In A Little Bit of Heaven, out today, Kate Hudson plays a successful, free-spirited single woman who learns that she has cancer, and then learns how to love. It’s a new, maudlin twist on Hudson’s old standby, the romantic comedy, a genre that kept her scheming and smiling onscreen for the better part of a decade. But Hudson’s rigorous release schedule has slowed since 2009, and in the interim, rom-coms have continued to lose their box-office power. A Little Bit of Heaven, which has been shelved for more than a year, seems unlikely to reverse that trend. But how will it affect Hudson’s flagging career? To find out, Vulture polled industry insiders to ask one simple question: If Kate Hudson were a stock, would you buy, sell, or hold?
Stock History: Almost Famous won her awards and made her a name, but it was 2003’s How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days that established Kate Hudson as the mid-aughts rom-com queen. Six years of “get the guy” (or “keep the guy”) movies followed, some merely unmemorable (Alex & Emma, You Me & Dupree) and some genuinely regrettable (Fool’s Gold and Bride Wars, both at 11 percent on Rotten Tomatoes). Hudson’s quick jaunts outside the genre (Rob Marshall’s bloated Nine and indie thriller The Killer Inside Me) didn’t fare much better with the critics, so Hudson retreated to her safety zone: 2011’s Something Borrowed, based on the chick-lit novel of the same name, and this week’s A Little Bit of Heaven. The tepid (at best) response to both movies likely explains why she’s abandoning the rom-com yet again in her next project: an adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s 9/11 novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
Peers: While not as accomplished as cohorts like Reese Witherspoon (36) or Charlize Theron (36) — both of whom have Oscars under their belts — Hudson, like Drew Barrymore (37), has had the benefit of institutional knowledge and wisdom that comes from being part of a Hollywood family. As a result, she hasn’t burned any bridges, unlike Katherine Heigl (also 33). But she also has the disadvantage of being less entrepreneurial than Cameron Diaz (39) and — at least thus far — less versatile than the younger Anne Hathaway (29).
Market Value: Paired with a big name — think McConaughey, (Owen) Wilson, or Hathaway — Kate Hudson was a reliably solid earner; Fool’s Gold and Bride Wars both managed $20 million-plus opening weekends (and $100 million worldwide grosses) despite their poor reviews. But without a major co-star, Hudson has been less reliable: See the $14 million domestic gross of the (Luke) Wilson film Alex & Emma. And with the exception of the middling Something Borrowed ($40 million domestic), she hasn’t led a studio movie since 2009. A Little Bit of Heaven’s release date — it drops the same day as guaranteed blockbuster The Avengers — doesn’t suggest much faith in Hudson’s continued appeal.
What Hollywood Thinks: One former studio chief puts the conundrum facing Kate Hudson best: “She is beautiful, smart, and funny — someone should write a movie for her.” The problem facing both Hudson and just about all of the leading ladies of romantic comedy is: No one is.
“She is known, pretty, and relatable,” says this former chief, “But I don’t know what her prospects are — and not because of her, but because the genre of romantic comedy is kind of confusing right now … I think she and all the women in her age group — I would even include Reese Witherspoon — need roles tailored for them and that those kinds of movies are not being written.”
With her sunny but plucky, determined demeanor, one could easily imagine Kate Hudson as the heir to Melanie Griffith in Working Girl (or to take a step further back in time but closer to home, Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin). But, alas, as the global market beckons, such movies don’t travel well overseas, and so they increasingly get made at limited budgets, if they get made at all.
“What movie would you make for them?” asks our former studio chief, “They can’t date anymore, they’re all mothers. After a while, trying to extract the same story from the same tropes gets old.”
Another motion-picture literary agent puts it this way: “These actresses? They’re fucked. Good luck to Kate and Reese. When Cameron [Diaz] was getting cold, she bet on herself, took just a million dollars on Bad Teacher. But even that’s not a romantic comedy. The mid-budget studio film — what used to be the sweet spot for romantic comedy — is getting painfully squeezed.”
This, as our former studio chief explains, leads to a catch-22 for Hudson and her rom-com sorority sisters.
“There aren’t many roles, and there are a lot of women of the same age,” says this former studio head, “So, either they take the roles that are available and then get punished because the material is bad, or if they wait, they get punished for not working enough.”
Analysis: With her chosen genre on the skids, and her own earning power in question, Kate Hudson will have to find a way to reinvent herself — and fast.
“We have a name for what’s happening to her,” jokes a third agent, “‘Ashley Judd syndrome.’ It’s happening to Kate Hudson; it’s already happened to Jennifer Aniston." (Aniston's The Switch badly misfired in 2010, studios began to lose confidence that she could carry an entire film, and as a result, she has been seen largely in supporting roles, as with last year's Just Go With It and Horrible Bosses.)
Still, our third talent-agency partner contends that it’s possible to rescue such a career. The key is to move with perpendicularity, not to execute a jarring, 180-degree flip.
“People like Kate Hudson and Reese did their best work with [auteur] directors, with a capital D,” says this third agent. “So, to save her, it involves trying to turn the paradigm on its side. Even though your core demo is leaving you in droves, you can’t go and do The Razor’s Edge. Instead, you go make a comedy, or even a romantic comedy — you just make them archer and smarter ... You have to pervert them a little bit.”
Ah, but how?
If you are part of the newly ascendant clutch of women artists who can self-generate material to write themselves into the picture, like Girls creator and star Lena Dunham, 30 Rock queen Tina Fey, Another Earth writer-star Brit Marling, or The Office's Mindy Kaling, it's easy enough. And some, like Cameron Diaz in last summer's sleeper hit Bad Teacher, are able to bet on themselves, defer most up-front compensation, and develop their own material, even if they didn't write it.
The problem facing unhyphenated romantic comedy actresses like Hudson is that studios today aren’t much interested in paying for leading ladies to hang a shingle on the lot and develop material for them the way they once did.
“Pre-[2007–08 Writers Guild of America] strike, they’d give [development] deals to the Reese’s of the world,” explains one motion-picture literary agent, “Sandy Bullock had a company. And so did Julia Roberts. But because of the economic atmosphere in the movie business, it’s virtually impossible today.”
All the reps surveyed by Vulture insist that absent self-generating her own material, the best way forward for Hudson might lie not just in switching genres, but switching mediums, too. “The logical segue would be television, or something like that,” says our third talent agent, “You do a Mary Tyler Moore–style show, or an action franchise. But I don’t think there’s a parachute for rom-coms.”
Unlike her character in A Little Bit of Heaven, Hudson can do something else besides simply make the most of the time she has left. The question is whether she’s capable of that. “She’s had bad management, sure,” says our third agent. “But the real problem is, she might not have too much darkness inside her there; she might just project the same sunny disposition that her family does. You know: ‘Not enough grist for her mill’?”
Bottom Line: Market conditions don't favor Hudson's forte, the rom-com, nor does she seem interested in or able to develop her own material to propel herself forward. Put simply, the right roles don't exist anymore — or if they do, they're going to other actresses.
Rating: Weak sell.