Adrienne Shelly, R.I.P.

152429__adrienne_l Before Maggie Gyllenhaal, before Parker Posey, there was Adrienne Shelly. Around 1990, when the first wave of the Sundance-era indie-film revolution was cresting, Shelly was the queen of the scene. With the one-two punch of The Unbelievable Truth (pictured) and Trust, she and filmmaker Hal Hartley had made put each other on the map, and those deadpan romantic comedies had made the lush-lipped actress a pin-up among indie film fanboys. She’d go on to specialize in portrayals of waifish, fringe-dwelling women who often seemed to hide a ferocious intelligence behind an offbeat exterior. In recent years, she’d largely given up acting for directing (though she appeared on screen this year in Matt Dillon’s Factotum), including a movie she’d recently directed and submitted to the 2007 Sundance Festival called Waitress, starring Keri Russell.

It seemed that the 40-year-old indie-film fixture was finally on the verge of fulfilling the potential of those early Hartley comedies, which is why her mysterious apparent suicide this week is such a shocker. It’s horrible to think she’ll now get more international press attention for the manner of her death than she did for her life’s work. It’s worth going back and watching the Hartley movies or Joel Hershman’s Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me and Deran Serafian’s The Road Killers in order to recall what a singular, sharp but sweet presence she was in movies. Meanwhile, let’s hope Sundance screens Waitress and finds a way to pay tribute to Shelly; after all, she helped lay the fest’s foundation.

addCredit(“Adrienne Shelly: Everett Collection”)


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  • Talking Moviezzz

    This is just unbelievably sad and tragic news. As a fan since UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH, who saw everything she did in the 90’s (anyone remember HEXED, BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY) she was so wonderful. I always hoped that she would someday team up with Hartley again (whose non-Adrienne films were never as good).

  • Lil

    Dude, there are footpronts leading to where she killed herself that don’t match hers, no suicide note, and the front door was unlocked. It’s kinda early to list it as suicide.

  • Judith

    I love Hal Hartley movies and those two movies would not have been the same without her. She was a lovely person and this is such sad news.

  • matt

    An amazing tribute to an actress who’s life is ended all too soon and who’s name should be known and the work she did in her short period of life should never be forgotten.

  • Gein

    I felt a horrible sickness strike in the pit of my stomach when I read the news that Adrienne Shelly was dead; then I felt horrified when I learned the manner in which she died, (HANGING!?!?!?) She breathed so much life into her films that it is truly tragic and ironic that she would die in such a lonely, isolated way.
    Back in late 80s I thought cinema was dead…then I saw The Unbelievable Truth at the 1989 Seattle International Film Festival. That film corrected all pretenses that I may have had about film up to that moment. When Adrienne’s character (Audry) wakes, stretches her arms upward, all to the accompaniment of the sound of a nuclear explosion, I was hooked. I fell in love and must have seen every showing of that film’s (too short) theatrical run.
    If someone told me after I had seen The Unbelievable Truth that Hal Hartley’s next film, Trust, was going to be even better, I would have said, “No way. The Unbelievable Truth is a perfect movie!” Well, it is a perfect movie, but Trust is even more perfect. The faultless symmetry of Hartley’s dead-pan direction, coupled with the symbiotic chemistry between Martin Donovan and Shelly, was pure cinematic brilliance. Watching Adrienne’s character (Maria) grow from a self-absorbed, illiterate teenager to a nerdy, (but gorgeous) cognizant woman made me realize what a great actress Adrienne Shelly was.
    I am horribly sad. She will be missed.

  • Ethan

    It was murder, it turns out, for those who hadn’t heard. A man in her building has confessed. One stupid, unpremeditated act of terrible violence, and so many lives are now damaged — plus one truly inspiring one lost. At least we know, and some form of justice will be served, though I don’t imagine that it’s much consolation to her family and friends.
    Assuming that “Waitress” is picked up for Sundance (which it’s hard to imagine that it won’t be, strictly on its rumored merits), I’ll be sleeping out for tickets, as one of your perennial low-budget attendees. Maybe I’ll see some of you there.

  • William

    It’s terrible. And she was killed by Diego Pillco,an illegal from Mexico.

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