Kelly Pre­ston, dead at 57, made big movie mo­ments out of small scenes

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - RICHARD ROEPER rroeper@sun­ | @RichardERo­eper

The sen­ti­men­tal base­ball drama “For Love of the Game” from 1999 was play­ing on ca­ble over the week­end. I stopped surf­ing for a mo­ment to watch the scene where Kelly Pre­ston’s Jane Aubrey takes a seat at an air­port bar where the TV is tuned to the Tigers-Yan­kees game, with Jane’s es­tranged ro­man­tic part­ner, the vet­eran hurler Billy Chapel (Kevin Cost­ner), tak­ing the mound for what could be his fi­nal game.

An ob­nox­ious Yan­kees fan is al­ready at the bar, chomp­ing on pret­zels and down­ing beers, rip­ping Chapel and blovi­at­ing about his beloved team. “I’ve been a Yan­kees fan since 1958, I can name a Yan­kee for ev­ery [ jer­sey] num­ber,” says the fan.

“Oh God, please don’t,” says Jane, and though it’s just a four-word re­ac­tion line in a two-hour-plus movie, Pre­ston’s tim­ing is spot on and her fa­cial ex­pres­sion is per­fect as she ex­presses ex­actly what ev­ery­one who has ever been seated next to a know-it-all sports fan in a bar has ever felt.

“For Love of the Game” is not a great movie, but the dy­namic be­tween Cost­ner and Pre­ston is the most au­then­tic thing about the story, from the mo­ment they meet-cute af­ter her car has bro­ken down (of course, Jane has no idea Billy is a fa­mous base­ball player) to the fi­nal and qui­etly mov­ing scene in the now nearly empty air­port, where these two grown-ups who have been through a roller coaster of highs and lows come to re­al­ize they’re bet­ter off to­gether than apart.

Pre­ston died on Sun­day at the age of

57, two years af­ter she was di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer. She is sur­vived by her hus­band of 28 years, John Tra­volta, their 20-year-old daugh­ter, Ella, and their 9-year-old son, Ben­jamin. (Their son Jett died in 2009 at the age of 16.) “She was a bright, beau­ti­ful and lov­ing soul who cared deeply about oth­ers and who brought life to every­thing she touched,” a fam­ily rep­re­sen­ta­tive told Peo­ple mag­a­zine.

Af­ter small parts in films such as “Christine” (1983) and a role on the TV se­ries “For Love and Honor” (1983-84), Pre­ston made a splash in two leer­ing teen-sex come­dies from 1985, “Se­cret Ad­mirer” and “Mis­chief.” They were not the best films even of that du­bi­ous genre, but the cam­era loved Pre­ston and she had an in­stant, nat­u­ral pres­ence — and a gift for com­edy, as in the in­fa­mous sex scene in “Mis­chief ” in which Pre­ston’s Mar­i­lyn nearly sus­tains a con­cus­sion from re­peated knocks against the head­board.

Pre­ston had a small but in­te­gral straight dra­matic role in the un­der­rated and gritty thriller “52 Pick-Up” (1986), joined Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger and Danny De­Vito in the mon­ster hit com­edy “Twins” (1988) and met and fell in love with her fu­ture hus­band Tra­volta on the set of “The Ex­perts” (1989).

Af­ter a se­ries of mostly for­get­table parts in the early 1990s, Pre­ston de­liv­ered one of the most mem­o­rable per­for­mances of her ca­reer in “Jerry Maguire” (1996) as the ti­tle char­ac­ter’s gor­geous, am­bi­tious and hi­lar­i­ously dis­ap­pointed girl­friend, Avery, who is wildly self-cen­tered but says to Jerry, “It’s all about you, isn’t it? Soothe me, save me, love me . . . there is a sen­si­tiv­ity thing that some peo­ple have — I don’t have it.” Avery then lit­er­ally de­liv­ers a one-two punch to his face and a kick to his gut when they break up. That 2½-minute scene was per­haps the best show­case for Pre­ston’s tal­ents in her ca­reer. She was . . . bril­liant.

Pre­ston con­tin­ued work­ing through the decades, from “The Cat in the Hat” (2003) to “A View From the Top” (2004) to a re­cur­ring role on the TV se­ries “Medium” to costar­ring with her hus­band and the late Robin Wil­liams in “Old Dogs” (2010) to once again team­ing with Tra­volta in “Gotti” (2018), in which she played the wife of the ti­tle mob­ster. A pro­mo­tional tour for the lat­ter film brought Tra­volta and Pre­ston to Chicago, where I co-hosted a screen­ing and Q&A with them.

Back­stage be­fore the event, I spent a lit­tle down­time with John and Kelly and their then 18-year-old daugh­ter, Ella. It would be a mis­take for any me­dia person to as­sume they know some­one based on lim­ited shared time, but what I re­mem­ber about Pre­ston from that evening was how down-to-earth she was, how low-key, how close she seemed to her daugh­ter. How lovely and sweet she was.


Kevin Cost­ner and Kelly Pre­ston are shown in a scene from the 1999 film “For Love of the Game.”


John Tra­volta and wife Kelly Pre­ston pose dur­ing a pho­to­call for the film “Gotti” at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val in Cannes, south­ern France, in May 2018.

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