Why has Kate Hudson been in so few good movies? 17 years later, the actress is still waiting to make good on the promise she showed in Almost Famous.
When Kate Hudson first appears about 20 minutes into Almost Famous, the tenor of the movie changes. She's like a lightning rod of energy that once Cameron Crowe's camera finds her, it has no choice but to tell her story. She radiates off the screen, demanding you pay attention to her performance. And what a performance it is. Intense vulnerability hidden behind a vivacious exterior of fur-lined coats and round sunglasses. It's such a great performance and a great movie that I was shocked to look at Kate Hudson's profile on Metacritic sometime in late 2015 (when I first saw Almost Famous) and find merely one movie since Almost Famous with a green Metascore. Could it be possible that an actress as talented as Kate Hudson has only been in two good movies in the past decade and a half? How had out of the 20-something movies she's been, only two gotten positive reviews from critics? I decided I had better conduct my own investigation to watch all these movies and see if this was the case. By the time my schedule cleared enough for me to actually track down and watch all these films, a couple of more green Metascores had popped up on her profile, but nothing even close to the acclaim of Almost Famous.
Kate Garry Hudson was born on April 19, 1979 in Los Angeles, California. Her parents are Oscar-winning actress Goldie Hawn and musician Bill Hudson, best known as a member of the pop group the Hudson Brothers. Hawn and Hudson divorced in 1982 and since 1983, Kate has been raised by her mother and her mother's longtime partner, Kurt Russell. With two movie stars for parents, it's no wonder why Kate wanted to follow in their footsteps and become an actress.
Hudson made her film debut in 1998 at age 19 in the indie comedy Desert Blue. She plays Skye Davidson, a television star quarantined in a small desert town full of quirky characters following a mysterious death. The movie is not great, its wildly uneven and can't reconcile its many tones. Hudson, however, is able to make quite an impression for a first film, wearing Skye's too-cool-for-this attitude like a pair of sandals she can easily slip out of. The film was not well received by critics. She followed Desert Blue up with a supporting role in the unfunny ensemble comedy 200 Cigarettes the following year, which, like Desert Blue, received poor notices from critics and was a box office disappointment.
Heading into the 21st century, Hudson was next featured in a movie called Gossip. Released in spring 2000, it was a sexy thriller, starring Lena Headey, James Marsden, and Norman Reedus, about the toxic gossip that spreads like wildfire on college campuses. Hudson plays Naomi Preston, the rich girl at the center of a rumor that has deadly consequences. I loved the first hour, but it really goes off the rails in the last thirty minutes. Critics were not kind and it bombed at the box office. The remainder of 2000 would provide her with her highest profile roles yet. Although it was released a month after Almost Famous, I will mention her supporting part in legendary director Robert Altman's Dr. T and the Women first because that had less of an impact on her career. The film is about a gynecologist (played by Richard Gere) and various women in his life. It's a cute but tedious and overlong comedy that does features wonderful supporting turns by Laura Dern and a hilarious Shelley Long. Hudson plays one of Dr. T's daughters, who is engaged to be married but having an affair with her maid of honor. She undeniably has a screen presence, despite a paper thin character and stupid subplot. Critics were divided and audiences didn't care, it landed at number 7 at the box office for its opening weekend.
