Sunday, January 12, 2014

The abrupt womanhood of Gaby Hoffmann

Gaby Hoffmann was a mainstay of Hollywood movies as an early teenager, and then poof! She was gone.

In fact, she did nada -- zilch, zero, nothing -- from 2001 to 2007.

During those years, she metamorphosed from a girl into a woman. And I mean like a 40- to 45-year-old woman, even though she's only 32 today.

I first noticed this when I saw her show up on an episode of Louie. She looked vaguely familiar, so I IMDB'd her later on. And I was all "Huh? That was the girl in Field of Dreams, Uncle Buck and Sleepless in Seattle?"

It was. And the reason it was so shocking is that she turned, suddenly, from a little girl to someone who looked ten years older than she actually is.

She showed up again in Crystal Fairy (or Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus or Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012), which I just watched on Netflix, at which point I got to marvel again at the strange phenomenon that is her.

I'm a little afraid of exploring why Hoffmann is so strange to me, because it says not great things about the world we live in.

I think the reason she stands out as an actress is because she's ... how to put this delicately ... ugly. She has thick eyebrows and unflatteringly sharp facial features, and no longer radiates the pluckiness that got her cast way back when. To put it bluntly (although I guess less bluntly than I put it in the first sentence of this paragraph), if she were trying to become famous for the first time today, it just wouldn't happen. Not attractive enough.

Just so you understand what I'm talking about:

Okay, she wouldn't make you run screaming from a haunted house, but the years have not been particularly kind to her.

Yet having been an actress, someone who had evident talent, has given Hoffmann a second life in Hollywood, a Hollywood that would never now give her a first one. (Not that Crystal Fairy is a Hollywood movie, but you get what I mean.)

It's not like Hoffmann is getting cast in roles requiring a quote-unquote "pretty girl." Louis C.K. prizes casting romantic interests for himself on his show who are real, not model beauties, which is likely why he cast Hoffmann at all. However, she is getting a lot of work, and some of it's got genuine name recognition, such as the upcoming crowd-sourced Veronica Mars movie. 

It may seem like I am rooting for an opposite outcome by calling her "ugly," a term I hate to even use in the first place because it implies that physical beauty is the only attribute that should get an actress a shot in Hollywood. It's more that years of receiving what Hollywood is delivering me has made me accustomed to seeing a certain type of actress thrive. So when you see something opposite that, it strikes you as a disconnect.

It was also just really weird to see her and to realize that this was the same person. Actors and actresses don't generally go away and come back ... they wane in and out of popularity, and they may be in hibernation for a while (someone like Jason Bateman). But when Bateman, for example, does come back, you aren't struck by how different he looks. You're struck by how much the same, and reminded how much you once loved him (in his first life, on Silver Spoons etc.)

Hoffmann, of course, could only play a precocious child for so long, so she had to come back in a different form altogether. And she did. It's like she entirely skipped the young adult section of her career and materialized as a 30-year-old who could play ten or even 20 years older.

I should say that part of this feeling that she can play older has to do with the fact that she was a romantic partner for C.K. on his show. His other romantic partners on the show have been people like Parker Posey (45) and Pamela Adlon (47). Then again, I guess he did also have a brief and weird romantic interlude with Chloe Sevigny, though even she at least is 39. Hoffmann, on the other hand, is only 32, and was only 30 when she appeared on Louie.

All this said, we should note that Hoffmann does play a hippie in Crystal Fairy -- and not even an aging hippie. In fact, she's supposed to be about age appropriate for Michael Cera, who is only 25. So I guess we shouldn't push Gaby Hoffmann into middle age just yet.

She also has two different scenes of total nudity, which also tends to accentuate an actress' youth.

I just tried not to remind myself that this was the little girl in Uncle Buck.


Nick Prigge said...

Did you read the NY Times profile of Gaby Hoffmann this past year? It was revealing, and really endeared me to her. She came across as the sort of person who comes at the world from her own angle, and that's a quality I respect. And conveys what you touch on - how kind of un-Hollywood she is.

But yeah, when she strips, it's difficult to square with the fact that she's Kevin Costner's daughter in "Field of Dreams." Nevertheless, I think Ray Kinsella would have respected her life choices even if he didn't agree with them.

Vancetastic said...

