Today, as women are actively serving in two wars, Moore stands by the project, calling it “a wonderful film.” In retrospect it is hard to fathom why it caused such hubbub. Moore’s physical tenacity as a Navy SEAL trainee is truly impressive, and even her notorious taunt to Mortensen now seems like just a gamy critique of Clinton-era gender stereotypes—a campy pop-cultural update on Lady Macbeth’s fierce cry against femininity’s softer side, “Unsex me here.” Even so, the criticism prompted her to “step back” from the movie industry and retreat to Hailey, Idaho. “One of the things that hit me very strongly was the realization that what we do is not who we are,” Moore explains. “I had worked my whole life. Until I became a mother, that’s the only way I measured my value.”
Somewhat unexpectedly, perhaps, the spur that urged her back to work six years later also came from one of her daughters. “Out of true innocence, one of my girls piped up and said, ‘Are you ever going to work again?’” Moore recalls. “[I realized] my cocoon away from criticism had gotten really cozy for me.”
The roles she has found upon her return to Hollywood are markedly different from the ones she left behind. In 2003’s Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, her character of an Angel gone bad was like a parody of her old heroic self. The performance she gave as an over-the-hill lounge singer in the ensemble movie Bobby (2006) was small but potent. “I know I have an eccentric, obsessive-compulsive side,” Moore acknowledges. “I’m looking for roles that reach into that quirkier place.”
Duchovny says of her performance in The Joneses, “She [plays] the head of this perfect family, a successful working mother. But underneath there’s damage. The really smart move for Demi is to combine those two things.”
Happy Tears is about two sisters, portrayed by Moore and Posey, who have to deal with their father’s dementia and his homeless girlfriend, played by a grubby Ellen Barkin. Directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein—whose strange debut, Teeth, is a Freudian nightmare about a vagina dentata come to life—Happy Tears was shot in an aging Philadelphia suburb. The shoestring production was a universe apart from the days when Moore’s megapaychecks and rich perks earned her the back-lot nickname Gimme Moore. “It was made for, like, 10 cents,” she jokes. “But there’s something amazing when you do these projects with limited resources; magical things come out of that.”
Lichtenstein says Moore proved to be a “grounded” presence, both onscreen and off. “She has full self-knowledge and was really positive on set,” he says. “She was always in these high-concept movies which took advantage of her sexuality and beauty. I wanted to see her play a normal person.” He adds that her performance harks back to her Brat Pack days, when she fit into ensemble casts, before Hollywood gave her the “iconic parts” that painted her into a high-paid corner. “This period for her is more interesting than 10 years ago,” he says.