Her big breakthrough came in September of that year with Almost Famous. The movie is set in 1973 and is about William Miller, a teenage rock journalist (played by Patrick Fugit) touring with the fictitious band Stillwater, inspired by writer-director Cameron Crowe's own experiences as a teenage writer for Rolling Stone. Hudson plays Penny Lane, a veteran groupie who takes William under her wing. She still is not the lead of the movie, but for the first time she was singled out by critics in their already glowing reviews. She had found the role of a lifetime in Penny Lane, who was described by critic Peter Rainer as "a swirl of concupiscence in faux-fur collared coats and lace tank tops". The 21 year old Hudson won numerous Best Supporting Actress prizes from critics groups, in addition to receiving a Best Actress BAFTA nomination, a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, a Best Supporting Actress SAG nomination, and winning the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. Having won the Globe, Hudson was slightly favored to take the Oscar, although her win was by no means guaranteed heading into the March 25, 2001 ceremony. The four major precursors had gone to four different women (besides Hudson's Globe, her Almost Famous co-star Frances McDormand won the Critics' Choice Award, Judi Dench had won the SAG Award for Chocolat, and Julie Walters in Billy Elliot was BAFTA's pick), all four of whom were competing again at the Oscars. In a shocking turn of events, the only nominee who had not won a major precursor award, Marcia Gay Harden, was the one whose name was called. While I would have loved to have seen Hudson win (and it would have nicely mirrored her mother's win for playing another suicidal hippie 30 years earlier), and I haven't seen Pollock (the movie for which Harden won), but Marcia Gay Harden is supremely underrated as an actress, so I cannot begrudge her for having an Oscar. Besides, Kate Hudson was only 21 when she was nominated for Almost Famous, there would be plenty of other opportunities for Oscar voters to reward her, right?
Usually when a performer comes very close to winning an Oscar, they try again shortly after in hopes the goodwill from the first nomination carries them to a win. Examples include Emma Stone winning two years after her first nomination, Denzel Washington winning two years after his first nomination, Cher winning four years after her first nomination. Evidently, Kate Hudson did not go that route because none of the films she appeared in during the post-Almost Famous years went anywhere near the Oscars.
Released a couple of months after the loss, About Adam is a winsome romantic comedy about a man (Stuart Townsend) who attempts to seduce three sisters. Hudson is incredibly appealing as one of the sisters, and she even does a pretty good Dublin accent, but its not an Oscar movie. The next movie she did is the only one from around this time that I could see as being a failed attempt at an awards play. The Four Feathers, an adaption of the historical novel by A. E. W. Mason, was directed by Shekhar Kapur (who had awards success with Elizabeth). Hudson plays Ethne Eustace, the ex-girlfriend of a British solider (played by Heath Ledger) who quits the military just before his regiment is sent to Sudan in the 1880s. It's a long and plodding endeavor, I'm not surprised at all it bombed both with critics and audiences. Hudson doesn't have much to do and her accent this time is a little wonky, but she does have one great scene where she heartbreakingly asks her ex's father for advice.
It was 2003 when Hudson would finally lead a film. Unfortunately, that film was How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days. It's dumb and lazily written, but has two major things working in its favor: a pitch perfect Bebe Neuwirth and the luminous Hudson. She plays Andie Anderson, a writer at a women's magazine working on piece called, you guessed it, "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days", who begins dating Ben (played by Matthew McConaughey) to see if she can lose him in ten days. Unbeknownst to Andie, Ben only starts dating her as part of convoluted bet with his coworkers to see if he can make a woman fall in love with him in ten days. One false pretense definitely would have been enough, and the male love interest is more fully fleshed out than its female counterpart in any other movie would be. The critics weren't impressed, but the film was hit at the box office and garnered Hudson nominations from the MTV Movie Awards and the Teen Choice Awards.
Also in 2003, Hudson costarred in Le Divorce, a meandering dramedy from James Ivory about two American sisters (Hudson and Naomi Watts) living in Paris. Hudson plays the younger and more carefree sister, who becomes the mistress of a French politician. It was in a review of this movie that critic Glenn Kenny correctly prophesied that Hudson's talents would "be hidden under bushels of stupid Hollywood romantic comedies for the foreseeable future". A third of those stupid Hollywood romantic comedies starring Kate Hudson would be released before the end of 2003. Alex and Emma is a listless throwback to romantic comedies of the '30s and '40s, replete with a male protagonist with a condescending attitude toward the woman in his life. Luke Wilson plays a novelist struggling with a case of writers' block and Hudson plays his stenographer who becomes his muse. The actors also double as the characters in the '20s-set novel Wilson's Alex is writing. It's cute, but very slight. Hudson, while engaging and brightly lit, doesn't have the sort of Meg Ryan quirk that director Rob Reiner seems to looking for. Neither Alex and Emma nor Le Divorce were met with any kind of success.
