According to reports from Hollywood, Taylor Swift will star as Joni Mitchell in “Girls Like Us,” a movie about three iconic women who rose to musical stardom in the late 1960s. Based on Sheila Weller’s book, Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon-And the Journey of a Generation, the film is a triple biography of sorts. Rumors are circulating that Canadian actor Alison Pill, who received acclaim for her work in such movies as “Milk,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” and “Midnight in Paris,” will play King. Jessica Pare, another Canadian who appears in TV’s “Mad Men,” might be cast as Simon.
The news that Swift is the choice to play Mitchell hasn’t been met by loud applause. Naysayers have taken to the Internet to express their chagrin; they can’t visualize Swift as the iconic woman who embodied the spirit of 1960s with such songs as “Woodstock” and “Big Yellow Taxi.” Although her songwriting continues to mature, Swift is still remembered for penning a song about a cheerleader’s romantic dreams while sitting in the bleachers. Certainly, some singers-turned-actors have had successful film careers. Few expected Barbra Streisand and Cher to be more than competent onscreen. However, like her triumphant predecessors, Swift will first have to prove her worth if she expects to be accepted.
Movie followers tend to dissect the choices that producers and directors make for biographical roles. They are seeking the perfect fit-George C. Scott portraying General George S. Patton or Dustin Hoffman emulating comedian Lenny Bruce. A flawless casting match comforts the collective soul of viewers: their imaginations will not be stretched beyond believability. For some, Swift is too popular, too country, and too flaky to be Mitchell. Perhaps ironically, Swift is even a product of the “star maker machinery” that Mitchell bemoans in her song, “Free Man in Paris.” Starting her meteoric ascent at age fourteen, Swift was soon producing bestselling albums and garnering Grammy nominations. Mitchell, on the other hand, didn’t even record her first album until she was nearly twenty-five. She had to struggle through the nightclub scene of Toronto before she had an opportunity to leave her mark.
The comfort level for the general movie audience also increases with professional experience. The credibility that a star like Meryl Streep lends is much more quickly embraced, even if she doesn’t possess the same physical attributes as the real person she might be playing. Swift may bear some resemblance to Mitchell, but her professional acting credits are minimal. Still, Swift is not a stranger to the big screen. In 2010, after television roles on “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “Saturday Night Live,” she appeared as Felicia Miller in “Valentine’s Day,” a romantic comedy. In that role, she played the daft girlfriend of Willy Harrington (Taylor Lautner), a high school athlete. Although movie critics weren’t enamored with that film, they were kind to Swift and praised her comedic potential. However, diehard fans of Mitchell may not see that as a strength when it comes to playing the introspective folksinger.
Katie Jacobs, who is currently listed as director of “Girls Like Us,” will have to address Swift’s image while she tries to channel her talents along the proper path. Older audience members-the ones who are more familiar with Mitchell-often view music stars with teen fame with a jaded eye. Swift, no doubt, is regarded by many to be from the same mold. The up-tempo styling that young sensations such as Tiffany, Britney Spears, and Rebecca Black have brought to the public’s attention don’t capture the contemplative feel of Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” or “Song to a Seagull.”Another question that arises is whether Swift can convincingly represent Mitchell’s craft. Duplicating Mitchell’s unique guitar-playing approach and vocal delivery is part of the authenticity that will be uncompromisingly required. Actors in similar situations have had to defer to off-screen singers to keep viewers engaged with a film. If Swift expects to receive critical acclaim, she must master every aspect of the role.
It remains to be seen whether Swift can shed the negative perceptions and succeed. Given the shortness of patience in Hollywood, she should consider “Girls Like Us” to be a one-shot attempt at pursuing serious acting. Nonetheless, Swift has proven she can grow and evolve into much more than a teenybopper searching for superficial love. Even though an Academy Award nomination probably won’t be necessary for her film survival, nothing should be discounted. She has yet to fail at anything she has tried.