Yesterday, Maria highlighted the trailer for a new R-rated comedy starring Jennifer Lawrence, No Hard Feelings. Like Maria, I am excited by a mainstream studio releasing a raunchy comedy in the summer months. This used to happen all the time! But throughout the 2010s, studios stopping investing in comedies, and post-pandemic, the genre has almost entirely been relegated to streaming. Can JLaw save it? I honestly don’t know. I’m not convinced anyone can, but I am so glad we’re at least trying. And it looks kind of cute, I don’t hate this trailer.
But I also want to talk about the retrospective of Jennifer Lawrence’s fall from grace—rather, her public persona’s fall from grace—in the later 2010s. Buzzfeed ran an in depth look at how Lawrence’s “cool girl” mystique helped her break out in the early 2010s, only to make her the prime target of the internet’s ire by the end of the decade. There are some astute observations in the piece, written by Ellen Durney, particularly how the “cool girl” was considered THE most desirable way to exist as a young woman in the 2000s and early 2010s, only for that to shift over the course of the 2010s, particularly as women started revolting against the impossible standards set by the myth of the cool girl (broken down so well in Gone Girl), a change largely fueled by social media facilitating cross-cultural conversations about femininity and self-expression.
There were other factors in the public turning on Lawrence, of course. Some of it was just the classic backlash cycle—she was overexposed, she made a few bad movies in a row, people got tired of her schtick because she was f-cking everywhere, relentlessly, for several years. But I don’t think people turned on her for the same reason they did Anne Hathaway, who was always read by the public as a cringey sincere try hard, a theater kid who made it but never shook her theater kid-ness. If anything, Lawrence scanned the opposite of a try hard, she was the party babe who stumbled into a Hollywood career almost by accident—interviews and profiles of that era downplayed Lawrence’s ambition and often painted her as an overnight success, despite the fact that she was a working kid actor on a sitcom in the 2000s. But it wasn’t cool to try, so there was little mention, if any, of how hard Lawrence worked to be an overnight sensation.
As the 2010s wore on, we started to see a rising appreciation of sincerity, and a depreciation of irony and sarcasm. That helped Anne Hathaway, as everyone decided to stop calling her cringe and celebrate her for being a proud dork in the public sphere, but it hurt Lawrence, whose public persona was tangled up in ideas of 2000s party culture. And worse, as the Weinstein scandal unfolded, Lawrence became a shield Weinstein and his lawyers attempted to use to discredit his survivors, while we also learned that he boasted of sleeping with Lawrence, which she denies. But she had a publicly friendly relationship with him, calling him her “little rascal” after she won her Oscar in 2013, and then later dubbing him a “horrible ass boil” post-scandal.
Of course, that’s not to say their relationship was really all that friendly. If anything, Lawrence looks like she’s in a hostage stand-off, with a frozen smile as she dutifully acknowledges Weinstein on Oscar night. It wasn’t fair, and again, probably not even rooted in the real nature of their relationship, but for years, she was seen being friendly with him, and even boasting of getting through his bouts of bullying and tantrums with her own fiery temper, which after the fact, many people took as a kind of put down of his survivors, that they just weren’t loud enough and brash enough, like JLaw, to stand up to him. Again, not fair! But the perception stuck, and the damage was done.
But now JLaw is back, with a mommy makeover—invaluable for rebranding a famous woman after a rough publicity patch—a new production company, and new films in which she is trying to get away from the blockbuster persona of the 2010s and just be Jennifer Lawrence: Actor, and not Jennifer Lawrence: Most Famous Woman in the World. Some of the change is undoubtedly down to the natural progression of growing out of your twenties and into your thirties—most of us aren’t the same person at 31 as we were at 21—but there is undoubtedly a new calculation here, that Lawrence is actively trying not to let her persona get too big or loud this time around. Which is a little bit sad, if she must stifle some part of herself to avoid becoming the internet’s punching bag again.
I would like to see who Jennifer Lawrence is, publicly, anyway, just as herself and not as a meme or target. But right now, she’s still walking on eggshells, and I’m not sure we can call her “reinvention” complete until she’s a little less careful with her own persona. We’re not quite there yet. She’s still doing damage control.