Whoopi Goldberg is like a lot of comediennes in that she has to work extra hard when she’s in a movie that’s not a comedy to get people to see her as anything other than ‘Whoopi Goldberg—funny person/political celebrity/wise black grandmother I never had’. Not that that’s always a bad thing. After all, she was hand-picked to be the moderator on The View (I looked it up on Wikipedia, back off) because of what she did to movies she was in—quietly lorded over them with her distinctly nurturing and no-nonsense persona.
Whoopi has acted in dozens of films, but only a few where she could leave an indelible mark and not make the movie suck. We refer to these as ‘Whoopi Goldberg movies that don’t suck’, and there are five, to be exact.
5. Sister Act
This is a movie that was pretty much built around Goldberg’s shtick, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Star vehicles are as much a part of Hollywood as mineral water and Scientology. Who better to teach some uptight, whiter-than white nuns to dance, be merry, and politely defile monastery discipline than somebody who got her name because of her real-life tendency to fart unapologetically? Nobody, that’s who.
She’s Whoopi fucking Goldberg. She has rhythm, and it will get you. Sister Act currently sits at #83 on Bravo’s 100 funniest films of all time list.
A chick-flick through and through, but not lacking in heart and high-quality sincerity regarding the three women (Whoopi, Drew Barrymore, Mary-Louise Parker) who embark on cross-country road trip that provokes self-discovery that’s both funny and corny. Looking back, there’s probably no movie that’s more 90sish than Boys on the Side. It’s strait-laced, light-hitting, and doesn’t overly-commit to lesbianism (Whoopi’s topic role), AIDS, feminism, domestic abuse, or any other Lilith Fair talking points it decides to broach.
It’s like a friendlier, less Amazonian Thelma and Louise.
Basically a poor man’s version of Mississippi Burning—meaning not as violent, and a little too Hollywood to be as poignant as it could’ve been considering, like Mississippi Burning, it was based on a true story. Once again, Whoopi inherits a generation’s worth of black frustration, anguish, and hopeful optimism as Myrlie Evers, widow of assassinated civil rights firebrand Medgar Evers. James Woods is menacing and fantastic as Evers’ aging killer. Alec Baldwin, however, is miscast as the white-knight lawyer in shining armor hell-bent on cracking the long-dead case.
It all amounts to a mole hill of emotional weightlessness that feels like a made-for-TV movie.
She didn’t get to be a part of Demi & Swayze’s dirty, sexy pottery session, but she was scene-stealing as a fake psychic who ironically struggles with the possibility that she might actually really be psychic. Go ahead, admit it… you cried when she talked through the door with Demi near the end. You gotta give credit to a film that’s original and restrained enough to not even hint at lesbian overtones when Swayze’s ghost inherits Whoopi’s body so he can have one last slow dance.
Or maybe the director just decided he wanted to protect the world from being exposed to Whoopi naked. She would end up winning the Academy Award that year in 1990 for best supporting actress.
This movie, adapted from the award-winning novel, was nominated for every important Academy Award in the book, and gave most of the world their first introduction to Whoopi as battered wife ‘Celie’ to Danny Glover’s abusive ‘Mister’. She was rightly nominated for best actress, but didn’t win. In fact, of the eleven nominations The Color Purple earned, not one won—a record for ‘almost-but-not-quite’ that still stands. No matter—Whoopi’s embodiment of Southern black womanhood, and her character’s transformation from home-bodied victim to emotional and financial independence will resonate for as long as she lives. The same can’t be said for Glover, who parlayed this and every other good film he’s ever been in into a follow-up career as a dissident toolbag.
That makes five—count ‘em—five Whoopi Goldberg movies that don’t suck. That’s not bad. McConaughey has yet to hit that mark, and he acts full time. It’s hard to say whether Goldberg will ever aggressively commit herself to acting, again. If the dreadlocks on her head start to turn gray, she could be a female Morgan Freeman and end up playing God or lending her voice-over to damn near everything. Like a twinkie, like a twinkie.
Do you think Goldberg will ever be able to get back in the game and possibly bump one of these off her list off movies that don’t suck?