Yes, I know it’s a semi-tabloid
headline, but I had to do something to make myself feel better about
Dame Helen Mirren’s latest project.
Mirren has signed on to star in Love Ranch, directed
by her husband Taylor Hackford. The film is the story of Joe
and Sally Conforte, who opened Nevada’s first legal bordello in 1971.
The state’s licensure of Mustang Ranch led to the state’s legalization
of brothel prostitution in 17 counties. Joe Pesci is coming out
of semi-retirement to costar. That’s right; Dame Helen and Joe are playing
husband and wife. To which I say, WTF?
OK. Let me step back and try
to look beyond the odd couple surface. The story of Mustang Ranch is the stuff of legend, to be sure.
Joe Conforte and Sally Burgess both owned brothels in the 1950s. They eventually went into business
together and then got married. Joe did time for extortion and tax evasion
(separate incidents) before he and Sally took over Mustang Ranch in
1967. Here’s the happy couple. Sally looks particularly non-Mirrenish.
During the ’70s, Joe was
investigated for inappropriately influencing local officials but was
not indicted. Then in 1976, boxer Oscar Bonavena, who was managed
by Sally Conforte and rumored to be having an affair with her, was shot and killed outside of Mustang Ranch by one of
Joe’s bodyguards. Oscar looks a little like Patrick Swayze. Sally
looks a little like Ebby Halliday, a Dallas Realtor who also doesn’t
call to mind Helen Mirren.
In 1977, both Confortes were
convicted of income-tax evasion. Sally received a suspended sentence,
and Joe fled the country rather than spend more time in prison. Sally
stayed and managed Mustang Ranch.
It’s a good story — and Pesci
seems born to play the part of Joe Conforte. But Mirren as Sally? Sally
Conforte became a madam when she was 17. New West described her as overweight and in poor health,
with a heavy limp. She could be “mean as a snake,” “swear
like a real lady and rattle windows with her laugh.”
I mean no disrespect to Dame
Helen’s acting prowess, but seriously, why did she take this part? I
know her husband is directing, but seriously. (I’m so flummoxed, I’m
starting to sound like Shonda Rimes.) I won’t go into Mirren’s
choice to make National Treasure: Book of Secrets, since Dorothy
Snarker already addressed the issue much more delicately than my feelings
would allow. But is this the next step in the “I won an Oscar and
lost my mind” syndrome that afflicts so many Best Actress winners?
Perhaps now that her memoirs have been
released, she wants
to do only projects unworthy of a second volume. Or maybe Mirren is
feeling pressure to compete with her friend Dame Judi Dench for
best scandalous Dame Commander of the OBE. If so, I respectfully suggest
she forget Sally Conforte and ask her husband to make a movie based
on this Vanity Fair photo.
Am I overreacting? Can you
see Helen Mirren as Sally Conforte? Perhaps we can come up with a better
option to pass along to Mr.