Features Film

Jennifer Lawrence: Staying Hungry

JENNIFER Lawrence has never been afraid to get her hands dirty.

It is one of the reasons why we love her so much. She has a down-to-earth affability that a team of scientists and PR experts could only dream of engineering. An accessibility that shines through whenever Lawrence is in a public setting or on a chat show, usually making jokes at her own expense.

The real trick is that Lawrence has, through sheer authenticity, shown off this side of her personality without ever detracting from her incredible, natural acting abilities. Lawrence can be our quirky friend one moment and a formidable on-screen performer the next. We are entertained either way.

Lawrence’s journey to the film star she is today only strengthens her image. A movie star as talented as she is likeable and someone we can all get behind.

To the Bone

LAWRENCE’S early big-screen career featured supporting roles in numerous poorly reviewed and largely forgettable films. Even still, they provided Lawrence with valuable big-screen experience.

It gave her the opportunity to work with strong, experienced female performers such as Charlize Theron and Jodie Foster. The type of – and level of – performer she would blossom into earlier than anyone could have imagined.

The buds of Lawrence’s blossom were on display in Lori Petty’s biographical film The Poker House (2008). Alongside a (very) young Chloe Moretz, she played the oldest sister in a family struck by drugs and abuse. As would become typical of Lawrence, she brought a steely resilience and a raw, soft-faced congeniality to the character.

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The Poker House (2008)

Petty, watching Lawrence bring her own tough upbringing to life, did not hold back in her praise of the young actress. She said: ‘Jennifer carries this movie on her back – it is her movie.’ The critics agreed, singling out Lawrence as the film’s strongest asset despite mixed reviews of the film overall.

Yet the praise Lawrence received for The Poker House would pale into insignificance compared to the attention her performance in Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone (2010) would garner.

Lawrence played Ree, another young small-town woman thrust into a position of responsibility by absent parents and a failing economic system.

Ree, robust and compassionate, is left to pick up the jagged pieces of her fractured family (and wider community) as she searches for her drug-dealing father.

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Winter’s Bone (2010)

Lawrence stood out for her on-screen fierceness and courage. As Peter Bradshaw waxed lyrical in his Guardian review: ’Twenty year-old Lawrence is excellent as Ree: intelligent, and possessed of a moral courage that commands respect.’ It was an Oscar-nominated display that thrust Lawrence into the mainstream consciousness and laid the groundwork for her most iconic role.

I volunteer

AFTER getting her hands dirty in small-scale cinema, Lawrence confirmed her place in mainstream cinema with two colossal franchises.

In 2011, Lawrence joined the X-Men universe and stepped into the shapeshifting skin of mutant Mystique (also referred to as Raven). The role brought Lawrence out of cold, poverty-stricken rural America and into the cosier world of green screens and comic-book action. A Hollywood transition Lawrence pulled off as seamlessly and convincingly as Mystique going from blue to you.

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Lawrence goes blue for X-Men

That is partly owed to Lawrence’s desire to seek out layered characters. An emphasis she places on character progression that was often the topic of conversation in her early interviews. As evidenced in the successful first movie, X-Men: First Class (2011), Mystique had enough complexity – trying to come to terms with her place as an outsider – to occupy Lawrence’s talents. The same could be said for her role in the second X-Men film Days of Future Past (2014) – by far the best critically received in the franchise.

Despite this success, rumours began to spread that Lawrence had lost interest in the franchise ahead of the third – and most disappointing – film X-Men: Apocalypse (2016). A film introducing more mutants and a disappointingly weak villain (not befitting of Oscar Isaacs’ talents). Lawrence was lost among this apocalyptic superhero mess. As Bradshaw simply put it in his Guardian review: ‘There’s not enough for Jennifer Lawrence to do as Raven.’

It remains to be seen whether Lawrence’s X-Men journey has a happy ending ahead of the next instalment later this year.

Fortunately, there was more than enough to keep Lawrence busy in her role as Katniss Everdeen in the film adaptations of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian novels The Hunger Games.