By 2004 it was clear that Hudson could lead a movie on her own, without an equally famous costar, and thus we get what is the closest Kate Hudson has ever gotten to a traditional 'star vehicle'. Directed by Garry Marshall (who directed her parents in Overboard), Raising Helen is a movie I was excited to revisit for this piece because I remembered loving it when I was a kid. Turns out it's not that great. It plays like the first four episodes of some hackneyed sitcom strung together to make a movie. Hudson plays Helen, a young woman working in the modeling industry whose life is turned upside down when her sister dies and she becomes the legal guardian of three young children. Although it was marketed as a romantic comedy and she does romance a pastor played by John Corbett, I wouldn't exactly call this your typical romantic comedy. It has quite a few heavy moments, all of which Hudson nails with the exact right amount of exasperation and anxiety. Comparing that with the early scenes of Helen in her element of the modeling world, moving about with the confidence of a kitten, you get a great sense of Hudson's range from this movie. It also features a wonderful performance by Joan Cusack and Paris Hilton (!) has a small role as a model named Amber. Critics were not kind, and the box office receipts were disappointing, but Hudson earned a Teen Choice Award nomination for her efforts.
Hudson's next film, The Skelton Key, would attempt to show her talents on display in something other than a romantic comedy. It's a horror film where Hudson plays a hospice caretaker who is looking after an old man who believes he's being hurt by supernatural forces in the Louisiana bayou. The first time I watched this was on TV in a hotel room in Berlin at 2:00 in the morning. It was the German dub and there weren't subtitles so I had to guess what the story was about. Turns out the actual story is much crazier than what I was thinking. But Hudson handles all the curveballs the script throws at her nicely, using the qualities we like about her in lighthearted comedies to create a character we care about making it out of the film alive. This is also a movie that had it been made in 2017 would receive far more backlash than it did in 2005 for featuring a predominantly white cast in a story about African American folk magic. Critics at the time were mixed, and Hudson has never again made a straightforward horror movie.
Hudson returned to comedy genre in 2006 with You, Me, & Dupree. In it, Hudson and Matt Dillon play newlyweds whose domestic bliss is interrupted when the husband's best friend, played by Owen Wilson, moves in with them. Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, the film has all the trappings of a successful comedy (the energy, the funny cast) but the jokes just aren't there. Hudson is game, but since the film is about overgrown man-children finally growing up, her character gets the short end of the stick. There's a shot as Wilson and Dillon march towards the house so Dillon's character can win back his wife after a fight of the two actors being followed by an army of boys (like, actual male children) that so clearly expresses to me the themes of the film. But of course, those themes leave the female character to be nothing more than the sign that the male character has become an adult. Despite dismal reviews, the film was a hit and Hudson got another nomination from the Teen Choice Awards.
2008 surely has to be what is the nadir of Hudson's filmography. She starred in two movies so bad they make How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days look like Annie Hall. The first one, Fool's Gold, reteams Hudson with McConaughey, and it is appallingly bad. The stars play soon-to-be-divorced treasure hunters looking for buried treasure off the coast of Florida. Hudson's character has only two personality traits: she loves history and she hates her ex, that is until the point where she loves him again because movie. The second one, My Best Friend's Girl, is somehow even worse. Dane Cook plays a guy who other guys pay to act like a jerk to their ex-girlfriends so they will get back together with them. Jason Biggs plays his best friend who hires him to help with his ex, played by Hudson. She's introduced as a type-A workaholic, although those traits are dropped after literally the first scene she's in. She has no arc whatsoever in the film, serving only as a prize to be won by one of the male characters. It keeps setting up situations where you think it's going to comment on how sexist the characters are being, but then never does. At this point, Hudson is merely coasting through these garbage movies. The qualities that made everyone fall in love with her are substantially dulled here. Reese Witherspoon, Sandra Bullock, even Matthew McConaughey all had to spend time in romantic comedy-jail before they won their Oscars, and if there was ever a perfect time for Hudson to break out, it would be after these back-to-back bombs. Suffice it to say, that never happened.