I didn't read that article, but Hoffmann does give off this quality so it doesn't surprise me. I feel bad dwelling on her appearance, but what can I say -- I am a product of my environment. :-(

Anonymous said...

Maybe you realise, maybe you don't, but when you say "ugly", I think you are reacting to the uncosmeticised looks of a real, actual woman. I'm sure if Gaby got the standard make-up, teeth-job, etc, etc, she'd look gorgeous to you... and ordinary to me. Her refusal to conform makes her really attractive in my eyes.

Vancetastic said...


I agree with you entirely. I mean this post more to be a comment on what we are conditioned to see as a disconnect, rather than what I believe to be the case. Some child actors grow into what we consider to be a traditional beauty (Scarlett Johansson), some do not (Hoffman). Of course the former type continues to get work, but when the latter gets work it comes as something of a surprise, because the film industry is not set up to reward them. I think by calling her "ugly" I am speaking in the reductive voice of a casting agent or studio exec who considers these matters purely in terms of what will sell tickets, for the purposes of examining our prejudices. Whether it was a worthwhile exercise or not in the first place is debatable. :-)

Anonymous said...

Well written, even though your are being not very nice.
Well I like her because I like most of the movies she was in. I think many people liked her because she was a cute girl back then.
I do not think she looks old, she has good skin and no wrinkles etc. She is just wasting the beauty that she actually holds. If she wore make up and had her eybrows lifted she would almost look like that little girl because her facial features haven't changed much she still has that face of a young girl. Unfortunately, she doesn't make use of it.
Anyways, very well written, you kind of speak my mind.

Anonymous said...

@Vancetastic have you seen the "traditional beauty" Scarlett Johansson without make up? Guess you don't. I don't see much difference between Johansson and Hoffman if they both wear no make up etc!
Hoffman does acutally have a pretty face/ facial features. She just has not much styling talent.

indigoflu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
indigoflu said...

im sure gaby hoffman is a nice lady, but she looks like a monster,like a furry eyebrowed monster...
you know that childrens book "where the wild things are"? she looks like one of the wild things in that book, sans the horns..but again, im sure her personality is much more palatable than those of any of the monsters in where the aforementioned book..
furthermore, i can only assume that she has very unpleasant breath...i went to grade school with a girl that looked like gaby,(a shrunken, current day gaby freak-child, but who was also a very nice person) and she had TERRIBLE spoiled-milk breath...
but i the end, i believe she is a good enough actress, and i imagine she will continue to have continued success provided she sticks to films geared towards adults...however, i believe it is imperative that she not be allowed to star in any children's movies, as children are by nature sensitive, and gaby very well could cause irreversible damage to the point to where they will never want to watch another film again for the rest of their lives. it is for this very reason that gaby hoffman films be rated R at the very least, if not NC-17. however, to be fair to gaby, animated voice-over work would (naturally) be fair game.

Anonymous said...

I started to watch Transparent and I too thought how unpleasant-looking she was.

I also thought her personal trainer must had pretty low standards to bang such an ugly client.

But then, I'm no Michelangelo-carved statue myself.

S Wilson said...

I have to say, I find her to be one of the most radiant actresses i've ever seen.

There is something truly mesmerizing about a woman this authentic. The features that so many celebrities are quick to change to fit into an unrealistic social archetype of what a "beautiful" woman is, does not appear to be an issue for Gaby Hoffmann.

A woman this confident, artistic and unapologetically herself is more worthy of acclaim than the predominant hollywood leading lady sporting a button nose and spray tan.

Derek Armstrong said...

Well said, S!

Anonymous said...

I just listened to a interview on NPR with the actress in question. I had no idea who she was when I started listening. I have to say she is the most self adsorbed and self centered person I have ever herd. I got curious and looked her up Woof!! I sorry but the looks match the lack of personality.

Derek Armstrong said...


I haven't heard her interviewed, but I'll admit there's something about the vibe she exudes in Transparent (only seen the first season) that just turns me off. She's kind of an asshole. Is that the character or the actress? Maybe it's a bit of both.

Anonymous said...

Simply, an unlikeable personality. She is surrounded by others that are extremely I adore Jeffrey Tambor because of his beautiful appearance?

Unknown said...

OMG! Thank you so much for this article. You hit the nail on the head..... she is ugly and does nothing to make herself more attractive which makes her even uglier! The truth is the light.... thank you for being a beacon.