Three years ago I was rooting for Jennifer Lawrence to win an Oscar. Last year I was cheering when she did win. This year I am hoping she does not win. What’s changed? Well, a lot.
First of all, in 2010, Jennifer was a new and upcoming actress fresh off the heat of a nomination for Winter’s Bone, a movie she is resplendent in, but also a movie that stands on its own as an assured independent film. Lawrence’s performance was the cherry on top of the tense writing and taut direction, coupled with John Hawkes’ equally career-defining role. The difference for Hawkes is that he has been giving these kind of small, intense performances for years and is finally being recognized, whereas Lawrence is fresh meat.
By 2012, Lawrence is coming off the success of The Hunger Games as well as the Oscar buzz surrounding her performance in Silver Linings Playbook, a movie I’ve defended in the past but am slowly coming to resent. Lawrence is good, not great, and while she’s not completely undeserving of her recognition, she hasn’t quite reached that peak that suggests now is the time to give her the biggest award in Hollywood. Lawrence turns up the crazy in Silver Linings but she doesn’t seem to quite understand what’s going on behind her character’s mask of insanity. Look at her performance closely and, while her eyes are very intense, there’s no real empathy in them. It’s all empty space in there.
I don’t want to criticize Lawrence herself, and I admire her bravery and her ability to capture intense emotions on camera. Certainly I can’t pull off crazy without looking, well, actually crazy, but Lawrence’s win felt premature at the time and not just because she is young. Now, however, another year has come and gone and Lawrence is yet again in the spotlight for American Hustle, a movie with an almost identical performance from Lawrence. Once again, she pulls off the craziness in a way that makes you envious of her naturalness in front of a camera, if nothing else. She gives it everything she’s got, and that’s what I’m concerned about. I feel we’re starting to see her peak, as though she’s hit her limits already, been stretched too thin. The performance is exactly the same as we’ve seen last year and once again, there’s just something missing. It’s like she showed up, maxed out her emotion-face, and went home again, unsure of what just happened. Does she know what she’s doing, does she understand the people she’s portraying?
Watch any interview with Lawrence and you’ll see what I’m talking about. This girl is silly with a capital S. She’s the new poster child for adorkability, and that’s all fine. It’s refreshing, to be honest, but lately it’s starting to ring false. The girl channeling such intensity in the theatre can’t seem to take anything seriously anywhere else and I’m concerned this is going to be the end of her career. She’ll have a few years left of course, as an action star in The Hunger Games franchise, but gone are the days when she was portraying realistic characters, her own small past informing her acting choices, rather than serving to highlight how high she’s risen.
If Lawrence wins a second Oscar this year, she’ll probably never win again. She’s almost unprecedented as it is. The question is, is that okay? She’s a fine young actress who has an exciting career ahead of her as long as she plays her cards right. Perhaps she could benefit from a change of image.
So this year, I hope she doesn’t win, for her sake. I hope she still has room to grow and improve. I want to see her put something of herself into a role again, instead of being the poster girl for Hollywood’s current obsession with “dorky girls.” Even if she does win, I hope she remembers where she came from.