Released in January 2009, Bride Wars is an insipid comedy where Hudson and Anne Hathaway play lifelong best friends turned rivals when their weddings are scheduled for the same day. Hudson is not funny in this movie, but to be fair, nothing is funny in this movie. The film keeps hammering home Hudson's character's domineering personality in contrast to the meekness of Hathaway's character that it forgets to give either of them any redeeming qualities. Although it was savaged in the reviews, the film, which Hudson also produced, was financially successful and netted Hudson another Teen Choice Award nomination.
Her second film of 2009 appeared to offer a chance at redemption, at least on paper. Rob Marshall's Nine was meant to his big musical follow-up to Chicago, which won a ton of Oscars a few years earlier. It's an adaptation - adaptation is a strong word, let's go with it's inspired by and using some of the songs of the 1981 Maury Yeston musical of the same name, which in turn is based on Fellini's 8 1/2. Hudson has a small role as Stephanie, a writer for Vogue who tries to seduce the creatively-blocked famed Italian filmmaker Guido Contini (played by Daniel Day Lewis). The movie is a major disappointment, barely resembling the musical on which it is based. Few of the musical numbers are staged with any kind of creativity, despite the cast being full of great performers including Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren, and Judi Dench. Even with all this talent, Hudson is the only one that looks like she actually wants to be in this movie. Her character and the song she sings, a dance number called "Cinema Italiano", were written specifically for the movie version, and it's the most fun sequence in the film. The song is a reminder for Guido that he can obsess over his next film all he wants, but the majority of people who will see it will be watching for the chic Italian style of the costumes. Hudson is full of energy, singing well and doing a good job dancing, with shades of Laugh In-era Goldie. The film as a whole did not live up to expectations when it was released in December 2009, but it did manage to receive Oscar nominations for Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Original Song (for "Take It All", not "Cinema Italiano", which was nominated for the Golden Globe) and Best Supporting Actress for Cruz. Hudson, along with the rest of the cast, received a SAG Award nomination for Best Ensemble.
Although Nine is technically the only musical she's ever done (she does sing a couple of tunes by the Gershwins and Cole Porter in About Adam), maybe her talents would be better utilized on stage rather than on screen. I think her larger than life presence would translate nicely to the stage and could definitely see her leading a revival of Applause or something like that should she ever so desire.
In 2010, Hudson appeared in The Killer Inside Me, an adaption of the 1952 novel by Jim Thompson, where she plays the girlfriend of a sadistic deputy sheriff played Casey Affleck. I hated this movie, it revels in its gratuitous depiction of violence against women and it's stylized, almost fetishized brutality. Hudson barely has a chance to register in her few scenes. The film was poorly received and had an extremely limited theatrical release.
