Critics Wondering If Jennifer Lawrence Can’t Open a Movie: Can You Just Relax, Dudes?


I am not a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence; she suffers from chronic foot in the mouth along with her fellow White Feminism™ girl gang (your TSwifts, your Amy Schumers, your Lena Dunhams, etc). That said, sexist narratives are frustrating, regardless of whoever is at the center of them, and the questioning of Jennifer Lawrence’s “star power” is among the most irritating in the entertainment world.

Lawrence, right now, is three-for-three in terms of movie “flops” with Passengers, mother!, and now Red Sparrow, all of which I saw and can say were all pretty damn bad, but not because of Lawrence. Lawrence is a great actress overall, and while I personally would have given her Oscar to Emmanuelle Riva and think Mystique should have been recast two movies ago, the reason for the floppage of those three movies—which, despite the poor numbers, managed to fill every art house theater I went to—is bad writing, which Lawrence is not responsible for.

Her job is to act and add pathos, and for the last two films especially, she has been taking very bland characters and turning them into interesting people. I hated mother!, but she carries that film from start to end, and in Red Sparrow, she showed just how far she is willing to physically commit to these types of roles, being vulnerable even when it’s difficult.

In an article by The Hollywood Reporter, author Stephen Galloway asks the question, “If a star as bright and brilliant as Lawrence can’t sell tickets, who can?” bringing up the rise and fall of lesser actor John Travolta and tying it into this new era of a lack of “stardom” in Hollywood. “There isn’t a single star who seems able to keep pulling in a crowd. […] Robert Downey Jr. had his moment, but that was mainly because of his identification with Iron Man; and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s riding a wave, but I’ve yet to be convinced he has the X-factor that ensures long-term stardom.”

First of all, if you haven’t been convinced of Dwayne Johnson’s long-term success by now, then really, there is no hope for you. Secondly, I don’t think the death of “stardom” is necessarily a bad thing, especially nowadays.

One of the big reasons studios refuse to cast unknowns or put minority leads in films is because they feel they need “star power” to sell a movie, except that is becoming less and less a factor. That means instead of spending half of their budget filling a poster with known Names, they can instead invest in things like paying their writers more, safety for their cast and crew so that certain accidents don’t happen, pay for better CGI, and most importantly, invest in more creative projects that may need a little more help.

Good stories should be selling tickets, or at the very least fun stories.

But let’s go back to JLaw. Despite the fact that Galloway brings up male actors in comparison, I feel like we very quickly assign these labels of “box office poison” to female actors, regardless of talent. Andrew Garfield isn’t a box office draw, and his career is fine. Taylor Kitsch, who I adore from Friday Night Lights—and a fellow Aries—has no winners on his filmography, and even after the disaster of True Detective Season Two, he still got to lead the mini-series Waco earlier this year. Ryan Reynolds was flopping more than a slinky but managed to still get a chance to helm a major superhero movie because it was a passion project.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence has Galloway writing:

I thought Lawrence was the real thing, until her box office began to show signs of continental drift. The news that she’s had her third flop in a row with Red Sparrow (following Passengers and mother!) was especially disheartening for admirers like myself. Partly, it’s a result of the movies she’s chosen. Even as a fan of the actress and Darren Aronofsky, I couldn’t even recommend mother! to my own mother; as for Passengers, perhaps I shouldn’t have watched it on a plane, but it made an already-long flight seem like it would never end.

Good stories should be selling tickets, and I’m a fan of switching out old dynamics in order to create new spaces for people to exist and thrive. However, that doesn’t mean that we need to wonder what it is about Jennifer Lawrence personally that she can’t sell movie tickets. Where does the idea of Jennifer Lawrence, the Major Blockbuster Star come from, anyway? Her highest-selling movies are The Hunger Games series, which is an adaptation of the biggest YA book series since Twilight.

We need to stop putting unfair standards on women to perform, especially when the only people who would worry about this are the ones responsible for putting this idea of stardom on her in the first place. I certainly never saw Jennifer Lawrence as an abnormally powerful box office draw, despite her talent. Maybe everyone needs to stop thinking that an attractive white person is all a movie needs to sell tickets.


(image: Columbia Pictures)

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