Although Joy is under embargo for formal reviews, several people have already written about Lawrence and the film in terms of the Oscar race. The first thing to remember is nobody really knows anything. No one knows how the film will land with critics, with audiences, or with voters. We base our opinions mainly on experience with this kind of thing. Thus, it’s all to be taken with a grain of salt.
You mostly have to go back to Marion Cotillard beating Julie Christie to find a year when the presumed frontrunner early on in the year did not ride that expectation through to the end. Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchette, Julianne Moore, were all actresses who took the lead early on and maintained that lead with hardcore campaigning at every event, showing voters that they were in it to win it. Cotillard also did that, and Julie Christie did not. Streep had a formidable challenger in Viola Davis, but Streep had Harvey Weinstein behind her and they were in it to win it. It was close, though. That year seemed very close — as evidenced by Davis upsets at the BFCA and SAG Awards.
This year Brie Larson took the early lead as long ago as Telluride. She has been doing the most serious campaigning of all of the actresses so far, with the possible exception of Carey Mulligan, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett and Saoirse Ronan. They are all working hard to bring attention to their films, to raise the profile of those films, and perhaps to win an Oscar in the process. You can’t win one anymore by sitting on the sidelines and hoping people notice your good work. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that now, if it ever did. That’s why you see all of the stars showing up to woo the HFPA members at the party for Miss Golden Globe, for instance.
For months, many have been wondering if Jennifer Lawrence could beat Brie Larson, which would make a fascinating showdown between two relative ingenues, age 25 and 26. Last night’s premiere screenings of Joy at several distinguished venues proved Lawrence’s boundless talent as an actress in a wonderfully rare story of a “daring woman” who takes care of her whole family of eccentrics, works, and raises two kids. All the while her ambition to be an inventor who “make things” simmers in the background. Until she decides to take one idea and run with it. Lawrence is focused, serious and a pure pleasure to watch fill an entire screen. David O. Russell never lets any other character take focus away from her and in a feat of revolutionary storytelling, omits the need for a love interest. Even still, the performance is probably not the one that will win her second Oscar so soon. It’s not impossible, but to win a second time she is going to have top Silver Linings Playbook. That year, she was unstoppable as the fresh new face in Hollywood. It’s hard to pull that rabbit out of the hat twice. Still, she will be looking at her fourth Oscar nomination before hitting the age of 30. That’s incredible.
It suddenly seems as though the Best Actress rivalry has perhaps shifted in another direction – to Brie Larson vs. Saoirse Ronan, the charming star of Brooklyn. Both actresses are on the rise, with Ronan having slightly more in her corner with a film that is making money via word of mouth (so is Room but doing it a little more slowly). Ronan already has an Oscar nod for Atonement. More than that, though, Brooklyn is the kind of movie — and she’s the kind of character — you fall in love with. Think: Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love or, for that matter, Lawrence in Silver Linings. Ronan has landed an ideal role and owns it. Few actresses ever have the great fortune to come across such a role, and most never will. Larson, by contrast, does not necessarily seem to be hitting that specific ideal role. She’s great in the film, without a doubt. It’s just that Ronan’s Eilis is such a perfect role for her, tailor-made in so many ways.
But Larson, at least so far, holds onto the lead. And appears to be doing everything that needs to be done to ensure the film is seen and heard by everyone who needs to see it. Hers is another word-of-mouth kind of thing, as is Saoirse Ronan’s. In recent years, the Best Actress race has been dominated by powerhouses — big name actresses who were either way overdue (Moore, Streep) or those who simply gave that one unequivocal performance (Portman). But neither Larson nor Ronan are powerhouses — and beyond avid filmlover circles aren’t well known at all. Larson burst onto the scene just two years ago. She isn’t the big star (quite yet) that Lawrence had already become before her Silver Linings triumph. But she’s really as close as we’ll get to that this year, unless you count Lawrence, which you could certainly do as she carries Joy entirely.
Making matters slightly more complicated are the possible inclusion of Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander who would probably be campaigned in Supporting if the studios and Oscar strategists had their way. If they do get promoted to Best Actress that could cause problem,s since Vikander has the “it” girl factor going for her, with so many different extraordinary roles under her belt this year. And Mara is as close to a powerhouse big star as you’re likely to get.
Meanwhile, this entire scenario could mean an opening for a powerhouse veteran to sneak in and take it – a Charlotte Rampling, Lily Tomlin or Blyth Danner. It’s certainly possible that in a year of relative unknown actresses, despite the popularity of their films and their resourceful publicists, a bigger star could reap the rewards if the focus on Lawrence wanes.
It seems like a good time for a poll! What think you, dear readers?