In 2011, Hudson starred in two movies which were released two days apart. The first, released with very little fanfare and essentially buried by its studio, was A Little Bit of Heaven, which earns the impressive distinction of being the worst film Kate Hudson has ever been in. Horribly written and shoddily edited, this movie is about a woman dying of cancer, but is also a romantic comedy because those two genres are extremely compatible, right? It's a movie that thinks the worst thing the cancer does to a person is make them look tired. It features what is probably Hudson's worst performance. She can't sell me on liking the character before the diagnosis, and she never convinces me she's dying, and she doesn't have an ounce of chemistry with costar Gael Garcia Bernal. Released two days later, Something Borrowed is much better, although not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. It's a romantic comedy about a woman (played by Ginnifer Goodwin) who has an affair with her best friend's fiancé (played by Colin Egglesfield). Hudson plays Darcy, the best friend. Despite a clever title, Something Borrowed suffers from unsympathetic characters and the director Luke Greenfield's repeated attempts to pull the movie away from fizzy comedy and towards heavy-handed melodrama. But the movie is saved by Hudson's surprisingly wonderful performance. Darcy is a self-obsessed narcissist and Hudson is delightfully over the top. She's a hurricane of energy, bad ideas, and snarky comments. The character is written to be a one-dimensional joke so the audience remains firmly on the side of Goodwin's character, but Hudson manages to get the audience to care about Darcy even when the writer clearly didn't. It's a testament to Hudson as an actress that when Goodwin and Egglesfield finally become a couple at the end of the film, I wasn't rooting for them at all. All I was thinking about was how is Darcy handling losing her best friend and her finacé in the same day? It's bizarre that Hudson's second best performance is in a forgotten romantic comedy that had poor reviews and mediocre box office. The Teen Choice Awards really dropped the ball for not nominating her for this film.
Hudson appeared on a couple episodes of Glee in 2012 and 2013 as Rachel's Whiplash-like dance instructor. She gets to sing and dance, furthering my suspicion that she could have a great career on stage should she want it. Next she had a supporting role in Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It's a political thriller about a Pakistani professor, Changez (played by a legit great Riz Ahmed), who is suspected of hating America after an American professor at the same university goes missing. Hudson plays Changez's girlfriend, Erica, the wealthy niece of his boss and also a terrible artist. The movie itself is pretty solid, but the scenes between Changez and Erica are the worst in the movie and mostly revolve around Erica's attempts to move past the death of her old boyfriend, which completely tangential to the plot of the movie and feel entirely unnecessary. It doesn't help the Hudson's performance is rather muted and not as affecting as it should be. Critics were divided on the film and it failed to attract an audience. Also in 2013, Hudson appeared in the HBO movie Clear History, starring Larry David. The movie is great, but it's not exactly dependent on Hudson, who's developed a real knack for playing beautiful rich women. This was also the year that Hudson cofounded Fabletics, a company that sells athleisure online.
Hudson appeared in two movies in 2014. First, she played the wife character in Zach Braff's dreadful Wish I Was Here, which was partially funded on Kickstarter. I can't imagine paying money to see that movie, let alone to get it made. The second one was a thriller, Good People. It's about an American couple (played by Hudson and James Franco) living in London who find £220,000 in their recently deceased neighbor's apartment. Director Henrik Ruben Gez takes the potentially interesting Hitchcokian premise and makes it into a dreary, occasionally boring, and incredibly violent film. It received poor reviews and was released direct-to-VOD.
The only movie in which Hudson appeared in 2015 was the Bill Murray comedy Rock the Kasbah, which was widely panned but I didn't think was that bad. Director Barry Levinson clearly knows what he is doing. We get vital information about the situation Murray's character finds himself in, his relationship with his daughter all in the way Levinson sets up a scene. But it's also a movie where the setup is much better than the actual story, which involves Murray discovering a Pashtun girl who is a talented singer and him trying to break barriers by getting her on a TV singing completion called Afghan Star. Did I mention this movie takes place in Afghanistan? Hudson plays a prostitute named Merci who befriends Murray's character. It's not a big part, she doesn't even appear until after 30 minutes have gone by, but she looks incredible and has fun with a southern (?) accent and bohemian costumes.
