People don’t ask me often why I’m not on the Jennifer Lawrence bandwagon. Given my hyperbolic instinct to use “hate” carelessly, one friend of mine explained to an acquaintance that I “just like to hate things.” Being someone who writes online, of course, means that nonsensically disliking elements of pop culture is a given — providing a contrarian take on what is deemed “too popular” is, after all, a pretty clever click-baiting tactic. (Go ahead and count how many writers, either in headlines or just on Twitter, have timed their thoughts on how overrated Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is to the release of a sure-to-be-polarizing big-budget adaptation of the classic novel.) So let me assure you that what I’m about to say isn’t a cheap way to troll an audience. But I’m afraid I just don’t care for Jennifer Lawrence.
Now, I don’t think she’s a bad actress. Winter’s Bone is a fantastic film, and Lawrence gives an incredibly nuanced and realistic performance. Even though I didn’t completely love The Hunger Games when I read it, I enjoyed the film version, and Lawrence’s natural style brought a necessary weight to a movie that could have otherwise derailed, given the heavy-handed, blockbuster elements of the narrative. I will confess, however, that I hated Silver Linings Playbook so much that I left halfway through the film, and snickered when I heard someone mutter, “What?!” as I made my way back up the aisle.
What bugs me about Jennifer Lawrence — or, more specifically, the cult of personality that surrounds Jennifer Lawrence — is the notion that she’s just an everyday, relatable girl who found herself in the acting biz, a narrative perpetuated by the February cover story in Vanity Fair. In a piece that, oddly, included almost as much revealing information about its author as its subject (a tactic that puts both on equal footing), Lawrence confides that she has the same kinds of neuroses as anybody else — the anxiety, for instance, that comes with being the object of attention. (I always find it odd when actors admit this, as if they didn’t choose a profession that requires being the center of attention.) She revealed how excited she was to meet Daniel Radcliffe at a talk show taping. And she expressed her love for food. It’s a narrative that promotes the idea that Lawrence is a refreshing version of a starlet, who’s excited to be at the party because she doesn’t think she belongs.
Lawrence was almost universally lauded when she referred to acting as “stupid” in the same profile. “Everybody’s like, ‘How can you remain with a level head?’” she said. “And I’m like, ‘Why would I ever get cocky? I’m not saving anybody’s life. There are doctors who save lives and firemen who run into burning buildings. I’m making movies. It’s stupid.’” Sure, it’s not on the same level as being a surgeon, but acting is still a profession that garners a lot of fame and money. Being an office clerk or working in a factory or writing books or cooking hamburgers at a fast food joint are, to be honest, as noble as acting. It’s the attitude behind that sort of statement, and especially the back-patting that followed it, that bugs me. If she thinks acting is stupid, she shouldn’t do it. If she gets fulfillment — or even just enjoyment — out of it, especially considering how many people study to act and struggle to make a career out of it, it’s meaningful. There’s a whiff of ingratitude about Lawrence that continues to be rewarded because most see statements like this as “honest” or “irreverent.”
Perhaps I don’t dislike Jennifer Lawrence so much as I dislike the attention she has received for her seemingly ungracious behavior. Meanwhile, other actresses, particularly Anne Hathaway, are reviled for wanting to achieve the goals they set for themselves. Hathaway was the subject of several think-pieces following her win for Best Supporting Actress at this year’s Oscars, simply because she seemed to want to win. (She was, at times, treated as the yin to Lawrence’s yang.) Our celebrity-obsessed culture is fickle: favor can waver, and one can seemingly love one star for all of the reasons one hates another, and I count myself among the pack of ridiculous people who let the carefully selected quotes from a celebrity profile inform their opinion on the entire personality of someone they do not know.
But it’s the hive mind that also informs — and infuriates — those who aren’t part of the pack, which is why I was tempted to write this piece in the first place. Take a look at the animated GIF that went viral this week of Jennifer Lawrence jumping behind a mohawk-crowned Sarah Jessica Parker in front of the bullpen of red-carpet photographers at Monday night’s Met Ball. While most people may have seen the goof as an awesomely irreverent and spontaneous joke, I saw it as rude. It doesn’t help that the subtext of this latest example of the unfortunate trend of pitting actresses against each other as polar opposites is that Parker, who was once the beloved ingénue, has fallen out of favor as her age — and, really, only her age — has come to embody desperation and sadness, whereas the youthful, bright Jennifer Lawrence exemplifies a refreshing new celebrity model.
Yet for all her outspokenness, for her seemingly unfiltered take on culture, Lawrence remains part of the Hollywood system: a commodity for the movie franchises she participates in, for the fashion houses she represents. Is she really breaking free from a mold cast nearly a hundred years ago, or is she just a variation on the same old status quo? I don’t think it’s too cynical to suggest it’s the latter.