The long-awaited return of Christina Ricci

Christina Ricci Getty 1.jpg

There’s so much to love yellow jackets, the Showtime drama that has quickly become one of the true watercooler shows of the past twelve months. It’s an intriguing mystery of survivalism, gender roles and trauma, with fascinating insight into the physical and emotional grotesqueness young women are forced into during adolescence. For lovers of wickedly underrated actresses, yellow jackets has a lot to offer, from Melanie Lynskey as dissatisfied stay-at-home mom Shauna to Juliette Lewis as Natalie, the former burnout struggling with addiction issues. And then there’s Christina Ricci as Misty, the nurse who started the series as an outcast of the group and slowly evolved into something far more dangerous. It’s a great performance, a star in a show full of them, and it’s also so good to see Christina Ricci back in action.

Like many notable actors who have made so-called returns in recent years, Ricci never really left. She’s worked steadily in film and TV for over three decades and you’ve probably spotted her in something and had a “huh” moment before. yellow jackets. She’s so instantly recognizable that it’s hard not to be taken in by her every time she appears. Oh hey, it’s Christina Ricci! What did she do ? Didn’t we miss her? Yes.

Ricci managed to make a major impact at an early age and did so in a role that continues to define her. It’s hard to imagine a piece of child actor cast as perfect as Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams. Even if you remember that the original version of the character was much more jagged and youthful in her personality, it just seems right that Ricci plays her and does it the way she did. In Barry Sonnenfeld’s highly entertaining duology based on the classic ’60s sitcom, Ricci’s Wednesday is the precocious sociopath with a deadpan demeanor and obvious disdain for his fellow man. Where his brother Pugsley is just happy to go around, Wednesday is in charge, the smartest person in the room at any given time and probably the most armed too. The way she comically delivers the most scathing of one-liners is hugely entertaining. Few moments in ’90s comedies make me chuckle with delight as if Wednesday fit the fantastical description of a girl innocent of where her new brother comes from. It’s truly one of the great performances of child stars, the perfect balance of precocity and petulance, the kind of star trick that inspires dozens of imitators but is never completely imitated. It’s a hell of a way to launch your career when you’re not even old enough to drive. Imagine this characterizing your career for decades to come.

Ricci never stopped working after his child star days were over. She oscillated between accessible family films and abrasive indie fare, revealing her true range through the latter. She was still a teenager when she delivered some of her toughest performances, like the tightrope walk of innocence and bitter bitterness she achieves in The opposite of sex. The burgeoning independent scene of American cinema in the 90s allowed him to breathe between dishes ready for the public like sleepy hollow Where Damn. There’s immense scope in those 15 years of work, whether as Aileen Wuornos’ girlfriend in Monster or like the hopeful romantic with a pig nose in Penelope.

It’s interesting how an actress with such a specific look can be such a malleable presence across genres. She seems equally at home in Tim Burton’s gothic doll kingdom as she is in the shaky indie scene of Sundance-ready ’90s dramas. With this pointed bob, she’s perfect for the retina-scorching world of anime that comes to life in the ever-underrated speed racer. She’s still recognizable but feels like a natural fit for anything and everything, so it’s a surprise she didn’t take that big step to the top that she clearly deserved. Consider her the most independent Winona Ryder, another instantly familiar ’90s actress whose hot streak fell through due to various circumstances (and good old-fashioned sexism.) That’s one reason why it sucks to see this depressing lull in Ricci. career in the 2010s when she was stuck in the dreck as Bucky Larson: Born to be a star in the role of ungrateful girlfriend. Ricci can do sweetness, but we yearned for the spiky edges she made so appealing.

Ricci has a wonderfully caustic side in yellow jackets which feels like a natural extension of his best work of The Addams Family forward. You are drawn to her petite exterior, her big eyes that seem so welcoming, only for her to release that smirk and let you know that the fun has only just begun. As she noted in an interview with the new yorker, there’s a kind of “passive aggression” that women like her are used to weaponizing, using that underrated cuteness to blurt out something much more extreme. There is a toughness about Ricci that has attracted many women. I know I was when I first saw Wednesday Addams. She seemed liberating like none of the other girls my age in movies did. It’s familiar but not “relatable”, at least not in the sense of the mundane limits that Hollywood demands of this concept.

Not all of the things that make Ricci unique are the kind of feminine traits mainstream pop culture is comfortable with. Difficult women have made strides in the golden age of television, but still lag behind their male counterparts and are more likely to be hated than understood (hello, Skyler White.) yellow jackets is thankfully indifferent to such nonsense, which is one of the reasons audiences can’t get enough of it. Ricci’s ferocity, his deceptive kindness to flint wit and untapped power, has never been diluted over the decades. Many have tried and it’s a relief that they failed, and now a new generation understands why it matters so much. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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Kayleigh is a feature writer and editor for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to his podcast, The Hollywood Reading.

Header image source: Frazer Harrison // Getty Images

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