In early 2016, she wrote a book called Pretty Happy: Healthy Ways to Love Your Body. Sometime around this time she joined Snapchat and her stories are occasionally boring, occasionally hilarious. She also lent her voice to Kung Fu Panda 3, where she plays a flirtatious female panda named Mei Mei. Had I known how little of it she is actually in (she has maybe 10 lines), I probably would have skipped it. It got warm notices from critics, but I just don't get the love for that franchise. Also in 2016, she reunited with her Raising Helen director Garry Marshall for the ensemble comedy Mother's Day. Hudson plays a woman afraid to tell her bigoted parents that she is married to (and has a 5 year old son with) an Indian man. Watching this movie is a painful experience. Hudson doesn't come off worst here (that would be Jennifer Aniston, who reads every line like she doesn't understand English), but she also doesn't have chemistry with anyone she shares the screen with, not Sarah Chalke who plays her sister, not Aasif Mandvi who plays her husband, and not Margo Martindale who plays her mother. It's a shame that this was Marshall's last movie before his death because it's so bad.
Luckily, Hudson would appear in one more movie before the end of 2016, and it would be the best one since Almost Famous. Peter Berg's Deepwater Horizon is a great movie (I named it the sixth best movie of 2016), and although Hudson's part isn't anywhere near as good as Penny Lane, she still makes an impact. She plays Felicia Williams, the wife of Mike Williams, a technician on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig when it explodes. The early scenes between her and Mark Whalberg are sexy and soulful, much better than the standard "before" scenes in most other disaster movies. And it's heartbreaking watching her agonizingly waiting by the phone for information about her husband after news of the explosion breaks. It also marked the first she was in a movie with Kurt Russell, and although they only share one scene, they do get a pretty meaningful hug. Deepwater Horizon got positive reviews from critics and was nominated for Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects at the Oscars, but was a box office disappointment because of its $120 million budget.
So, it's not true that Kate Hudson has only been in two good movies. By my count, she's been in four movies that I can say are good without any qualifications (Almost Famous, About Adam, Clear History, and Deepwater Horizon), which is still pretty low. The only yet-to-be-released movie Hudson is in is Marshall, a biopic about Thurgood Marshall, where she plays a white woman accusing a black man of rape. With an October release date, it looks like it's trying to be an awards contender. Will it be? Who knows, but I wouldn't hold your breath.
If this were the '30s, '40s, or '50s, the studios would be tripping over themselves to create projects for someone like Kate Hudson to star in. Entire publicity departments would be dedicated to cultivating her star persona and movies would be made that actually tried to make the most of her talents. But it's 2017 and Hollywood just isn't interested in making movies centered around the specific personalities of stars. To make up for this, actors have to establish themselves as capable of filling a niche that Hollywood needs filled. Liam Neeson does action movies, Will Ferrell does broad comedy. Kate Hudson is still associated mainly with the romantic comedy genre, although she has not made a straightforward romantic comedy since 2011. Perhaps this is a sign that she is trying to break out of that mold and diversify her filmography.
In the past ten years alone, Hudson has shown remarkable range. She's played a technician's wife, a contractor's wife, a sheriff's wife, a suspected terrorist's wife, an actor's wife. Talk about range. But seriously, part of the reason Kate Hudson has so much trouble finding meaty roles is that there simply aren't that many meaty roles for women out there. I thought I would conclude this piece by saying something dumb like "she needs to fire her agent" but even the best agent in the world can't get her roles that don't exist. In movies like Rock the Kasbah, Wish I Was Here, You, Me, & Dupree, and My Best Best Friend's Girl, Hudson plays second fiddle to the male protagonist. It's a sad fact that many talented actresses throughout Hollywood history have been saddled with playing this type of barely-there character.
I am still holding out hope that eventually Hudson will experience a McConaissance-style career revival. One great role could be all it takes for her to finally win her Oscar. What a shame it would be if 100 years from now the only Kate Hudson movie still watched and remembered is Almost Famous. Maybe some film-loving teen with a blog will watch Almost Famous in 2117 and ask 'who is that radiant actress playing Penny Lane and why have I never heard of her?' He'll look her up and be shocked that she was a big star for decades. Then he'll resolve to seek out another one of her movies and then be forced to sit through Bride Wars. That would be a tragedy. Don't let that happen, Hollywood.