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OPINION

Jennifer Lawrence: the best thing since sliced bread

Matt Pais, @mattpais

RedEye movie critic

February 26, 2013

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It would be very easy to get infinitely excited about recent Best Actress winner (“Silver Linings Playbook”) Jennifer Lawrence, whom the Internet generally has embraced as a person with whom they could totally be best friends with if they could like only meet and hit it off and stuff.

It’s understandable; an incredibly talented, humble movie star (who happens to be exceptionally beautiful, yes) who’s savvy and natural and endearingly human--nobody falls at the Oscars--comes around every, I don’t know, almost never. George Clooney comes to mind as a similarly effortless interview subject, but his unflustered cool puts him on a post-species level. Clooney is a special breed of smooth, and his likability isn’t synonymous with approachability. He seems like someone whose aura would be hard to keep up with.

Lawrence, on the other hand, is the rare truly non-star megastar, like she's simultaneously confident and unable/unwilling to see herself as anything "more" than a fortunate young woman who loves acting. Every late-night interview she gives is different, spontaneous, and seemingly unconcerned about what will and won’t be covered. Bodily functions are not off-limits. Awkwardness and embarrassment are common topics. And the actress is 22; it’s not like old stories are that old.

Perhaps more reassuring than Lawrence’s candidness, however, is her lack of interest in the superficial B.S. that pervades Hollywood coverage and interviews. If you haven’t seen them already, watch her answers when interviewed after winning on Sunday. She’s not ashamed of falling on the stairs; she recognizes that she wore a dress that might have to tripping, and that’s what happened. (An incredible example for people who struggle to laugh at themselves and shrug off potential embarrassments.) She doesn’t let interviewers get away with anything. Is she worried about peaking too early, someone asked? “Well, now I am!,” Lawrence exclaims, surely not meaning it but recognizing the absurdity of perceiving her success as a bad thing or having to worry that everything going right will suddenly start going wrong.

Of course, it could. Not everyone has a life-long career in movies. Anyone who’s seen her work, though, should be able to tell that Lawrence is the real deal as an actress, and that has nothing to do with her public appeal or looks (though those obviously don't hurt). That’s from her Oscar-nominated role in “Winter’s Bone” to the under-seen gem “The Beaver” (really) or even showing that you can give a dynamic lead performance a teen franchise with “The Hunger Games.” Not a giant sample size, but it doesn't have to be.

Some people, because that’s just the way they are, may be inclined to dislike the person everyone else supports. I’m glad, however, that most people seem to get it—as far as I’m concerned—and approve of Lawrence’s freewheeling, unstudied charm and dislike, by comparison, Anne Hathaway’s overly manufactured, self-satisfied gratitude. Those real-life behaviors translate to their on-screen work, too; in nearly all her roles, Hathaway strikes me as clearly acting, whereas Lawrence becomes the character and disappears.

As someone engenders so much goodwill, it would be easy to forget that they're a person. In a recent A.V. Club Q&A, critic and considerable Lawrence fan Scott Tobias lamented that the actress spoke negatively of old movies and wished that (in his mind) she always lived up to the stunningly winning persona that comes so naturally to her.

It feels disappointing whenever anyone becomes taken with a person, in reality or on screen, and finds the slightest element to contradict suspicions of perfection. No matter what, Jennifer Lawrence, with her seemingly inextinguishable personality, is the new Mila Kunis—in terms of the fondness she inspires from men and women—with an added bonus of dangerous and varied skill.

It’s already a justified cliché to say you’re a Lawrence fan, but besides for simply liking her work and laughing at the interviews, it’s fantastic to have a new movie star who suggests that the polish and restraint that often come with immense talent and A-list status not only are optional in the job, but dismissible as a lifestyle.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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