Features and Columns · Movies · TV

Zoë Kravitz Finally Steps Into the Spotlight

Despite her constant presence on the cusp of pop culture, Hollywood has only recently given the ‘High Fidelity’ star her due.
Zoë Kravitz Kravitz Big Little Lies
By  · Published on September 14th, 2020

Vincent N Roxxy (2016)

More vicious, heavy-hitting projects obtain a strong foothold in Kravitz’s filmography during the late-2010s. The crime-thriller Vincent N Roxxy portrays the toxic cycle of gang violence as it irrevocably affects its eponymous loner leads. Vincent and Roxxy are played by Emile Hirsch and Kravitz respectively. In their search for a way out of dire, deadly circumstances in small-town America, these characters uncontrollably crash into one another and forge an inexplicable, fleeting bond.

Between harrowing episodes of bloody brutality, this two-hander turns out to be contemplative and melancholic. In particular, Roxxy is a vision to behold with a natural intrigue drawing us to her physical beauty. Still, in stark contrast, an air of stoic reservation surrounds her. Since Yelling to the Sky, Kravitz has masterfully honed an ability to illustrate mystery and secrecy in her characters without losing a vital relatable touch. Roxxy’s softer side serves as a reminder of her innate resilience against various adversaries throughout the film, and Kravitz’s performance proves that the character’s helplessness is only putative.

Gemini (2017)

Kravitz exploits that same sense of susceptibility and enigma as one half of Aaron Katz’s dreamy and alienating thriller Gemini. This time, as a glamorous movie starlet named Heather opposite Lola Kirke’s impassioned personal assistant, Jill, Kravitz exudes nothing but carefree entitlement.

This shifts her into a more adversarial role. Jill – and by extension, the audience – easily tire of Heather’s ostensibly erratic, irresponsible neediness. The fictional actress abruptly drops out of an upcoming film. She bemoans the state of her fame while profiting off of it. So, when Heather claims to fear for her life, it’s hard to take her very seriously until she is found murdered in her mansion.

Gemini’s premise precludes Kravitz from actually appearing onscreen for the better part of the film. Nevertheless, her elusive characterization of Heather lingers in the frames that she is missing from. Heather is far from the actress’ most agreeable character, given her position of privilege, wealth, and power. Regardless, viewers can still recognize themselves in her. There is a naturalism to Kravitz’s subdued portrayal of burnout – a serious depression that she is so suffocated by until it literally destroys her.

Rough Night (2017)

Conversely, Kravitz’s role of business-savvy Blair in the raunchy comedy Rough Night is a diametrical opposite to most of her work. She is one of four women who’ve been close friends since college. A decade later – after having gradually drifted apart thanks to accruing responsibilities of adulthood – the group reconvenes for a bachelorette getaway that goes awry.

Blair is composed, fashionable, and has seemingly attained a picture-perfect life of wealth and success with a husband and son. That said, her reality is much different. By the time of the bachelorette trip, she is going through the process of separation and fights for custody of her child.

But Rough Night isn’t the sort of movie to fully unpack those nitty-gritty details. The film opts to solve its protagonists’ problems with mischievous girl power. The upside to this is that Kravitz taps into her comedic tendencies more openly and outrageously. Very rarely does she get to depict someone as uptight and strait-laced as Blair, and to simply let loose with a bunch of ladies adds a different dimension to the cheek that’s identifiable in her other projects.

Kin (2018)

After a cameo in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a brief vocal appearance as Mary-Jane Watson in the Academy Award-winning animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and a very minor role as Catwoman in Chris McKay’s The Lego Batman Movie, Kravitz has become a mainstay in sci-fi and fantasy. She’ll even get another go at playing the iconic DC villainess when she dons the catsuit for real in Matt Reeves’ upcoming live-action movie The Batman.

