This week, in honor of Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as an old guy in J. Edgar, Grantland’s YouTube Hall of Fame is remembering the best, worst, and least explicable movie-star physical transformations ever.
$187,488. That’s not the average price for a condominium in Sheboygan, or the fine levied against Rob Ryan for eating a cheerleader last week in Philly, or the amount of money earned by Warren Buffet’s secretary in the time it took for you to read this sentence. It’s the total global box office for Chapter 27, the misbegotten 2007 film starring Jared Leto as Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered John Lennon, and Lindsay Lohan as a redheaded groupie named, wait for it, “Jude.” (By contrast, the last Harry Potter flick earned $38,672 on its opening domestic weekend. Per theater.) It’s unjust, of course, to judge a work of art — well, let’s just call it a “work” — by profitability alone. Still, the low gross seems particularly cruel considering how hard Leto worked in return for such a paltry sum. Living for weeks on a diet of, no joke, microwaved smoothies of ice cream mixed with soy sauce and olive oil, the former Jordan Catalano packed on 70 pounds in order to portray the tubby assassin, instantly transforming himself from heartthrob into heart-diseased.
Was it worth it? I can’t say for sure. Like the vast majority of humans on Earth, I never saw Chapter 27 and have little desire to do so (“Makes you feel bad for, and about, everybody — including the wretched souls who made the thing.” — Roger Ebert.) But the film’s failure always makes me think of poor Jared Leto huddled in his Hollywood home, desperate to be considered a serious artiste, as a warm trickle of umami-rich Rocky Road dribbled down his chin. The thing is, by most reasonable metrics Leto’s already got it made — a teen dreamboat who managed to maintain a modest, if patchy, career in front of the screen while finding even more inexplicable success with 30 Seconds to Mars, the prog-rock band he started with his brother. But then “reasonable” has never seemed like a word Leto has much interest in — a single spin of the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer “This Is War” will convince you of that. One suspects Leto looks at James Franco with a mixture of seething fury and naked jealousy. “You mean to tell me this goofball collects advance degrees like they’re pogs, collaborates with scenester performance artists, and still gets nominated for Oscars? Did you see how fat I got?”
Leto spent a year of his life making himself disgusting in order to portray one of the more disgusting men — and disgusting crimes — of the last century and he’s stuck on tour with Shiny Toy Guns. It just doesn’t seem fair. Chapter 27 was supposed to be the project that told the world it was time to take Jared Leto seriously. But, like his jailbird co-star, it was doomed from the start. Because nobody could ever take Jared Leto as seriously as he takes himself.