Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Sexiness of Smarts

She is as famous for movies she turned down as those she made and now, after years of retreat into real life, Debra Winger at 53 is back as a reminder that nothing is more erotic than beauty and brains.

Her disappearance inspired a documentary, "Searching for Debra Winger," in which middle-aged Hollywood women pour out their unhappiness over losing stardom that came to them for their stunning looks.

But there is another quality in Winger rarely seen in those "look at me, love me, worship me" beauties--an always-working mind and undisguised vulnerability that drew watchers into her world, in "Terms of Endearment," "Urban Cowboy" and "Officer and a Gentleman."

Even in lesser efforts like the dopey "Legal Eagles" and chilling "Black Widow," there was a kind of offhand sensuality that makes re-viewing a pleasure.

Only in "Shadowlands" with Anthony Hopkins as C. S. Lewis did we get an idea of what Winger could do in high-powered drama, holding her own with a troupe of British elite actors.

Biography offers clues to her Hollywood reputation as difficult and "too smart for her own good." Graduating from high school at 15 and dropping out of community college, she had a near-fatal accident that left her temporarily blind and paralyzed. When she recovered from what she describes as "eating a mortality sandwich," she decided to put that awareness into being an actress.

Now, after three Oscar nominations and retirement to a farmhouse, raising a family and writing a philosophical book, Winger is back in "Rachel Getting Married," playing the mother of a troubled young woman.

Watching her will still be a pleasure.

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