To some extent, Jonathan and Josh Baker’s Kin fits into this category, too. Unfortunately, the movie’s inability to effectively connect its unique sci-fi elements with the overarching family-drama plot makes the overall story fall short. Moreover, Kravitz’s part is fairly passive in the grand scheme of the film. Her role as Milly – a stripper with a heart of gold – is easily likable. Nonetheless, it ultimately recalls previous characters in Dope and Vincent N Roxxy that share similar characteristics.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

The first Fantastic Beasts sequel, The Crimes of Grindelwald, presents Kravitz with a meatier, more delicate role than its predecessor. As the witch Leta Lestrange, the actress personifies just a few of the film’s overabundance of conflicts. Leta is caught in an unrequited love triangle between Eddie Redmayne and Callum Turner’s Scamander brothers. Concurrently, she wrestles with endless grief over dark secrets at the root of her infamous family tree.

As much as Leta ends up as more of a plot device than a fully-realized woman in The Crimes of Grindelwald, Kravitz allows viewers to greatly sympathize with the character’s guilt and shame. She may be a traditional picture of soft, tortured elegance – a dainty woman in need of a savior – but Kravitz ensures that there is incontrovertible strength in Leta’s tenderness.

Big Little Lies (2017-2019)

Her multitude of films notwithstanding, television heavily contributes to Kravitz’s overall popularity in recent years. The medium has provided the actress with some of her most complex characters thus far. HBO’s Big Little Lies – an extravagant ensemble piece chronicling the lives of the privileged and affluent in the gated community of Monterey, California – marks her first main role on the small screen.

Notably, the show keeps Kravitz – its only black lead – fairly estranged from the main action of the first season. As Bonnie Carlson, she is described as a sweet, happy-go-lucky yoga instructor who happens to be the “new,” much younger wife of Reese Witherspoon’s ex-husband. Obviously, this causes friction between Bonnie and other elite residents of Monterey.

However, sticking with Big Little Lies through to its second season is ultimately worth it for Kravitz fans. Bonnie eventually shifts towards a more substantial arc as the series gradually unravels pernicious skeletons in the closets of its protagonists. Questions arise about Bonnie’s place in her community, even those relating to race and identity. Her friendly aplomb disintegrates into jarring detachment, which Kravitz expertly masks with unnervingly cheerful deflection. In dealing with Bonnie’s transformation throughout the 14 episodes of Big Little Lies, Kravitz gets to tackle a breadth of complex emotions – a welcome demonstration of the nuanced skills she has been honing for years.

High Fidelity (2020)

Music is a large part of Kravitz’s public persona and has been since she was a teenager. Having fronted bands such as Elevator Fight and Lolawolf, there is also a noticeable musical touch to her screen presence. Her very first TV appearance was as a rebellious frontwoman in Californication. Kravitz has a small role in the drama film Viena and the Fantomes, too, playing the manager of an ’80s punk band.

In a way, every venture in Kravitz’s filmography (at the time of writing) perfectly culminates in her Hulu show, High Fidelity, based on the Nick Hornby novel of the same name. In the series, Kravitz takes the lead as Robyn “Rob” Brooks. She is a Brooklynite who owns a record shop in the trendy Crown Heights neighborhood, although she spends a lot of her time collating her life into top-five lists.

Confident and opinionated, Rob is the embodiment of pop-culture-obsessed and the epitome of cool, with Kravitz being the ideal actress to convey her brand of self-possession. Yet, the best part about Rob is the everyman quality beneath her external aloofness. High Fidelity often breaks the fourth wall to reveal her lengthy inner monologues about love and relationships. Rob’s views about her ex-partners are as genuine and kind as they are petty and self-absorbed, but Kravitz’s rich performance – imbued with warmth, impulsivity, and thoughtfulness – keeps the character aware of her blind spots. Pushing past the fact that it has been unfairly canceled despite ten perfectly entertaining episodes, the series brings out the performer’s best qualities by far.

Confession time: navigating the ins and outs of Kravitz’s robust filmography admittedly left me feeling embittered. For the longest time, Hollywood hardly showcased the true extent of her skill and commitment to her acting craft. But of course, Kravitz herself evidences that she makes the biggest impression with the smallest of roles. Clearly, she deserves to tell stories worthy of her caliber.

Pages: 1 2 3

Related Topics: ,

Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)