Deeper and deeper we go into the cinematic void that is January. The stygian emptiness is so encompassing by now that we must ask ourselves pointless, unanswerable questions just to keep going. So: will 2014 be the year that movieland's love affair with Robert Downey Jr. sputters out like Jarvis after Tony Stark spills his mimosa all over the hard drive? Signs point to yes!
Sign number one: his presentation speech for Best Actress at the 2014 Golden Globes on Sunday. It started well enough: "No matter whose name is called when I open this envelope," he began, "tonight, I'm leaving here a winner." Ha ha! What a wisecracking egotist — just like his renditions of Stark and Sherlock Holmes! His first two gags after that got chuckles, but then: "Should it be Miss [Julie] Delpy (for Before Midnight), it reaffirms the artistic integrity of sequels." Silence.
Robert Downey Jr. at the Golden Globes
And then the desperation sets in: "If it goes Greta Gerwig's way (for Frances Ha), I shall finally stop associating her surname with a film about an angry inch." Wow — a tortured reference to a minor film that came out 13 years ago, just because Hedwig sounds a little like "Gerwig." The laughs are getting nervous now. Can this be happening? And to finish: a gag about how Meryl Streep has won a lot of awards — enough to fill a shipping container(!) His Streep joke got topped by Tina Fey's line about strong roles for Meryl Streeps over 60! It's as if even Robert Downey Jr. is getting tired of Robert Downey Jr.'s schtick.
Sign number two: look, we all know it's about the money, and by that measure, RDJ really is King for a Day, thanks to his $50 million payday for The Avengers. He called himself a "strategic cost" — the studio knows it has to have him, much more than it has to have, say, Christian Bale to play Batman. But there are other measures of power as well. Back in November, Downey's Iron Man co-star Terrence Howard claimed that he was pushed out of the franchise because Downey demanded so much money that the studio decided to cut Howard's salary from $8 million to $1 million. Getting your co-star replaced so you can get paid? That's some serious influence.
But according to Radar Online, he was unable to get even a minor role — as The President — for his friend Mel Gibson on Iron Man 3. I mean, what does it say about you when you can't get a Hollywood studio head to cast your pal, himself a former A-lister? I mean, it's not like Gibson...oh, wait, he did? Oh.
Mel Gibson fascinates me a little — I even wrote a book about him — and so here we get to the real point of this January meandering: my deep curiosity about whether the most beloved man in Hollywood will be able to rehabilitate the most reviled. Between the drunken rant at his arrest and his leaked phone calls, Gibson has offended Jews, women, and blacks. But Robert Downey Jr. wants you to forgive him. Here he is, accepting the American Cinematheque award in 2011:
Robert Downey Jr. asks forgiveness for Mel Gibson
"Actually, I asked Mel to present this award to me for a reason. Because when I couldn't get sober, he told me not to give up hope. And he urged me to find my faith. Didn't have to be his or anyone else's, as long as it was rooted in forgiveness. And I couldn't get hired, so he cast me in the lead of a movie that was actually developed for him. And he kept a roof over my head and he kept food on the table. And most importantly, he said that if I accepted responsibility for my wrongdoings and if I embraced that part of my soul that was ugly — hugging the cactus, he calls it — he said that if I hugged the cactus long enough, I'd become a man of some humility, and that my life would take on a new meaning.
"And I did, and it worked. All he asked in return was that someday I help the next guy in some small way. It's reasonable to assume that at the time, he didn't imagine the next guy would be him, or that someday was tonight... I humbly ask that you join me, unless you are completely without sin — in which case, you picked the wrong fucking industry — in forgiving my friend his trespasses, offering him the same clean slate you have me, and allowing him to continue his great and ongoing contribution to our collective art without shame. He's hugged the cactus long enough."
Since then, Mel Gibson has starred in Get the Gringo, a not-terrible film that never saw a theatrical release, and Machete Kills, a terrible film that never should have seen a theatrical release. He did get a gig in The Expendables 3, so who knows? Maybe Downey got through. Maybe he's just that beloved.
Another test of that love: this is the first year since RDJ put on the tin suit in which he will appear as neither Iron Man or Sherlock Holmes, two already-famous characters he managed to successfully embody. Does anybody remember his other films post-2008? The Soloist? Due Date?
Chef is due in May, The Judge in October. Will they succeed? We'll see.