Last year she completely blew me away with both The Hunger Games and with Silver Linings Playbook. This year, not so much.
Mind you, Jennifer Lawrence is an actress of commitment and passion. That hasn’t changed. She’s vitally alive. So what was the difference between winter 2012 and winter 2013? I mean, she did a sequel to the Hunger Games and worked with David O. Russell again on American Hustle. She’s nominated again.
Only I don’t think she should be.
And here it is. I’m reminded of Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinnie, which won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Marisa Tomei played that role with the same kind of commitment and passion that Lawrence brings to her work. The difference is that Marisa Tomei, as Mona Lisa Vito, was right for the role. She has a New York accent, she had the physicality, she had not one millisecond that wasn’t completely believable. You couldn’t and can’t think of that movie without saying Wow about her. Wow, wow, wow. She deserved that Oscar.
Now, in American Hustle (a much better movie than My Cousin Vinnie) Jennifer Lawrence plays Rosalyn Rosenfeld with commitment and passion. I understand that many (if not all) of the scenes were improvised–and she has a kind of wildness that is right for the character and the tone of the movie. But I was aware she was Jennifer Lawrence the whole time, and I kept thinking about nuances that didn’t seem believable–and that she looked kind of young for the part. See, when an actor is not thinking, then I’m just believing. I didn’t believe. Sorry, Jennifer. And I also didn’t find the kind of chemistry with the other actors…Jennifer Lawrence started to look more like Meryl Streep, so involved in character work the other actors often became…well people to act at, rather than respond to.
I wish I had better things to say about the Hunger Games. Now, I didn’t like the movie Mockingjay as well as Catching Fire, and this was true of the books as well. In Book One, Katniss has something to fight for–her own life as well as her own soul. There are great dramatic questions–how much will she betray herself to survive and will she survive? In Book Two, her life is at stake again, but since we’ve already been-there-done-that, and since she’s not willing to participate in any creative or collaborative strategy with Peeta or the other tributes because she has PTSD and is actually fairly debilitated, the dramatic question is simply this–what’s the dramatic question?
This leaves an actor at a bit of a loss, especially if commitment and passion are that actor’s strengths. Jennifer Lawrence seems like a victim, and it’s hard to be on her side–other people are fighting so much harder. This is in the writing, but it makes Lawrence look bad…and, to contrast with another actor again, think Mary Louise Parker, who can make any moment interesting because you know she’s always trying to figure something out. Katniss doesn’t have much to do or much forward motion, which is a real problem for an actor. Jennifer Lawrence didn’t figure it out well. She didn’t bring Parker’s kind of inner life and struggle to the role…which was the only thing that could have saved it from the writing.
I’m sure she’ll be great again…she’s a major talent. But this wasn’t her year.
PS–Amy Adams was FAB in American Hustle (as was Christian Bale) and I liked Jemma Malone in Hunger Games better than I’ve liked her anything, ever.