Reese Witherspoon's Arrest And The Cult Of "Freeway"
Matthew Bright, director of the 1996 movie, says, "I laughed at the image of what that cop must have experienced."
Drunk driving is bad, very bad. Disorderly conduct, on the other hand? Perpetrated by Reese Witherspoon? Suddenly, I want to hang out with her for the first time ever. And it reminded me — fondly — of my favorite Reese performance: in the jaw-droppingly insane and wonderful Freeway from 1996.
Variety broke the story Sunday that Witherspoon and her husband, the high-powered CAA agent Jim Toth, had been arrested early Friday morning in Atlanta. Toth was arrested for DUI; Witherspoon was arrested for disorderly conduct. Both of them were jailed for a short time Friday.
Again, drunk driving is not funny — everything from the police report about Witherspoon, however, is hilarious.
The highlights from the Variety story:
— "'Mrs. [sic] Witherspoon began to hang out the window and say that she did not believe that I was a real police officer,' according to the police report. 'I told Mrs. Witherspoon to sit on her butt and be quiet.'"
— After Toth was arrested, Witherspoon got out of the car and was told to get back in. Variety: "According to the report, she 'stated that she was a 'US citizen' and that she was allowed to 'stand on American ground.'"
— "Mrs. Witherspoon asked, 'Do you know my name?' I answered, 'No, I don't need to know your name.' I then added, 'right now.' Mrs. Witherspoon stated, 'You're about to find out who I am.'"
— "Mrs. Witherspoon also stated, 'You are going to be on national news.' I advised Mrs. Witherspoon that was fine."
Reese Witherspoon is a versatile actress. She was 15 when her first movie, the very sweet, quiet, coming-of-age drama, Man in the Moon, was released. She created the iconic Tracy Flick character in Alexander Payne's Election in 1999. She's been a romantic lead (Sweet Home Alabama), a comedy star (Legally Blonde), and an Oscar winner (as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line).
Yet even in her varied career, Freeway — written and directed by Matthew Bright — is anomalous. Witherspoon played the Southern-accented Vanessa Lutz, the daughter of a hooker (Amanda Plummer) who has married a crackhead who sexually abuses Vanessa. After both parents are arrested, Vanessa sets off to find her grandmother, only to encounter a serial killer (Kiefer Sutherland), jail, jailbreak, and finally, vindication. It's over-the-top satire and campiness. She was 20 when it was released. It is great; she is great in it.
And it was the first thing I thought of when I read about her unruliness during her and Toth's arrests.
A loose retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood story, Freeway now has a huge cult following, but as Bright, whom I reached over email, remembers it, "The reception was atrocious, initially." The movie wasn't exactly as he wanted it to be, Bright recalled. "It was partially edited by some really, truly, nauseatingly incompetent producers, which unfortunately limited its success." Its star producer, Oliver Stone, wasn't available to preserve Bright's vision. He "was in Nepal when this went down, and quite unreachable, and I was unable to protect the film as I would have liked."
I would argue that it turned out awesome anyway. Here's a great scene from the movie between Witherspoon and Sutherland after she's found out that he, Bob, is the "I-5 killer"; she'd thought he was a nice man who'd picked her up hitchhiking and confessed the terrible details of her life to him. Now she knows he kills "garbage people" and then rapes their dead bodies.
Wait, I can't help myself, here's another clip. Having shot Bob to escape, only to be arrested, she sees him for the first time in court:
God, she's so good. What was she like during the filming? "Reese was the first person I ever directed," Bright said, "and it was a revelation, like being in a small room watching Jimi Hendrix shredding on his guitar. And of course, the role, which is like nothing she'd done before or since, was perfect for her to pull that off."
He continued: "Reese was just a teenage girl with a massively high IQ and a natural sobriety about her that allowed her to make up for any lack of experience created by her extreme youth."
Bright — who went on to direct an even crazier sequel, Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby, starring Natasha Lyonne — now lives in Mexico. What's he doing now? "I just finished my first book, that takes place in Mexico, about young teenagers working for the drug cartels as killers, while pursuing skateboard excellence," he said.
Because of Freeway's popularity in Mexico, "I enjoy a kind of celebrity there that's rather fun and nice to have in this foreign country I have made my own."
After the news of her arrest went everywhere Sunday, Witherspoon issued a statement: "I clearly had one drink too many and I am deeply embarrassed about the things I said," Witherspoon said. "It was definitely a scary situation and I was frightened for my husband, but that is no excuse. I was disrespectful to the officer who was just doing his job. I have nothing but respect for the police and I'm very sorry for my behavior."
(Only "one drink too many," by the way? Cheers to you, Reese.)
Of course Witherspoon — whose image is squeaky-clean to the point of seeming uptight — has to apologize. But a small number of us will celebrate instead.
Bright is one. "No, we're not in contact. But I think very kindly toward her."
"I laughed at the image of what that cop must have experienced," Bright said. "I can only hope she gave him the sort of wonderfully delivered shit she gave to the cops in the film. And clearly, I enjoy seeing the police having an infuriating day, whenever possible."
As Vanessa would put it: