Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lawrence of America

Here’s how fake we all know Hollywood to be: We adore when anything they do feels half as real as their movies.

Jennifer Lawrence is the new Sandra Bullock, except a more versatile and talented actress. What I mean is, Jennifer Lawrence reminds the casual viewer that it is possible for a bona fide Hollywood superstarlet to hold on to what makes her a real human being.

For almost a decade, Bullock was the paragon of a persona Hollywood couldn’t assimilate. Or at least that was the image she cultivated with impeccable talent. What I mean is, let’s be fair, great actors are often great because they have long ago created personae even for themselves, so I'm not even sure they remember when they're acting at some point; how are we mere mortals supposed to know?

I don’t know know Sandra, because she turned down my dinner invites and Valentine’s cards. But I always saw her as the Defiantly Stubbornly Normal Superstar. The press often proclaimed her “America’s Sweetheart.” The two are interchangeable for most of us regular folk; we loved her because we believed she was one of us, not Of Hollywood. (I still think she's adorable, assimilation or no.)

The date isn’t exact, but at some point in the last half-decade, Sandra lost that thing. She became Hollywoodized. Her face got tighter. She fell in love with a dude who had been married to a porn star. I think acting normal got too hard. And who can blame her, really? You can only fight the Hollywood Borg for so long if you live amongst them.

So here comes Jennifer Lawrence. Like Sandra, she’s no dainty flower of a princess. She’s a full woman with curves and the healthy glow of having avoided any eating disorders, and her biggest roles all revolve around characters who are strikingly, aggressively uninterested in glamour. Winter’s Bone, The Hunger Games, Mystique in X-Men: First Class and now her Oscar turn as Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook. Mystique grows to abhor our obsession with appearance; the others just have bigger fish to fry.

On the red carpet, they asked Jennifer who she wanted to meet, and she said Al Roker. They thought she was joking, that it was some schtick, but she was serious, and she got annoyed that they wouldn’t believe her.

When she said “You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell” in her Oscar acceptance speech, it was adorable. “And that’s really sweet,” she added. And she meant it.

Backstage in her follow-up interview with reporters, she is stunningly at ease. She’s clever and refreshingly blunt. Her answers aren’t rude; they’re the responses you’d get if you were sitting with her and five other friends at a bar, knocking back a couple of pints. She in fact admits to taking a shot. And she sarcastically claims she fell on purpose. And she doesn’t understand why exactly anyone gives a flip about HOW exactly she got into her dress for the event, as if the details are worth hearing. And then, the best moment, was how perfectly she responded -- without a script!! -- to an idiot reporter’s buffoonish question of whether she thinks she’s peaked too early.

I don’t need to know Jennifer to know that, for now, she’s real. She’s this amazing talent who realizes she revolves around the sun and not the other way around. Even if she gets assimilated by Hollywood, I doubt it will rob her of that talent, because she’s easily the best young actress we’ve seen in at least the last 15 years. Easily. You could steal a chunk of her talent, and she’d still kick ass on screen.

Natalie Portman. Jodie Foster. Sally Field. Elizabeth Taylor. It’s a small group of women whose talent shone brightly at a young age and continued burning strongly for decades. That’s where Jennifer Lawrence is headed.

I just hope, for her sake, and for our need to believe that Hollywood doesn’t have to assimilate everything it touches, that her genuine self survives the ride.

BONUS SECONDARY ASIDE: Ben Affleck's Accidental Honesty

When Ben Affleck, a man who has indeed been assimilated into Hollywoodized, who seems to be George Clooney’s understudy in life (and Clooney is The Hollywood Supermensch), spoke with stuttered breath and racked with emotion upon receiving his Best Picture Oscar, it was a real moment. What made it most real was that he dared to screw up, in front of 40 million people, and suggest that being married is hard work.

Wha?? You mean marriage to Jennifer Garner isn’t the human equivalent of a never-ending Disney Channel TV show?? You mean you’re rich as hell, busy as hell, and can afford anything and anyone you want, but you find some kind of reward in working on your marriage?!?

Affleck’s “mistake of honesty” was my second-favorite moment from a long but very enjoyable Oscars. It was almost enough to forgive the Academy for picking what was really only the third- or fourth-best picture of the year.

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