‘Winona Forever’ goes the slogan. Immortalised by a generation raised on the Gothic glamour of Beetlejuice, it was also the phrase that was, ironically, temporarily etched onto the arm of eccentric movie alternahunk Johnny Depp. Even more ironically, such a statement – delivered in honour of Winona Ryder – hasn’t exactly rang true, for career-wise, Miss Ryder’s adulation has been the very definition of transitory.
Admired in the ’80s, adored in the ’90s and abolished in the noughties, recently Winona Ryder has undergone something of a career resurgence. Thanks to the cyclical nature of commercialism and a new generation raised on vintage fodder, Winona’s clout has been freshly anointed, young people the world over fawning over her antics in Heathers or her giddy graduate in Reality Bites. Not only that, but her new role in the stunning Netflix show Stranger Things has won her the kind of plaudits last uttered when she inadvertently played second fiddle to Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted.
Stranger Things has succeeded in capturing kudos thanks to its love-letter approach to nostalgia – the science-fiction forays recall the gloriously kitsch ’80s output of E.T., the “kids fight back” ethos of The Goonies and generally enticing, character-driven stories of Spielberg. The scripts are strong and it is the perfect show for Netflix, a platform where binge-watching is almost a pre-requisite.
For Ryder, it’s an important role. Since her infamous shoplifting incident and appearance in an Adam Sandler movie, she became something of a Tinseltown pariah; or so you’d be led to think. Instead, she became more selective about her roles, taking on acclaimed performances in Show Me A Hero, Turks and Caicos and, most notably, Black Swan. However, Stranger Things marks a strong resurgence, the chance to re-appeal to a younger generation that have no doubt swooned over her slight, offbeat personalities in movies by Tim Burton and Ben Stiller.
It has also been a chance for Ryder to a play a role devoid from the rest of her output. From Edward Scissorhands to Mermaids, Ryder’s roles have generally been that of the proactive, the kooky and the off-kilter. She also often played characters a lot younger than her actual age, thanks to her seemingly ageless exterior (it’s startling to accept that she is now actually 44). Playing single mom Joyce Byers gives us a glimpse into the unglamorous, a no-frills mother who is thoroughly grounded among the supernatural occurrences. As an actress, Ryder has shown consistency and versatility throughout her career, and taking on a role different from her previous posts has shown another side to her considerable acting talents.
As a fervent Winona fan, I anticipated the arrival of Stranger Things with excitement and fear – I couldn’t wait to see Ryder in a fresh new medium (she had previously never done an extensive TV project before), but worried it would flop. I shouldn’t have – the show is manna from heaven for nerds and jocks alike, a nostalgia trip where Snapchat and Tinder are words uttered by the town’s drunk.
I am also incredibly pleased that the show has done well, especially as it has given Ryder renewed resonance. Of course, to simply cast her off as a bygone era – a time of Generation X, to be precise – would be foolish considering the power of her performances, but to see her prominent and present in modern TV is enough to make me ‘do a Depp’. Although I already own a ‘Free Winona’ t-shirt, so that might just be enough.
Whether she went away or not (she didn’t), Stranger Things has ensured Winona is well and truly back; that tattoo might just be apposite, after all.
Words by Sam Lambeth