Which brings me to Jennifer Lawrence. Young, beautiful, and fresh off an Oscar for Best Actress, Lawrence has quietly created a near-perfect public persona. Most remarkable of all, she seems to have done so—dare I say—accidentally. With a torn dress here, a quirky comment there, and a fateful trip up the steps at the Academy Awards, the young talent has (literally) fallen into a charming, girl-next-door brand. What luck!
Or was any of it really 'lucky' at all? My fiancée, Megan, first put me on the scent this past weekend as we p̶o̶n̶d̶e̶r̶e̶d̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶m̶e̶a̶n̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶l̶i̶f̶e̶ discussed recent and upcoming movies. She showed me clips. She noted the alarming consistency with which Lawrence bumbles, delightfully, through her various interviews. She pointed out how Lawrence routinely picks up her dress while ascending the steps at small-name award shows, and yet neglected to do so just once--as she approached the stage at the Academy Awards. Clumsy...or crafty?
At first, I wasn't happy to hear this theory. After all, I wrote this admiring (read: pining) piece after seeing Lawrence at the Arlington Theatre. She had the 2,000+ audience first chuckling about her uncomfortable pants, then marveling over her nonchalance. We were seeing the unfiltered, unprepared, unscripted Jennifer, and she was as captivating as ever. Or so we thought.
Perhaps it doesn't matter. Who cares how actors speak, think, and perform outside of their movies? Shouldn't film, as an art form, be judged solely for the final piece, regardless of the artists' off-camera machinations? Ideally, yes. But as Megan and I dug deeper into The Lawrence Conspiracy, as we played back the SAG awards video for the third time, I realized that I couldn't separate her two performances.** Lawrence's fierce, defiant Ree (Winter's Bone) astounds not simply for the fine on-screen performance, but also because the woman behind the role was a largely unknown 19-year-old. Lawrence's Hunger Games headliner carries added heft, given that the starlet had never shouldered the expectations of a multi-million-dollar blockbuster. Context matters. We seek out narratives, and the human beings behind the characters provide the real-life stories we crave.
I haven't turned on Jennifer Lawrence. In fairness, her impossibly charming awkwardness could be as authentic as Paul Walker's abs. Still, I can't help but wonder. I've praised Lawrence for nearly every role she's played, but perhaps I've forgotten one. The casual, clumsy, adorable Jennifer might just be her most convincing performance of all.
*Granted, TMZ, People, and Entertainment Weekly provide round-the-clock, typo-strewn reporting on these matters. Unfortunately, the last time a TMZ reader made it through a full, 500-word article was 2003.
** Another example: a (500) Days of Summer interview that ruined Zooey Deschanel for me. So much for smart, mysterious, and clever.
It's easy to forget, but actors must deliver two performances with each major film or television release. The first performance—the role itself—receives high-profile criticism, as The New York Times, film blogs, podcasters, and latte-sipping Hollywood elites announce their opinions to other similarly pretentious moviegoers. Words like "palpable" and "transporting" lace their conversations, while "seductive" and "spectacle" pepper their reviews. Yet these critics tend to ignore the all-important second performance: off-the-set interviews and late-night television appearances.* A bad film can be excused by an otherwise strong body of cinematic work. Public personas, however, are quickly set in Hollywood stone.