Kidman births a new controversy

Nicole Kidman’s smartest career move was not marrying, but rather, divorcing Tom Cruise and winning in the public court of opinion. Kidman was always seen as a trophy wife but the sudden end of marital bliss gave her the one ingredient for stardom that eluded her: a cohesive story line.

In Birth, Kidman plays a woman who is convinced her dead husband has been reincarnated into a boy. The film is stirring up controversy with a few steamy scenes shared between the two stars. A particular scene in Birth depicts Kidman and 10-year-old Cameron Bright engaging in an onscreen kiss and later taking a sensual bath together. Kidman’s career has come a long way — from Cruise’s hand to Hollywood A-lister.

Armed with a rather large fortune and a powerful PR machine, she bravely continued to accept starring roles in high-profile films. Kidman evolved, in the public’s mind, from arm-candy to silver-screen star. Kidman’s divorce brought an emotional hook that fans could connect with.

As a result, she has a seemingly great career. She’s tackled an impressive array of roles: a southern belle in Cold Mountain; an English mother in The Others; an American janitor in The Human Stain. She alternates between tailor-made award-hopefuls (The Hours, The Human Stain) and courted controversy with art films (Eyes Wide Shut, Dogville). She’s back with Birth, a controversial film from Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer.

When Lauren Bacall took issue with a reporter’s characterization of Kidman as a “legend,” the press was aghast. Hadn’t Kidman been featured as one of Vanity Fair’s “Legends of Hollywood” right next to Catherine Deneuve? Just who does this Bacall woman think she is?

But is Bacall off the mark? Look closely at Kidman’s current career track. There’s no doubt she’s a movie star, but one whose catalog of films have gone unloved by the public. Kidman has been unable to land that defining hit: no Breakfast at Tiffany’s, no Pretty Woman. To Die For and The Hours remain her best performances, but are described as admirably brittle. Moulin Rouge, a parade of karaoked pop songs, wasn’t carried by Kidman’s charisma. And this summer’s Stepford Wives arrived stillborn. Perhaps audiences felt that, in watching Kidman play a feisty wife who subjugates herself robotically to her husband, they’d already seen this story played out in the tabloids, with better acting.

She’s the least carnal movie star around. But it’s not for lack of trying: She appeared donning nothing but her birthday suit in The Blue Room and sheds her designer duds in Birth. Kidman’s been romantically linked to a series of increasingly strange beaus: Q-Tip, Tobey Maguire and Lenny Kravitz, yet can’t spark a sexual charge. Compare her to, say, Angelina Jolie, who makes even wearing an eye patch seem lascivious. This is where Kidman’s story line — the one written after her split from Cruise — may be hurting her as much as it helps. And, despite the overwhelming controversy surrounding Birth, critics have given the film generally positive reviews. The real test is to wait and see if audiences will be able to look past the scandalous scenes and appreciate the underlying message within the film. Kidman may yet rise to the status of full-blooded legend. So far, though, she’s been simply statuesque.

Contact Entertainment Editor Pablo Saldana at