golden Girls", "Rosanne", "Growing Pains", "Just The 10 Of Us", "Brooklyn Bridge"... but nothing as marvelous as her first role in the movies, alongside the magnificent Shelly Long in...

... more crap. Okay, so maybe it's a matter of opinion, but TROOP BEVERLY HILLS didn't have a successful run, and critics practically tore it to shreds like a shark would a piñata full of human flesh. It does have a likable nostalgia quality to it I suppose. The animated intro is directed by John K., the creator of "Ren & Stimpy". It follows Shelly Long as wife separated from her husband (Craig T. Nelson) because he thinks she's too self-absorbed. To prove him wrong, she applies to be the only leader of their daughter Hannah's unruly "Girl Scout-esque" troop, The Wilderness Girls. Jenny plays Hannah, who seems to play the parent to both her mother and father fighting like children over the divorce. Naturally, things don't go so smooth when Shelly tries to take control of the troop. They're more ruthless than the Harmonica Gang. Overall, it's a lot like BUSHWHACKED with Daniel Stern, another forgettable movie. The acting is over-the-top, and it's really one of the last of its kind, so I hate to bash it. But, yeah, it isn't particularly good. Luckily , before falling to certain doom, she was rescued in mid-air by the kid from "The Wonder Years".

Let me just state for my own personal dignity that I'm not insisting Jenny Lewis was a "hottie" in THE WIZARDS. In fact, the first time I saw it I was probably too young to know she wasn't just a boy with long hair. But as I got older, I developed a crush on her character, if only for her utter fascination with video-games (a characteristic everyone seems to possess in the movie). It follows Corey (Fred Savage) and a unresponsive (probably autistic) kid named Jimmy, whose parents want to send him to an institution because he doesn't speak, with the exception of one word: "California". While Corey helps him make his escape to California, he discovers Jimmy is the Pinball Wizard of arcade games. They first encounter Haley (Jenny Lewis) at the train station, where they make a bet that Jimmy can score better on the game Double Dragon than she can. The way these kids exchange conversation about video-games is very mature, like the way Mr. Miyagi talks about martial arts. So Haley joins the two on their journey, and they ask no questions as to why she's all on her own, and willing to abandon whatever family or plans she may have had. She convinces Corey to enter Jimmy into a big video-game championship in Los Angeles, provided they don't die along the way.

Once they start hitching rides to L.A., they have repeated encounters with adults either mug them or threated to beat them, and leave them on the side of the street. It sends the same message as most kids' movies: DON'T TRUST GROWN-UPS. There's even an investigator walking into random arcades, interrogating children in search of little Jimmy. I enjoy the scenes with Christian Slater and Beau Bridges, Jimmy's brother and father. They don't communicate or get along well, but they start bonding over Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on NES during their hunt for Jimmy, because there's always time for video-games, even when your son is being tortured in some shack.

He's rooting for your high score.

THE WIZARD is known for featuring practically every Nintendo game and accessory the company had at the time, and it was geared towards kids, so they probably quadrupled their sales that year (and then went back to normal after the SUPER MARIO BROS. movie). The movie even had a sneak preview (at the time) of Nintendo's Super Mario World 3. That must've been a big moment for game nerds everywhere. There are plenty of other memorable, funny moments, like when Jenny accuses the evil investigator of touching her breast in a crowded arcade, in order to make an escape. They get to California and spend half the time showcasing themepark attractions at Universal Studios (King Kong and Bruce the shark both make an appearance). And then, of course, there's the showdown at the end when Jimmy, the Wizard, wins the big championship. WIZARD is honestly the only movie I've ever known Jenny Lewis to star in, but there are a few others.

Jenny had a side-part in the New Line Cinema flop BIG GIRLS DON'T CRY... THEY GET EVEN, which is only worth one sentence of overview. In 1996, she made a turn to darker territory in the coming of age movie FOXFIRE, starring Angelina Jolie as a bad girl rebel who sticks up for Jenny's character, Rita Faldes, when she refuses to dissect a frog. Jolie then manipulates her into joining her "girl gang", which was again, nearly as dangerous as the Harmonica Gang (those violent, musical bastards).

Jenny's acting career came to a seemingly abrupt end in 1998, with a final small part in PLEASANTVILLE, alongside redhead Marissa Ribisi (as Kristin and Kimmy). She wasn't even in the cool black & white "Pleasantville" scenes, either. She was just a run-of-the-mill high school ho-bag. That was her last role on film for 13 years. That has to sting, right? And it begs the question, what has she been doing to occupy all that time? Has she been sitting in the attic, waring down her thumbs playing Double Dragon and Jaws on NES? Let's find out...

I'm really not sure how that all just went over for you. I certainly have no complaints. I would Crash her Bandicoot (whatever that means). Relax, she's 36-years-old now, so it's okay for me to subject her to video-game innuendo, and you can't stop me! I'd like to show her my Donkey Kong Jr.  I'd like to put her Battletoads on my Frogger... okay I should've quit at Donkey Kong Jr. Moving on... If this doesn't surprise you, maybe this next bit of information will. Wondering about that 13 year gap? Well, in 1998 she joined an indie rock band called Rilo Kiley as the lead singer, and also played guitar, bass and keys. The band kept steady and released five albums during the course of 1999-2007. The opened for Coldplay during their 2005 tour. Jenny has lent her vocals to the music of several bands including The Postal Service, Bright Eyes, Cursive, and Elvis Costello and the Imposters. In other words, she's a f*cking rockstar, man!

To a degree, anyway. Sure her band looks just like your average cookie-cutter ensemble, but I think it was Jenny who brought something special to the table. In fact, she recenlty released a well-recieved solo album titled "Acid Tongue". Take a listen to this song she recorded with Zooey Deschanel on background vocals... So if you thought the oddly sophisticated and assertive teenage girl from THE WIZARD had vanished off the face of the earth, you just weren't looking hard enough. I find this to be an interesting turnout, since unlike the others, Jenny did quit acting. She moved on to something she was more passionate about, which is neat and respectable. She's pretty easy on the eyes, even though she's no longer obligated to be, and that I can dig as well. Nice job becoming your own person, Jenny Lewis!

Extra Tidbit: The only single acting credit Jenny has had since the year 2000 was in Disney's BOLT. She provided vocals for the "Assistant Director" in the opening scene.


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