She's the relatable celebrity who stumbles on the red carpet and then laughs about it. She talks about eating fries, and buffalo wings, and pizza, and potato skins, not as a guilty pleasure, but because she's a human being who enjoys those things. (Although just generally admitting to being hungry in an industry that still prizes thinness above all things is a feat in itself.)
Jennifer Lawrence doesn't quietly get sick. She "pukes," and then tells interviewers about it, in great detail. Hotel maids find sex toys hidden under her bed. A self-professed reality television obsessive, she reacts to meeting Kim Kardashian like someone who doesn't regularly send Robert DeNiro Dubsmash videos.
She's also an incredibly gifted performer — one of her most famous stumbles was on the way to the stage to pick up her Oscar for Best Actress — which is perhaps why she can get away with all of the above. But lately, it feels like JLaw the persona and Jennifer Lawrence the actress have been getting in each other's ways.
Red Sparrow, Francis Lawrence's (no relation) dark and gritty spy thriller that stars Lawrence as a prima ballerina turned Russian spy, is the latest in a series of films that seem to indicate that the actress is seeking to pivot her image and her career towards something more unexpected. It's a journey that started with Darren Aronofsky's mother!, a polarising film which covered pretty much every facet of the human condition in its two-hour run time. Lawrence — who started dating Aronosfky during filming, a relationship that ended as the film bombed — played the young, nurturing muse to Javier Bardem's broody artist, a role that went against everything she had played up until that point. It was a bold choice for Lawrence that didn't quite pay off, and undeservedly earned her a Razzie nomination. (And if her reaction to Phantom Thread is anything to go by, it's an experience that has affected her in a negative way.)
Coming hot on the heels of the disappointing Passengers, a critical failure that nonetheless did pretty well at the box office, and Joy, her third collaboration with David O. Russell, one could come to believe that Lawrence has lost her mojo. As Kevin Fallon over at The Daily Beast asked: "Jennifer Lawrence Is So Good. Why Are Her Movies So Bad?"
It's a fair question, the answer to which probably has multiple layers. I suspect that part of it has to do with the limited kinds of roles available for women who want to break out of the mould the industry has set forth for them.
But I think there's something deeper at play here. To me, it looks like Jennifer Lawrence is ready to be taken more seriously as an artist, but doesn't quite know to get there. It's not that she hasn't been respected in the past — she's won the highest honour Hollywood has to offer, and been nominated three more times. But she's finally starting to realise that she can have more control over what she does. We saw a glimmer of that awakening in 2015, when she penned an essay for Lenny Letter asking why she was being paid less than Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale, her male co-stars on American Hustle. Asked by 60 Minutes' Ben Whittaker if she feels things are different now, she said: "I feel like I know my worth, and I work hard to keep it that way."
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, she became more politically active, and is now on the board of RepresentUs, a bipartisan grassroots organisation. After announcing that she would be taking a year off from acting after Red Sparrow, Lawrence has promised to devote some of that time to advocacy.
The 27-year-old has become vocal in the #MeToo conversation, most recently after being named by Harvey Weinstein's lawyers in his defence. (In pure JLaw fashion, she called him "a horrible ass boil.") She also said she's like to set up a Time's Up hotline so that she can use the box-office clout she still has to help women who are victims of discrimination. (Personally, I'd love to see her work with a woman director again, as she did in 2010's Winter's Bone.)
To play Dominika Egorova, Red Sparrow's protagonist, Lawrence chose to do nudity for the first time in her career, a decision she has said enabled her to reclaim ownership over her own body after years of trauma stemming from the 2014 iCloud hack that made her most intimate photos available for any creep on Twitter to peruse. "I felt empowered. I feel like something that was taken from me, I got back, and I'm using in my work," she told 60 Minutes.
And while she won't actually be on set for a while, she is working on developing some of her own projects, including a script she co-wrote with Amy Schumer. She's also set to star in Luca Guadagnino's next project, another interesting choice that speaks to her new trajectory. The film, which centres on Agnes Magnusdottire, the last woman to be put to death in Iceland in 1830, sounds like the independent film version of Alias Grace. Guadagnino isn't a studio director, which feels like a return to Lawrence's Winter's Bone origins.
All signs point to Lawrence continuing to take on more risky, vulnerable roles, an attitude that has been spilling into her recent press appearances as well. Headlines crowed when she recently had three shots of rum and kicked off her heels in an appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, a throwback to the JLaw we know and love. But she was also surprisingly honest. When Colbert asked her why she was taking a year off, her reply of "Because I'm so miserable," barely came out as a joke. When he described Weinstein dragging her into his "pile of shit," her answer was, "Yeah, everybody does." Just yesterday, Andy Cohen surprised her with special guests LuAnne de Lesseps and Bethenny Frankel, and after a typically JLaw freakout, she said, "I got my smile back!"
Lots of celebrities hate being famous. Lawrence has said as much, while also continuing to give us the constant entertainment we demand from the people who, after all, have chosen to do that for a living. This recent press tour has felt like a chance for Lawrence to tone down the cool girl veneer somewhat, and admit that she feels pressure to act a certain way.
Add that to her recent revelation that she dropped out of school at 14 to pursue a calling that she loves and works hard to perfect, and you start to get a different picture of Jennifer Lawrence. Maybe she's been there all along, and we haven't noticed. Or perhaps this is just who Lawrence wants to be right now. In any case, the cool girl is ready for a break.