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Being human just enough

Academy award-winning Jennifer Lawrence, the youngest three-time nominee, keeps displaying the personal qualities which add to her star power.

March 9, 2014 12:46:43 am

Academy award-winning Jennifer Lawrence, the youngest three-time nominee, keeps displaying the personal qualities which add to her star power.

It was at the 2008 Venice Film Festival that Jennifer Lawrence — future Oscar winner, squirrel skinner, American warrior — signalled that she was no ordinary starlet. She wasn’t yet famous then, just a paparazzi afterthought to Charlize Theron, her co-star in The Burning Plain.

During an event for the movie, Theron showered praise on co-star, Kim Basinger, who wasn’t there. Lawrence apparently silenced the room by joking that Basinger had died. The girl can’t help it!

What Lawrence then said was funnier and so blunt that only The Daily Telegraph appears to have carried it. “Working with Kim was one of the most amazing moments of my life,” Lawrence said. “She’s so focused and nice — everything you don’t expect when you hear you’re going to be working with Kim Basinger.”

Was that a ditzy gaffe or a sly, funny dig of the kind that once might have come out of Judy Holliday? Or was Jennifer Lawrence just being Jennifer Lawrence, the best actress winner who tripped on her way to grab her Oscar for David O Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook and then — in what was the perfect capper to the inanity of the awards season — flipped the bird at someone in the press room?

Silver Linings Playbook is the movie that turned many around on Lawrence, 23, transforming them from sceptics into admirers. Even her roles as an Ozarks scrapper in Winter’s Bone and as the blue bombshell Mystique in the 2011 action film X-Men: First Class had not convinced most critics. What changed?

As Tiffany, the randy widow turned dancing stalker in Silver Linings, Lawrence inhabited a deceptively tricky role with such transparency that it felt as if she had collapsed the space between her and the character. Tiffany doesn’t make much story sense — she cajoles Bradley Cooper’s character into partnering with her for a dance contest, though neither can really dance — but Russell’s film is irresistible, and Lawrence’s performance so likable that it makes the narrative contrivances irrelevant.

Like all of Lawrence’s signature characters, she can’t be denied, whether chasing down Cooper’s wreck in Silver Linings or landing a kiss on Amy Adams that feels like a sucker punch in Russell’s latest, American Hustle.

In that film, Lawrence plays Rosalyn, the neglected wife of a con man (Christian Bale) who’s fallen for Adams’s character. She doesn’t have all that much screen time, but is a dominating, palpably physical presence.

It’s a delectable, juicy, surprising performance. You never know what Rosalyn wants, but that makes the character a woozy, a delight in a film that makes virtue out of chaos.

Yet while all actors act, stars give more than performances: They deliver identifiable, commodifiable personalities that often blur the lines between their on-screen and off-screen worlds. From Lawrence’s interviews, her offscreen mugging and photo bombing, she doesn’t appear especially interested in playing the star; being human seems enough for now. That isn’t as easy as it sounds given how difficult it has become for stars to have a private life — to walk to a yoga class or pass out drunk in a friend’s car — without becoming fodder for tabloids and gossip sites.

Lawrence may come across like a natural, but her talent has been honed by almost a decade of experience. At 14, while visiting New York, she was tapped by a modelling scout.

In 2008, she added three movies to her résumé, including The Burning Plain and Garden Party. There was also the leading role in The Poker House.

By May 2011, Lawrence had already been nominated for best actress for Winter’s Bone and cast as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.

In January 2013, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire broke a couple of records, first by overtaking Iron Man 3 to become the highest domestic grosser. That same month, industry observer Mark Harris noticed that the film had reached an even more startling benchmark: It was the first film with a lone female lead to top an annual box-office chart since The Exorcist 40 years earlier.

Even so, media types continue, with smiles and rank condescension, to label Lawrence “awkwardly charming” — a headline recently said she made the Golden Globes “more awesome, in her great goofy way” — which suggests how anomalous she registers, how confusing and unclassifiable she is amid the bland and the blonde.

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