This could be the thriller that Zellweger’s career has been waiting for.
Renée Zellweger is making that fateful jump from the big to the small screen in a role that seems lightyears away from those that have defined her as an actress over the course of her career. The new series she has coming down the pipeline marks her first major foray into television, but thankfully, it already seems to be in assured hands.
Deadline reveals that Zellweger will topline a new Netflix anthology series What/If, a social thriller which hails from Swingtown and Revenge creator Mike Kelley. Robert Zemeckis of Back to the Future fame will serve as executive producer, while Patriot Games’ Phillip Noyce will direct the show’s first two episodes.
Across 10 chapters, What/If will be all about morality, specifically “when acceptable people start doing unacceptable things.” In what sounds like predictably unseemly circumstances, these characters will set off a chain of events within each contained season that tells their own allegorical tale.
We can glean more information about What/If‘s premiere season itself via Netflix’s directory. A brief plot synopsis on the site reveals that a newlywed couple throws ethics out the window and agrees to a mysterious woman’s proposal in a bid to turn the tide of their dire financial situation.
Deadline further details that Zellweger will play the enigmatic and unpredictable woman in question, who is willing to manipulate others to get what she wants. The character, named Anne, can be “magnetically charismatic, seductive, charming, even vulnerable,” but she evidently also has some dark secrets of her own beneath her facade.
With the sheer amount of content that Netflix is determined to produce on the regular these days, What/If certainly does well to have a promising collective of creatives joining forces in a single project. Zellweger, not least of all. If we put her best performances next to each other – specifically, her eponymous leading lady in the Bridget Jones series, Ruby Thewes in Cold Mountain, and Roxie Hart in Chicago – we get a viable sense of her indelible onscreen presence. These Oscar-nominated performances differ greatly from one another. However, all of these characters share the trait of resilience.
Zellweger has been an ideal romantic lead prior to Bridget Jones’s Diary; I mean, she had us at hello in Jerry Maguire. But seeing her headline her own sweet, heartfelt, and truly laugh-out-loud romantic-comedy solidified Zellweger as a staple of the genre. Nobody else could play Bridget in a similarly relatable way.
However, Zellweger is most definitely also a chameleon. The allure of her turn in Chicago is borne out of a mixture of single-mindedness and desperation. In a musical with such a delightfully self-centered premise and equally fame-obsessed characters, Zellweger importantly never tips the balance too far towards portraying someone irredeemable. Instead, Roxie is electric and cheeky, and you’re bound to root for her anyway.
Finally, Zellweger can be stripped of all glitz and glamor in order to appear unequivocally tough, and this won her an Oscar in the end. Cold Mountain‘s Ruby is hilariously bizarre but a fearless force of nature nonetheless. Zellweger is totally a scene stealer as this unabashedly confident and spirited farmhand.
So, believing in Zellweger’s abilities is genuinely a piece of cake. Yet, the quality of her projects doesn’t always align with her skills as an actress. Particularly, in the realm of the psychological, scary, or even just remotely thrilling, Zellweger’s filmography has fallen more than a little short.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is best left to collect dust, even if both Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey deliver serviceable performances; in fact, that’s the tragedy of such a deeply unlikable movie. Meanwhile, Case 39 suffers immensely from a script that oscillates between the extremes of boring and unbelievable with very little coherence in between. At least The Whole Truth — which is more of a disquieting courtroom thriller than anything overtly horrific — is generic, but definitely passable. But Zellweger could do with a properly good thriller in her repertoire.
Thus, here’s to hoping that the rest of the What/If crew doesn’t let her dynamic onscreen persona down. While Zemeckis is the bigger name and has worked on successful anthologies such as Tales from the Crypt and Amazing Stories, Kelley and Noyce’s collaboration stands out the most to me. They worked especially well together ushering in ABC’s Revenge. Their episodes provide the perfect introductory set up for this modern-day, female-led reimagining of The Count of Monte Cristo, confidently establishing the intense motivations of the drama’s main players. Hooking audiences in for a brand new show will always be a challenge, but if they can recreate a similar vibe in What/If, the show would take off with no problem.
I’m very glad that Zellweger is singing in a movie again. The fact that she’s more than happy to reprise her role as Bridget Jones is fantastic, too, because the world needs her specific brand of feel-good. Still, there’s no harm in also looking for a project that switches up her filmography a little more, and What/If could deliver.