There’s no doubt Jennifer Lawrence is the leading lady du jour right now. On top of her Academy Award win last year, she’s got two epic movies coming out with Hunger Games: Catching Fire – out this weekend – and David O. Russell’s highly anticipated American Hustle. With that, I thought it’d be interesting to discuss the pros and cons of Lawrence as an actress. Her public persona, removed from her films, is refreshing despite her work walking a fine line between empowerment and subjugation. I applaud Lawrence, and find her to be a breath of fresh air in the world of Hollywood, but is Hollywood desperate to conform her, via her film roles, into what has come before?
This article is an exploration of Hollywood itself; it’s emphasis on persona and how it’s enhanced by the film roles an actor or actress takes on. To define: persona is the public perception of a person, usually shaped in conjunction with the person and the media. In many cases, the public persona of an actor/actress is wholly different from their private persona. Public persona have identified countless actresses since Hollywood’s inception: Greta Garbo “vanting to be alone,” Clara Bow being the sexually adventurous “It girl.” With the advent of social media and 24/7 paparazzi personas aren’t as cut and dry as they once were, so stars try to tread the line between privacy and being defined as down-to-Earth and accessible to fans. What is the difference with Jennifer Lawrence? For starters, Lawrence’s unvarnished comments are refreshing in an era of cold publicity statements and pre-planned question and answers.
When Lawrence freaked out over meeting Jack Nicholson at the Oscars, it was a “real person” response; who wouldn’t freak out being hit on by Jack Nicholson? It helped that her almost-face plant while walking up to get her Oscars, reinforced the belief that even celebrities aren’t graceful in their moment of triumph. Her other comments are typical “normal” star comments – about being proud of herself, refusing to conform to body stereotypes – but are done in such a way they don’t feel forced. She isn’t the only actress to come off as normal; other young leading ladies like Emma Stone aren’t photographed nightly in clubs, and appear to have minimal publicity attention outside of their projects. Of course, Lawrence is engaging in the propagation of her persona; one of being an average, mild-mannered young woman. For all we know, she could be Lindsay Lohan in her off-time, but it’s doubtful. Lawrence works with the media to perpetuate her image, but never introduces anything that would hinder said image.
Hollywood is the one who brings their double-edged sword to play, specifically with the mutual appreciation and underhanded manipulation of Lawrence’s persona. On the one hand, articles have sprung up praising Lawrence for staying level-headed and failing to let Hollywood affect her. However, in this week alone, a myriad of articles have been written analyzing and critiquing Lawrence’s wardrobe, her weight, and her haircut. This latter element is the most mind-boggling, with articles popping up questioning what Lawrence’s haircut is “hiding” and having her latest director apologize for asking her to cut her hair. We’ve seen this in actresses for decades, whether they’re Miley Cyrus, Kerry Russell, etc. The difference with Lawrence is in Hollywood’s declaration of her as a golden girl they continually feel the need to tear down. Thankfully, Lawrence’s public persona springs back to bite gossip mongers in the ass, as she’s been well-documented in her statements of appreciating who she is. It just only puts a bigger face on the insidious Hollywood celebrity machine which loves to give stars complexes.
Her film roles are also helping in this establishment of categorizing Lawrence into archetypal female roles. The character of Katniss in the Hunger Games, specifically the first movie, is devoid of context for her relationship with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). She’s given an old-fashioned love triangle on top of her desire to save her life and her family. The movie particularly removed any necessary background or context to give the audience the ambiguous relationship between Katniss and Peeta. Is she truly in love with him, or is this played up to win sponsors within the games? It’s an element explored deeper in the novel, and the trailers for Catching Fire aren’t doing much to dispel that ambiguity will be missing once again. It is unfair to say this is a slight against the character, particularly since Katniss – in the films – is following well-hewn territory established in previous YA adaptations like Twilight although Katniss is a character who agency and determination in her life compared to Bella Swan.
What about Lawrence’s Oscar-winning role in Silver Linings Playbook? I thought Lawrence did a lot with a character I felt to be written thinly. She’s the “loveable slut” character meets the “manic pixie dream girl.” The movie as a whole is a rather trite band-aid on mental illness (mental diseases are funny, right?), but Lawrence’s character is little more than the girl “fixed” by love; who finds a way to end that whorin’ once she meets Cooper’s character. What worked for the role was Lawrence’s naturalness. Her persona worked for the character as it never felt like Lawrence was acting.
Again, it is unfair and irrelevant to connect Lawrence as a person to her film roles, specifically because screenwriters and directors shape those performances, as well. However, it is a valid question to wonder how Lawrence’s work in movies shapes her persona, both now and in the future. Outside of her films, Lawrence is a lovely breath of fresh air and will hopefully stay away from becoming a Hollywood casualty to vice. It is left to Hollywood to give up on categorizing and tearing down their stars, specifically females. Actresses have so many hurdles to overcome – each worthy of their own articles – so why add fuel to the fire, especially when so much of it is trivial? Lawrence continues to astound me, and as she develops I’m sure her films will only become better and unique. As it stands now, I’m content to hear her talk about her life; it makes me believe someone out there in Hollywood can still keep it together.