The Jennifer Lawrence Effect: How One Girl Is Changing Hollywood

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jlawr1Photo: Stewart Cook/REX USA.
The first time the average moviegoer really paid attention to Jennifer Lawrence was the 2011 Oscars, when the young actress, lacking confidence but full of grace, appeared for her Best Actress nomination for Winter's Bone. Her floor-length red Calvin Klein dress was perfect: It seemed to hint at something simpler but still statement-making, lacking embellishment but no less awards-show-ready. Winter's Bone wasn't a giant hit commercially, but it had teeth, and the film was carried entirely on Jennifer Lawrence's hard-edged character, Ree. And, not even a month after she turned heads as Hollywood's newcomer, she bagged the role of Katniss Everdeen in the little series called The Hunger Games. With that, she became one of the biggest stars in the world. But, even more importantly, she began to change the way we perceive young actresses. She made us — the media-barraged editors at Refinery29 and you, our media-weary readers — that it was okay to really love an actress because she was worthy of it.

Ask anyone who consumes any amount of Internet to describe Hollywood, and the words are familiar. Vapid, superficial, contrived, fake. Even the people who purchase gossip mags admit, hey, this stuff isn't real, but it is fun way to escape. For years, stars give the same interviews, and glossy magazines promise the same major scoop: So-and-so Star Finally Speaks! Here's The Real Whatsername! A-List Actress Like You've Never Seen Her Before! But, the truth is, it's the same talking points recycled and recast, because we all kind of implicitly realize this is an industry that deals in image as a currency. And, when those carefully crafted images fall or crack, we often see Real People, and Real People have problems. (Especially when they are surrounded 24/7 by Hollywood and end up, say, open-mouth kissing their brother, having their husbands ditch them for tattoo artists, or saying just the strangest things.)
jlawr3Photo: REX USA/AGF s.r.l.
But, Jennifer Lawrence never came to us with an image that needed protecting, and has consistently skewered herself before the media even gets the chance. She trips, she makes monster faces, she talks about bodily functions excitedly, and she desperately wants McDonalds. A couple of really great articles have appeared asking about the legitimacy of her freewheeling nature, pointing out that she may be indeed Katniss-ing us by perfectly playing the media game. But, there are two crucial differences between Lawrence and Katniss: First, Katniss isn't great at convincing anyone she is having a good time, which is at the heart of Catching Fire. Secondly, if realness (or even "realness") is Jennifer Lawrence's way of selling herself, is that so bad?

Our constant coverage of the star is three-pronged: We really like her, it's really easy to like her, and our readers really like her. Without revealing the wizard behind the curtain, some of our most popular stories of all time have been about young Miss Everdeen, and our comments are filled with phrases like, "Ladycrush!" "How AWESOME is she?" and "Are we BFFs yet?" To be honest, that makes us feel good. It's a much better feeling than, say, the comments we get on a post about Kim Kardashian or Kristen Stewart, which often result in eye-rolls or feelings of overexposure. (Or, in one admittedly unfair example, an overly earnest figure is too much overzealous music theater kid and not enough relatable heroine.)
jlawr2Photo: REX USA/Andrew Parsons.
The Jennifer Lawrence Effect isn't just her dominating red carpets and spilling forward pages and pages of GIFs on Tumblr. It is something, hopefully, more wholesome. Her presence has us — the us that is constantly interpolated by gossip rags or are being served insane examples of hard-to-achieve bodies — thinking, "Hey, that's what I'd do in that situation!" Perhaps most importantly, she then legitimizes our admiration by delivering a stellar performance, even when handed easy scripts like X-Men. Bottom line: She's talented, she's funny, and she reminds us of ourselves. And, in many ways, that feels quite healthy.

In the mass-mediated, hyper-blogged world where the barrier between "star" and "consumer" is fading, it is becoming clear that the public wants actors to be people, because, hey, that's what they are playing. We want to be able to see ourselves in them. If Jennifer Lawrence, as Vulture's Jordan Hoffman writes, both gives us what we want and reminds us that what we want is bogus, then we can begin to see the stars that we love as flawed, funny, and relatable. We reject the sheen, the patina, placed upon them, even when overexposed. And, if that's her legacy, then may the odds be ever in her favor.