I attended a packed screening of American Hustle in New York City over the Thanksgiving weekend and after leaving the theater could only think of one thing: Jennifer Lawrence will take over the world. Not only was she queen at the box office for the second week in a row (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is poised to become 2013’s highest grosser! Which would also be the first time for a female-led film), she was also the clear standout in David O. Russell’s thrilling caper.
Based on the infamous ABSCAM operation in which powerful politicians were convicted for corruption, the film has Christian Bale and Amy Adams play the crooks who team with FBI agent Bradley Cooper, in order to catch these high-rank delinquents. Lawrence plays Bale’s character’s wife Rosalyn, a ditzy blonde who falls asleep under sun lamps, gets off on the smell of her nail polish and accuses her new microwave oven of stealing her food’s nutrients. Delivering the screenplay’s zingers with perfect comedic timing and a touch of sexiness she’d never displayed before, it’s safe to say that she is a scene-stealer. After each and every one of her appearances, the guy sitting next to me kept gasping and saying “god, I love her”, and the room exploded in laughter so loud, that the next lines of dialogue were almost impossible to hear.
If awards for Best Supporting Actress are made of something different, I don’t know what that is. Bringing heightened levity to what already turned out to be a crowd-pleasing motion picture, Lawrence then did the unthinkable and completely wrecked our hearts. There is a key scene in the film — it will undoubtedly be her Oscar clip — in which she goes from drunk, to furious, to tender, to threatening, to devastating in a matter of seconds. It was the equivalent of watching a Judy Holliday character turn into Ingrid Bergman in the blink of an eye.
As I wrote this, news came that she’d been selected as this year’s Best Supporting Actress by the New York Film Critics Circle (the film won awards for Best Screenplay and Best Picture as well) which immediately led to an array of shocked remarks about how she’d sneaked in and displaced another season frontrunner. In her defense, not that such a thing is even needed when it comes to something as trivial as movie awards, she falls right into subcategories awards groups have always voted for: long suffering wives, vixens, comedic relief. That she pulled off the three of them is perhaps even more remarkable.
Awards bodies were obsessed over her last year for her performance in Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, which won her a myriad statuettes including the Academy Award for Best Actress, and as she kept winning it became quite obvious that it wasn’t entirely about the performance (her Tiffany was a remarkable creation though) but about crowning her as the new hot thing in town. Awards after all are nothing but popularity contests and by the time Silver Linings Playbook came out, J.Law had already proved her worth as an actress (Winter’s Bone) and as an action star (The Hunger Games). Her award winning performance last year wasn’t as “important” as the work of Emmanuelle Riva or Jessica Chastain, but it was efficient and touching. Immediately after her win, claims of whether she deserved it or not began popping up and while the whole aspect of “deserving” an award for performing is questionable, to say the least, what can be said if that Hollywood was dying to shower her with awards they might as well have waited for this one.
It also has to be said though, that people seem to forget that besides being the Queen of the internet, a huge box office draw, a victim of Dior, an Entertainment Weekly Entertainer of the Year and a talk-show guest extraordinaire, J.Law is also a terrific actress and what she does with Rosalyn is completely unexpected and might just be her finest achievement to date. It’s strange, but it should be harder to shake off the J.Law-ness from a Jennifer Lawrence performance (given that she’s featured in blogs, magazines and websites all over the world almost daily) yet it’s not. Watching Rosalyn, there is no sign whatsoever of the fun-loving actress who tripped on her way to collect her Best Actress Oscar earlier this year, or even any of the ferocity in the Katniss Everdeen we all saw just a couple of days before. She is the rare actor who, no offense to screenwriters, seems to be creating her own dialogues as she goes along. Her effortlessness is so powerful that it’s easy to forget she’s acting. Her ability to become possessed by her characters is something rare that should be celebrated not questioned. When was the last time we had a bonafide movie star who was also one of our most brilliant thesps?
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American Hustle opens December 13.