Jennifer Lawrence’s promotional tour for Red Sparrow happened just like every other promotional tour J-Law has done in the past seven years: she blankets the media (print and TV), gives great quotes that turn into instantly provocative headlines, creates a whirling dervish of controversy, buzz, pop-culture feminism and Cool Girl Realness, and then she just sits back and waits for the awards nominations to roll in. The problem is that her scheme hasn’t really been working the past few years. Passengers didn’t do that well at the box office, ‘mother!’ was a critically-panned bomb, and Red Sparrow’s box office has been “disappointing.”
To be clear, Red Sparrow is still chugging along, and perhaps ANY film released in the wake of Black Panther was going to be forgotten. Red Sparrow’s opening weekend was less than $ 17 million. Domestically, it’s made $ 31 million, and internationally it’s made over $ 50 million. Again, it’s not a “bomb.” But it’s not like people are crazy about this movie either, and it’s her third disappointment in a row. Which brings me to The Hollywood Reporter’s column “If Jennifer Lawrence Can’t Open A Movie, Who Can?” You can read the full piece here. This kind of column/thinkpiece is always written about whatever “movie star” has just had a film bomb. But this one feels… I don’t know, a little bit different. A passage:
And yet right now stars matter less than ever before. 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.
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.
There’s a chunk of Hollywood that might gloat at this bad news. But most of us should be concerned. If a star as bright and brilliant as Lawrence can’t sell tickets, who can?
Studios have increasingly turned to brands, rather than brand names, to the Star Wars and Marvel movies, rather than individual actors. They’ve come to favor a product over a personality. They’ve given up on the notion that film can be about real people, warts and all. And in doing so, they’ve turned their backs on their most important social role, the one thing that makes them more than mere corporations: their ability to teach us how to care.
Without developing character pieces, they won’t develop more stars. And without more stars, they’ll be forced back on machine-honed product, which might be fine entertainment but hardly nourishes the soul.
I hope this is only a phase, and not the death of stars altogether. Clearly, they’re an endangered species, though not one Hollywood cares much to preserve.
“Partly, it’s a result of the movies she’s chosen.” This is true… about ‘mother!’. If Jennifer really thought that film was going to be a massive box office success, then she’s an idiot. THR is right that the trend is going away from actual movie stars and moving towards franchises/brands that are not beholden to any single “movie star.” And that’s depressing. For J-Law specifically, I think there’s just a sense that her Cool Girl shtick has sort of worn out its welcome, you know? The promo for Red Sparrow was almost by the book at this point, from the Vanity Fair cover story to the two weeks of nonstop drinking and interviews and Realness. More and more, people are catching on to the fact that she’s just doing the same sh-t over and over. What pains me is that she actually CAN act. But she’s just bad at picking scripts, maybe.