I don’t know when it happened, but we seem to have turned on Jennifer Lawrence. Maybe it was her second red carpet pratfall—or her third—but it’s hard to argue the former Hunger Games star hasn’t taken a tumble in the unofficial Hollywood It Girl public approval rankings.
It’s all part of our society’s true national pastime: we build a celebrity up, so we can tear them down. Then, once we’ve decided they’ve appropriately humbled themselves, we build them back up again, patting ourselves on the back all the while. And right now, it sure seems like Lawrence is on her way to becoming the trendy new Celeb We Love to Hate, before she’s allowed to “earn” our love back like a phoenix rising out of the hot take machine. She’s not quite the new Anne Hathaway, but she’s closing in (now that we’ve collectively decided Anne’s OK again).
To be fair, Lawrence has contributed to it too—shit-talking her “haters” on Colbert, being a self-proclaimed “asshole” to fans, openly complaining about the X-Men movies. Whatever mother! was supposed to be. This week, her new movie Red Sparrow hits theaters, and it’s just as divisive. Depending on your stomach for graphic torture and unnecessary sexual assault (and terrible Russian accents), it’s either a twisty espionage thriller from former Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence, or way over the line and borderline exploitative. No matter what side you’re on, though, no one is debating that Lawrence is good as the Russian ballerina-turned-spy. Maybe even the best we’ve seen her in years.1
So let’s travel backwards through time to see if we can reverse-engineer this, and pinpoint exactly when public sentiment first turned on Lawrence—and what she can do to win us back.
Her Red Sparrow press tour has been, well, not great, Bob. She’s been forced to address backlash about her wardrobe choice. She offended all of England at the BAFTAs. She claimed she was taking a break from acting to “fix our democracy,” until her reps quickly walked that back. One of the keys to Lawrence’s public persona is her blunt, unapologetic “realness”—but it sure seems like she’s been forced to apologized a lot lately.
The Plane “Incident”
Lawrence decides to commandeer an airplane intercom on Super Bowl Sunday to lead a “Fly Eagles Fly” chant—I assume because she once played an Eagles fan in a movie?—and people are… not having it. Five years ago, people would’ve found this adorable. Instead, it’s just awkward. To be fair, an airplane cabin full of grumpy people’s a tough crowd.2 (Also, even Philly fans don’t really like Philly fans.)
Lawrence recently made headlines by saying she couldn’t last three minutes into Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread because it seemed like yet another movie about a self-absorbed narcissist who treats women poorly. And it’s a fair point, but that also happens to perfectly sum up her last big movie too. …Only Phantom Thread got nominated for six Oscars and mother! got Lawrence nominated for a Razzie. Glass houses, and whatnot.
In hindsight, Passengers was a rare feat of cinematic ingenuity: it somehow managed to take two of the most charismatic actors in Hollywood at the near height of their popularity and turn in a completely charmless sci-fi romance with a plot that was essentially “Stockholm Syndrome, in space.” It was also the moment people seemed to realize that just seeing Jennifer Lawrence’s name on a movie poster didn’t automatically make it a sure thing.
In a shade of things to come, Lawrence found herself apologizing after a run on the talk show circuit for Passengers—this time for a “charming” anecdote that nobody found particularly charming.
The X-Men Sequels
Doing a superhero franchise is a rite of passage for any up-and-coming A-lister, and X-Men: First Class came out before Hunger Games, before Lawrence was a certified star. By Days of Future Past though, she’d gotten too big to spend 12 hours in a makeup chair for third billing in a second-class comic book reboot. By X-Men: Apocalypse, she was clearly just playing out her contract. And it showed.
Lawrence got nominated for another Oscar for her third team-up with David O. Russell, but at the time, it felt like it was more because people liked her than because they liked the movie. Cue the awards season thinkpieces about whether Lawrence truly “deserved” the nomination. We’re getting closer…
The first time—on her way up to the stage to accept her Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook—everyone was charmed by her accidental near-faceplant and ensuing embarrassment. The second time—on the Oscar red carpet a year later—people started getting suspicious. By the third one, there were full-blown conspiracy theories about her supposedly staged clumsiness.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Parts 1 and 2
It’s not Lawrence’s fault that the studio decided to split the last Hunger Games movie into two for one last cash grab, but she was the face of the franchise, and by the time fans had to wait another 12 months for the final, final movie, audiences seemed to be starting to get tired of the whole thing. And so did Lawrence.
Be honest, you forgot this movie even existed. Everyone else did too.
Oscar Season, 2013
We’ve arrived. The patient zero thinkpiece. Lawrence was only 23 when she landed her third Academy Award nomination for shouting the words “science oven” and dancing to The Beatles American Hustle. But by then, she’d already won an Oscar, hosted SNL, and launched her own massive YA franchise. In short, she’d made it. Everyone loved her. So, naturally, that’s exactly when people started getting sick of her. Because that’s what we do.
Well, for starters, hopefully more movies like Red Sparrow and mother! and fewer obligatory sequels. In the Russian spy thriller, Lawrence seems more engaged with the material than we’ve seen her in a while. The action hero thing has never been a great fit for Lawrence3, but this isn’t a “female Bourne” the same way something like Atomic Blonde was or a hard-R Black Widow origin story—there’s a lot less action and the violence is far more graphic and brutal.4 It’s a risk, a reminder that Lawrence is willing to put herself out there, more than any off-the-cuff interview or blunt late-night sound bite.
And the more Lawrence is allowed to just focus on, you know, the acting part and choosing interesting projects and less on being the perfect paragon of Hollywood relatability, the better off she’ll be. Because Jennifer Lawrence isn’t “just like us.” Not anymore. She’s got an Oscar and three more nominations and starred in two massive franchises and she’s only 27. She can’t go outside without getting mobbed. She’s friends with Amy Schumer. And that’s OK. So, sure, she can pull a Hathaway and “take a break” from the public eye for a while. Or she can stop apologizing and start not giving a fuck again, and the rest of us will come around eventually. We always do.
Also, maybe stop making a scene on airplanes. That’d be a good start too.
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|1.||↑||Minus the accent, that is. That thing is rough.|
|2.||↑||Apparently, this also wasn’t the first time she was the worst on a plane.|
|3.||↑||Hunger Games included.|
|4.||↑||Although Red Sparrow still seems to leave the door open for a potential spy franchise. Because, 2018.|