Sarah Jessica Parker: Career Curve

Sarah Jessica Parker's climb to fame was a long slow burn. Her flame achieved a white-hot iridescence at the turn of the century, but has since dimmed considerably. On the eve of the release of her latest film, one wonders: Which way is her career headed?

When She Had Fun

After starring on the much-loved but short-lived "Square Pegs," SJP quickly landed a small role in the 1984 classic "Footloose" and soon followed that with the lead in "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," as a Catholic School girl coming of age under the strictures of her father and the nuns. The trailer is a perfect distillation of everything that made the '80s such a wretched decade. But, hey, Parker was, like the rest of us, just a victim of her era.

She worked steadily, if without much acclaim, for the next few years, a time marked mostly by forgettable TV movies. But in 1991, she landed a small role in Steve Martin's "LA Story," as Martin's much younger love interest, a bubbly California girl who introduces him to the joys of enemas and rollerskating. It was a great performance. She breathed life into every minute she was on screen and it established her as a future star.

Sadly, her next roles were opposite Nic Cage in the limp "Honeymoon in Vegas," and Bruce Willis in "Striking Distance" in which she played a Pittsburgh police officer patrolling the city's three rivers—no, really. She rebounded nicely in 1994, however, with another spirited turn, this time opposite Johnny Depp in "Ed Wood."

'Sex' and Success

In 1998, Parker finally landed the career-making role of Carrie Bradshaw in "Sex and the City," the insanely popular HBO series that achieved such a pitched level of popularity that America is still not yet past its bizarre cupcake infatuation. As the leader of a pack of glamorous women shopping, drinking and sleeping their way across Manhattan, Parker was the perfect surrogate for every woman who dreamed of spending just one night in a pair of Manolos skipping through the Meatpacking District chasing or being chased by hot men. She didn’t have a Barbie body, she's not classically beautiful by Hollywood standards. When the show finally ended, it was reasonable to assume her film career was waiting to blow up.

While "The Family Stone" and "Failure to Launch" brought out enough "SATC" fans to gross more than $140 million combined, both were poorly received by critics, and one didn’t get the sense that she was living up to the high expectations set by her TV successes. Fortunately, the inevitable "Sex and the City" movie happened, grossing $152 million, proving there was still no shortage of fans out there. But the next year saw the release of "Did You Hear About the Morgans," which was panned and took in a measly $29 million, recouping only half its budget.

The true measure of her decline in the zeitgeist came with the virulent reaction to "SATC 2." People hated this movie, even those who loved SJP.

Which brings us to "I Don’t Know How She Does It," an adaptation of Allison Pearson's bestseller about a woman trying to juggle her commitments as a mother, wife and financial wiz. The early reviews have not been kind, with Lisa Schwarzbaum of EW offering the amusing, if predictable, declaration, "I don't know why she does it."

Smaller May Be Better

Parker has failed to parlay the goodwill she earned with "Sex and the City,"offering up on e underwhelming film after another, and there's no reason to think she's gonna turn that ship around with "I Don't Know How She Does It." So where does she go from here? There's been talk of a third "Sex" film, but that would be a mistake, as the previous film showed that the foursome have clearly run their course--a reboot in 15 years? Maybe, but a third installment would benefit no one.

At 46, Parker's ancient by industry standards and the number of quality lead roles for women of that age is nearly zero--especially for woman who aren't model-gorgeous. Her turn as president of fashion label Halston Heritage didn't work either, despite her bona-fide tastemaker status.

She should consider returning to smaller roles--as in "LA Story," " Ed Wood," "State and Main"--where she doesn't have to pace herself for 100 minutes, and just cut loose.

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