The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday’s review of “Mother!” click here.
I believe Jennifer Lawrence is a good actor.
Having said that, I did not care for her performances in “American Hustle,” the X-Men movies or “Joy,” or her Oscar-winning turn in “Silver Linings Playbook.” I thought she was fine in the “Hunger Games” series and excellent in her first big role, 2010’s “Winter’s Bone.”
Having said THAT, I don’t believe it’s her fault that I didn’t enjoy any of those performances. Lawrence has often been criminally miscast. Mostly by David O. Russell, who directed her in “Joy,” “Hustle” and “Playbook.” Knock it off, please, Mr. Russell.
Casting is a tricky business, especially in Hollywood. It’s a balancing act of talent, box office draw and type. Lawrence has always had the talent; she certainly has the draw, given the fact that she’s no stranger to the list of top-paid actresses. It’s the type that’s given her trouble.
She’s funny, but not the comedic type (Melissa McCarthy). She’s pretty, but not the glamorous type (Margot Robbie). She’s talented, but not the “real actor” type (Rooney Mara). Since “The Hunger Games,” Hollywood hasn’t really known what to do with Lawrence (especially you, DAVID O. RUSSELL). So she’s been pushed into boxes where she doesn’t quite belong, and consequently she often looks uncomfortable onscreen, like her shoes are too tight.
Until “Mother!” In the latest bonkersfest from “Black Swan” director Darren Aronofsky, Lawrence plays a woman who lives in the possibly evil house many of the people on “House Hunters” deserve. Her husband (Javier Bardem), a writer’s-blocked poet, provides most of the company. Then some mysterious strangers (Ed Harris and a magnetic, hilarious Michelle Pfeiffer) show up and everything just starts getting weird. And weirder. And then again weirder.
Aronofsky’s technique is the opposite of Russell’s. Every bit of flash is gone; in fact, Lawrence’s face is deliberately made up to look so bare it’s practically waxen. She doesn’t talk much; her character’s emotions flicker mainly through her eyes. In fact, “Mother!” places her at the center of the story while simultaneously all but visually erasing her. She blends in, which ironically gives the audience a chance not just to see her, but to watch her. And it turns out that Lawrence is the kind of actor who is really interesting to watch. She can — and does — make painting a wall compelling.
Lawrence took a huge pay cut to work with Aronofsky (the film’s $30 million budget is just $10 million more than her salary for last year’s “Passengers”), and it was a smart move for both of them. Aronofsky did something few directors ever get to do — take an incredibly well-known actor and show us a new side of her. And Lawrence gets to go beyond type to show the talent underneath.
More Reelists from Kristen Page-Kirby