When the small film Winter’s Bone kicked down the awards season door, we were all wondering who’s that girl? By the time Jennifer Lawrence landed a Best Actress nomination, it was hardly a surprise at all. Two years on, with The Hunger Games films launching her stature, Lawrence would earn her second Academy Award nomination, this time for David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook. The win (for arguably a supporting role) sent shock-waves through Hollywood, primarily that there were more deserving winners for Best Actress. And she was too young.
The very next year, under the same director, Lawrence was on the Best Supporting Actress shortlist for American Hustle. Further criticism wandered around, focusing on the notion that the actress was not mature enough to pay that character. I disagree, it was classic supporting role flair, Lawrence was further proving her range and ability as a serious actress. With a hefty anticipation, O Russell was behind the camera once again when Joy came along. While the film somewhat missed the mark, and disappeared quickly from the Best Picture race, Lawrence came from near-nowhere to be nominated for Best Actress. Her fourth nod at age 25. Was it a surprise? Actually, not so much.
In Lawrence’s latest bout of excellence in mother!, Darren Aronofsky’s camera lingers on her like a ball and chain. For pretty much the entire movie. Sure, having a machine stuck up your nose might not be Academy Award worthy in its own right. But that is just one aspect of her trade she has to condone. And my, oh my, does she pull it off.
For a healthy part of this monstrously imposing motion picture, Lawrence is in sheer reactionary mode. Astonished, perplexed, sorrowful at the goings on around her. All the while, her eyes pierce beyond the frame as if it were not even there. There are moments we creep up her and she spins her head around towards whatever level of commotion inspired such. There are also moments when Lawrence is almost looking directly at us. Almost. And this multi-level of closeness partially puts us in her dumbfounded skin.
Yes, Lawrence is barefoot the entire movie. The character, sure, but the actress I’m talking about. She walks onto the set with nothing on her feet. And away she went. Lawrence wanted to feel the house, not just the aura of its creaking wood, not just with her hands on the walls, with whatever senses can merge her as part of the framework. Figuratively, and literally, as Aronofsky intended with his symbolic narrative.
What is projected as a somewhat passive, suppressed character, Lawrence breathes so much rich, empathetic life into the mother figure. Or else the cries of misogyny, sexism, poor treatment of women, would be so loud to drown out any perspective we have. The way Javier Bardem’s almighty flippantly dismisses his young wife had me, a man, also with wife, wanting to scream at him to treat her right. Lawrence’s presence does attempt to serve her man, but I found a familiar, warm approach from the actress. Her over-powering, unrelenting urge to nurture and make a better world is something to be truly admired, not scoffed at.
In the film’s chaotic, catastrophic last act, Lawrence shifts up a couple of gears in line with the bedlam. Brutalized, witness to all manner of savagery (horrifyingly reminiscent of mankind’s own destructive history), all the while enduring her immense contractions of nature. I’ve subjected myself to many, many moments in this movie, extraordinary moments, and watched in awe as this actress transformed. You are there when her facial expression changes, when she has to adapt to the horror and the neglect. We are there when she hardly makes a sound, and is still absorbing.
Of course, mother! being the polarized film that it is, the awards attention is seldom seen. Only the brave, perhaps, come out of their dark corners, leaving the scaredy cats behind. You can ponder all year round about the highs and lows of the movie. You can scratch your head any time. Whether you pull out your worst hate, or your most heightened adoration. In the interim, what we can’t deny is the exhaustingly excellent performance at the center of it all from Jennifer Lawrence. So deserving to be mentioned around awards season, I shouldn’t have to even try to convince you. Luckily for you, it was a breeze.