Reese Witherspoon got arrested for being a belligerent drunk, and it is the best thing that could have ever happened to her.
Typically, when a celebrity is arrested, especially when drinking and even more especially when drinking and driving are involved, it’s a publicity nightmare. Words like “doomed,” “career-ending,” and “toxic” may be thrown around. But as more reports about Witherspoon’s run-in with the police emerge, including recently leaked video footage of the whole ordeal, the words being used to describe the would-be fiasco are “terrific,” “fantastic,” and “funny.” The Atlantic wonders, “Is it wrong to be charmed by Reese Witherspoon’s drunk-driving tirade?”
The answer, apparently, is no. Witherspoon charmed her way to the A-list in Legally Blonde. She charmed her way to an Oscar by dutifully adhering to her girl-next-door image. And now, by swilling “one too many glasses of wine” and sassily informing a cop that she is, in fact, “AN AMERICAN,” she is charming her way out of a career rut. Her actions and those of her husband were irresponsible and arguably reprehensible. But, really, has Witherspoon ever been so likable?
When news broke that Witherspoon was arrested, the Internet collectively gasped. Celebrities get arrested all the time—that’s not shocking. But this is Reese Witherspoon: down-home, girl-next-door, put-together, and, frankly, boring Reese Witherspoon. In an industry that punishes the bland and predictable, this is about as fortuitiously unexpected of a thing as she could’ve done. And, as the dashboard-camera footage leaked to TMZ of her pinot-slurred speech to the cops shows, she was wildly funny while doing it.
When most stars are arrested or nabbed for drunken misbehavior, it’s usually followed by hand-wringing over a downward spiral the star might be on. "Troubled” becomes the go-to modifier. But we all know there’s not even the smallest of small danger that Witherspoon is on some debaucherous path, so we just get to relish in what it is a rare, humbling mistake in the life of an otherwise groaningly infallible star—and love her all the more for it. And it couldn’t come at a better time for the actress, as it has been a long while since we really loved her.
Real quick: can you name her last three films? (I’m not going to ask if you’ve seen them—the box-office receipts speak for themselves.) They were This Means War, Water for Elephants, and How Do You Know. They made no money and were trashed by critics. Worse, they launched Witherspoon to the top of that conversation that no award winner wants to lead: the Curse of the Best Actress Oscar.
Basically, the footage of her arrest is the most entertaining piece of film Witherspoon has starred in in years. “It’s like Cops, if the criminals were professionally endearing,” says Vulture. Gawker helpfully transcribed some choice moments:
Reese: "Do you know my name, sir?"
Officer: "Don't need to know."
Reese "You don't NEED to know my name?"
Officer: "Not quite yet."
Reese: "YOU'RE ABOUT TO FIND OUT WHO I AM!"
Reese: "I have done nothing against the law."
Officer: "Yes you did, you didn't obey my orders."
Reese: "I HAVE TO OBEY YOUR ORDERS??"
Reese: "I'm being anti-American?"
Officer: "Yes, please sit down."
“The most satisfying thing about all this is that it proves that at least one celebrity is just as self-satirically self-entitled as we assume all celebrities are,” says Gawker’s Rich Juzwiak. By invoking the camp classic “Do you know who I am?” line and making more of a deal out of being a celebrity than we’ve ever heard from her before, Witherspoon became more relatable than she’s ever been. If you were famous and you were about to be arrested, you would probably say that, too. Wouldn’t you?
As the recent water-cooler obsession over how annoying Gwyneth Paltrow apparently is affirms, we, as a culture, are fixated on the likability of stars. The ones we like are unfiltered, unrehearsed, and kind of brash—think of all the praise Jennifer Lawrence and Mila Kunis receive for saying it like it is, even if what they’re saying isn’t particularly PC or flattering. The things Witherspoon is heard saying in the footage are absolutely ridiculous. (“I’m an American citizen…I’m allowed to stand on American ground!”)
In other words, they are things someone would say when they are absolutely drunk. Anyone who has cringed while foggily remembering things they said while on a tipsy night out probably commiserates with the silliness of the things she says. As entertaining as the quotes are, they’re also humanizing in a way celebrities typically don’t allow us to see. “I think it’s good in that it reminds people that she’s funny, that she has an edge, that she isn’t as bland as her recent movies have made her out to be,” says Eleanor Barkhorn in the Atlantic piece.
Plus, her handling of the situation is a master class in damage control. Her Good Morning America mea culpa was a brilliant cocktail of self-deprecating, earnestly apologetic, and charming. She laughed at the asinine things she made up to try to get out of trouble with the cop, like pretending she was pregnant when she wasn’t. She seemed properly embarrassed by the whole affair. And, while contrite, she very coolly shrugged her shoulders over the whole thing. “It’s one of those nights,” she said. “Girl, we get it,” the nation replied. Rightfully, Radar assessed that “the Oscar for BEST APOLOGY EVER goes to—Reese Witherspoon!”
All of this is to say that the all-access pass we’ve been unexpectedly granted to this unhinged moment in Witherspoon’s life makes us love her again. Through no real fault of her own—though a series of poor movie choices is kind of her fault—the Reese Witherspoon of the past few years was the equivalent of a bored yawn. Now, thinking of her elicits, at the very least, a laugh, if not genuine excitement. Maybe she was still America’s Sweetheart, but have you eaten Sweetheart candies recently? Probably not, because everyone gives them away when they receive them since they have no taste. This whole episode gives the Sweetheart a little flavor. We’re ready to lap her up.
“With Witherspoon’s bad night in Atlanta, we got a hint of the passion and anger simmering beneath that perfect veneer,” says The Washington Post. “Don’t think that’s a good thing for woman? Don’t be so sure. Divas from Maria Callas to Mariah Carey have grown their legends on tales of diva behavior. Elizabeth Taylor’s career soared after she stole Eddie Fisher from Debbie Reynolds; when she took up with Richard Burton in an affair condemned by the Vatican, she became an international superstar (see also: Angelina Jolie), conquering grittier roles than ever…Call your agent, Reese.”
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