Arriving in cinemas in 2012, the first Hunger Games film was a huge hit. With a young adult audience and teen-friendly love triangle, critics were quick to draw comparisons with the hugely successful – yet often ridiculed – Twilight series. Yet, in many people’s eyes, Lawrence managed to outshine Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson’s vampiric efforts. She made a YA book adaptation compelling enough for not just for its loyal fan base, but for adults and film critics alike.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as 'Katniss Everdeen' in THE HUNGER GAMES.
Lawrence in The Hunger Games

‘You can’t take your eyes off Jennifer Lawrence as the ox-hearted, mud-freckled Katniss,’ said Robbie Collin in his Telegraph review. He continued by acknowledging Lawrence’s progression: ‘She’s even more compelling here than she was in the 2010 indie Winter’s Bone, a strikingly similar role for which she was nominated for an Oscar.’

Although the remaining films in the franchise did not match the same heights as the first, The Hunger Games marked a monumental step in Lawrence’s path to Hollywood stardom – as well critical respect.

By the time Mockingjay Part 2 was in cinemas, Lawrence was established as one of Hollywood’s most popular and best paid actresses.

The Guardian’s Mark Kermode summed up Lawrence’s unimaginable growth in his review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. He observed: ‘Like Katniss, Lawrence has become bigger than the Games themselves, something that makes her very powerful, very dangerous and rather inspirational. That in itself is a victory worth cheering.’

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Mockingjay Part 2

Russell’s Playbook

IN the same year as The Hunger Games hit cinemas, Lawrence started a collaboration that would be almost as important as her work in District 12.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) united Lawrence with Three Kings director David O. Russell and Hangover actor Bradley Cooper. A team that would add yet another bow, a more adult one besides The Hunger Games, to Lawrence’s expanding arsenal.

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Silver Linings Playbook

Playing Cooper’s mysterious love interest, Lawrence excelled in this zany drama-romance that showcased an endearing vulnerability that was sparingly touched upon in Winter’s Bone, X-Men and The Hunger Games. Deservedly, she picked up an Oscar for the performance.

Lawrence has since worked with Russell and Cooper on American Hustle (2013) and Joy (2016), confirming their place as one of American cinema’s best collaborations. Russell’s work with Lawrence, running almost parallel to The Hunger Games, acted as a valve to ensure she was not bogged down by her attachment to the Katniss Everdeen character.

Instead, Russell’s work harnessed other qualities (perhaps more adult ones) in Lawrence that showed she had plenty of staying power beyond YA and comic-book franchises.

Rocket Fuel

IMITATION Game director Morten Tyldum must have thought he struck sci-fi gold when he paired Lawrence with Chris Pratt – who was hot from his mega-blockbuster successes on Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World.

The two would star in Tyldum’s 2016 space isolation thriller Passengers. As virtually the only two characters in the film (Michael Sheen plays a robot bartender), Lawrence and Pratt displayed a playful chemistry that was just as impressive – if not better – than Lawrence’s with Cooper.

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Passengers

Despite their chemistry giving the film galactic potential, a weak script meant it barely got out of orbit. A real waste. Still, as Lawrence had a knack of doing (also see Serena, 2014), she came out of the film blameless.

As Bradshaw said: ‘The movie doesn’t have an ending. But it has Lawrence, who supplies the rocket fuel that might otherwise leak… Lawrence is no passenger. She’s carrying this thing.’

Lawrence’s next move was perhaps the most daring and interesting of her career. She teamed with director Darren Aronofsky for an ambitious arthouse project titled Mother!. Many wondered what Aronofsky, who had provoked a transformative performance out of Natalie Portman in Black Swan and revived Mickey Rourke’s career in The Wrestler, would bring out of Lawrence.

Unfortunately, the film’s divisive reception stole much of the attention away from a powerful and fascinating Lawrence performance. Audiences (misled by marketing) panned the film as pretentious, often missing Lawrence’s incredible unfolding sense of dread.

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Mother!

A number of critics did praise Lawrence, who spends most of the film under the scrutiny of Aronofsky’s tightly focused camera. This time it was Robbie Collin’s turn to refer to Lawrence’s rocket fuel capabilities: ‘It’s an exceptional performance – one that burns through all of her star power like rocket fuel – and her incomprehension and distress fast become your own.’

Lawrence’s role in Mother! reminded me of something she said just before the release of Winter’s Bone in 2010. ‘I love movies with teeth. I love movies that make you think. Every movie I’ve done has very similar character: it’s very rough, it’s dirty, it’s serious and it’s motherly.’

It is this attitude and approach that has brought the best out of Lawrence.

If she keeps her teeth – and stays hungry – I am sure Lawrence will continue to turn in consistently moving and relatable performances on her path to cinematic royalty.

Mother! is out on DVD and Blu-ray from Jan 22

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