Sandra Bullock and Anne Hathaway who? Nowadays, America's sweetheart is Jennifer Lawrence, the 23-year-old Academy Award-winner and face of a little YA movie franchise known as The Hunger Games. Not to mention Mystique in the newest X-Men film series, acclaimed director David O. Russell's current muse (first, last year's Silver Lining's Playbook; next, American Hustle, in theaters next month), and the Internet's reigning GIF and meme queen.
In three years, Lawrence has risen from the Oscar-nominated breakout star of the gritty indie drama Winter's Bone to one of Hollywood's biggest actresses. The critics adore her and her peers respect her, while the rest of us look on at this crazy-beautiful unicorn of a person. She's that rare movie-world celebrity: a gifted performer who's just as charismatic and impressive off the screen as she in her cinematic roles. She's Scarlett Johansson 2.0, off with the potential to one day reach Meryl Streep's level.
Except to the naysayers calling bullshit. Complex senior video director Jonathan Lees, for one, doesn't see what all the fuss is about. He's the only person on Earth who doesn't buy this whole "Jennifer Lawrence" thing, and his colleagues wanted to know why. Which led to the following conversation with staff writer, and resident J-Law super-fan, Tara Aquino. In anticipation of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (opening nationwide tomorrow), Tara challenged Jonathan to make his case against Lawrence.
Jonathan Lees: Before we start, are you guys offering insurance when one of Jennifer Lawrence's fans firebombs my house?
Tara Aquino: You're covered under Allstate. We should start with the obvious: Why don't you get this whole "Jennifer Lawrence" thing?
Jonathan: Listen, she is young, gorgeous, and naturally charming. I understand why Hollywood is pulling its marionette strings tight and yanking her into the spotlight. Other than that, why is she lauded and treated like this megastar when she's done very little to be deserving of this?
Tara: It's the idea of her that makes her a megastar.
Jonathan: Right, and that's not a problem? Why is Hollywood so eager to rush this girl out into every high-profile project and primp her up to their expectations? Because Blake Lively didn't work out?
Tara: I'm not saying it's not a problem. I'm saying it's her X factor. And it also helps that she's in the biggest franchise out right now, which comes with its own bag of screaming fans. It's the 'N SYNC of movies, dude.
Jonathan: There's no denying the power of The Hunger Games. Even though after that first film fans should be looking up [director] Gary Ross' address so they can go tear his eyes out from his head. Even she was hesitant about doing that film. She knew doing that series would catapult her into a spotlight she looks uncomfortable in.
Tara: Does she? When I think of uncomfortable, I think of Kristen Stewart. With Jennifer Lawrence, and I think this is why people love her so much—she just seems to be saying, "Fuck it," and having fun with it.
Jonathan: So I've heard. But it's a successful franchise regardless of the movies. You could have stuck anyone in that role and it would still be a smash. They just know Jennifer can emote a little better because everyone fell in love with her from Frozen Squirrel [actual title: Winter's Bone]. Not that the editing of The Hunger Games would even let you see her emote.
Tara: But she didn't get her mainstream following through Winter's Bone. It all started with The Hunger Games.
Jonathan: I meant that Hollywood took one look at her in Winter's Bone and knew that they had this amazing girl they could shape into a superstar. Don't get me wrong. Jennifer is talented I just feel like she's getting swept up a little too quickly and we're supposed to just treat her like a star. I say prove it. Prove it beyond the press junkets, beyond the photo shoots, and beyond the fact that a billion screaming teens love you. Those same teens are similar to the ones that love One Direction. Does that make One Direction a band that anyone will give a fuck about in five years? No.
Tara: That's fair. But what I think is different about her, and what registers with people, is that she comes off as genuine. I'm not condoning being treated like a Hollywood puppet at all. I'm saying that if there had to be someone out there who was out there to this extreme, I'm all for it being her.
This is such a weird conversation to have because this is exactly what she goes through in Catching Fire. Obviously, not saying they're the same people (and you can definitely separate the two). But Katniss wins these Games she's thrust into by Big Brother, and now she has so much celebrity and she's trusted with putting on this act. But the difference with her is, she doesn't play the game. She doesn't just shut up—she becomes this role model by being her and letting that shine through despite the fake shit. And that's what I think Jennifer Lawrence is doing, and that's what I think people like about her.
Jonathan: Maybe she'll learn something from Catching Fire, then. She seems like she's not playing the game but at no point do I see her turning down the Harry Winston jewels, the designer dresses, the carpet coverage. Acting tomboyish, coy, and sarcastic at awards shows does not make a rebel.
Let's go back to her work. What makes anything extraordinary about her performances?
Tara: I'm just going to straight up say that I think the Oscar should've gone to Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty. I definitely think hype and politics played into her win. Do I think Jennifer Lawrence is, like, the best actress in the history of the universe? No. But she's certainly talented—and Catching Fire is the best thing she's ever done.
Jonathan: She's absolutely talented. I just have a problem without having a showcase of work. She's like the Nicki Minaj of actors. She gets street cred and two seconds later she's covered in makeup, going super pop and still winking like it's all just a game and she's still "real." I'm also going to mention that she did her most heartfelt and honest work in the House by the Edge of the Night of the Basement by the Park [actual title: House at the End of the Street].
Tara: Do you expect her to walk the red carpet in some pajama jeans?
Jonathan: By the way, that movie taught me an important lesson. If you watch a terrible film in 15-minute increments over a bunch of days (like the anti-binge watching), the film becomes amazing.
Tara: I'm going to try that. But back to the "showcase of work" point. I'd say she's the early Britney Spears of actors (pretending like the meltdown didn't happen later on) and that the best is yet to come. Is there something she could do to make you accept her as a megastar?
Jonathan: Look, from a pure acting standpoint, all they're doing is raising her price point, which means she won't be able to do tiny films anymore.
Tara: I don't necessarily think she won't be able to do any tiny films. She's also producing now—she's working on The Glass Castle—so I think there's potential for her to just say, "fuck it," and do her own movie. Certainly she's got the power to demand what she wants. Plus, I don't think it'll hurt if she did stick to big movies, at least she's still got the talent and it won't be painful to watch.
Jonathan: Let me see. She could follow Nicole Kidman's lead who similarly became a megastar after she did To Die For and it took her a long time to wrestle her career back into her own hands. But about The Glass Castle—that's a national bestseller (again) with tons of fan support and money behind it.
Tara: I know, but the point is, I just think there's something about her that fans can trust.
Jonathan: You are right about her making big films less painful to watch but that didn't stop me from turning off The Hunger Games and losing track of her in X-Men: First Class. I think her fans should put trust in her and know that she will be great and have a long career. But she's not bigger than business. She's not deeper that the studio's coffers. I mean, shit, look what happened to Halle Berry.
Tara: She's only 23, and actresses like Halle Berry and Nicole Kidman had a steady career before they blew up. Lawrence is a special case 'cause she didn't have much of a B-list career beforehand.
Jonathan: She is an official star in the sense than she could play Jennifer Lawrence in every film and people will love her. There must be a machine or a paper you sign out that laser etches the lines of your emotions from your breakout film and just masks that for every following movie.
I'm trying to think of what other actress rise to fame hers reminds me of but I can't. Maybe because they're forgotten. She's only 23. She is good. I would love to see her take risks and become great.
Tara: Then again, maybe you can't think of one because she's setting a new standard. But it's all speculation right now. That's literally all we can do at this point: wait and see.