In my line of work, hype and celebrity are occupational hazards. Every day my inbox is stuffed with news releases touting the Next! Big! Thing! You get numb to it after a while, but every now and again someone will come along you know is destined for something big.
Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t a star the first time I met her but you could tell it would only be a matter of time until she was. It was 2010, years before she would win an Academy Award or be known internationally as Katniss Everdeen. She was a struggling newbie with just a handful of credits, but a great big buzz surrounding her performance in Winter’s Bone. Her steely but vulnerable take on an Ozark girl who will do anything to keep her family together was garnering good reviews and the usual phrases like “breakout performance” were being thrown around, but this time it felt different. Real.
I was asked to host a question-and-answer period with her after a screening of the film at a theatre in Toronto, but first we planned a quick dinner with a publicist at a nearby hotel. I’ve eaten with a lot actors who order a piece of steamed fish, no butter, no oil and then, rather than actually put it in their mouth, simply move it around the plate until the waiter takes it away.
Not Jennifer Lawrence. She ordered a steak dinner with sides and ate it all while showing us a cell phone snap of her costume for the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo audition. As she chatted, laughed and enjoyed dinner, it was apparent what she wasn’t. She wasn’t precious or overwhelmed at being on the cusp of something big. She was doing something rare in this business — being herself and enjoying the ride. In other words the woman you now see photo-bombing Taylor Swift on red carpets or starring in this weekend’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is the real deal, someone completely at ease with herself in a business that doesn’t usually allow for that.
Later, on the way to the theatre, she opted not to take the provided limo. Instead we walked down Bloor Street. It was on the chilly side, so she draped my suit jacket over her shoulders. Along the way her high heel caught in a crack in the pavement and snapped off. Rather than hobble down the street, she kicked off both shoes and walked barefoot the rest of the way, her broken designer shoes in hand.
At the theatre I don’t remember what we talked about on stage. When I think back on the night I reflect on the sweet spot she was in, career-wise. She was about to become one of the youngest Oscar nominees ever for best actress in a leading role and yet there wasn’t an ounce of pretension about her. Charisma? Yes. Talent? In spades.
I don’t claim to have some sort of celebrity ESP, but that night I knew in my gut I had met a star, a feeling reaffirmed when I saw her carry the Hunger Games movies on her back and become a leading voice in the fight for pay equality for women in Hollywood.
Want to see a superstar? Watch the last scene of the Joy trailer. Shot on an iPhone as test footage it’s a close-up of Lawrence’s face as she fires off two shotgun rounds. “My name’s Joy, by the way,” she says. It’s a simple image but a magnetic one. It’s a movie star moment from the rare actor who commands our attention every time she’s on screen. Sometimes you just know.
Even Oscar winners make mistakes. Meryl Streep starred in “She-Devil.” Daniel Day-Lewis camped it up in “Nine” and “All About Steve” was a career nadir for Sandra Bullock. Now its Jennifer Lawrence’s turn to appear in a movie that will one day be best remembered as an entry on IMDB’s Bottom 100 list.
Lawrence plays the title character, the ambitious wife of George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper), a lumber baron struggling to keep his business afloat in depression era North Carolina. A miscarriage drives a wedge between them, a rift exacerbated by financial trouble, betrayal and the arrival in town of a son George fathered by another woman.
“Serena” has all the makings of an epic story. Imagine “There Will be Blood” built on a base of timber instead of oil. Betrayal, jealousy, murder and money swirl around the central characters, but instead of combining to create a compelling narrative the elements collide in a big bang of schlock. From the broad southern accents to the dirt-smeared Rhys Ifans as Serena’s violent lap dog, everything about the movie verges on caricature.
The reteaming of Cooper and Lawrence after their “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” success proves that lightening does not strike thrice. The duo had chemistry to burn in their previous pairings but fail to set off sparks here. As George and Serena they are ruthless and selfish, which should be the stuff of interesting characters, but the story throws so many hurdles their way that eventually it becomes one big, boring blur.
Add to that director Susanne Bier’s habit of shooting everything in intense close-up and you have a far too up-close-and-personal look at some of the least captivating characters to come down the pike in some time.
In the big picture “Serena” isn’t an all out disaster, but because of the above-the-title talent involved it is a major disappointment.
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence first paired off in Silver Linings Playbook — he was a divorced substitute teacher, jailed for beating his wife’s boyfriend half to death; she was a troubled widow who needed his help to win a dance competition — and sparks flew.
Next they shared scenes, but no romance, in American Hustle. And, this weekend, they make it a trifecta with the release of Serena. Based on the novel by Ron Rash, Cooper and Lawrence play husband and wife lumber barons whose marriage becomes strained after she suffers a miscarriage. Despite having shared love scenes in movies, Cooper says they have kept the romance onscreen.
“I mean, first of all, I could be her father,” he says.
The re-teaming of Cooper and Lawrence in Serena proves that lightning does not always strike thrice.
The “it” couple had chemistry to burn in their previous pairings but fail to set off sparks here. As George and Serena they are ruthless and selfish, which should be the stuff of interesting characters, but the story throws so many hurdles their way that eventually it becomes one big, boring blur.
Some onscreen couples, however, have managed to keep the flame alive through several films.
After a 16-year separation, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan — the pre-eminent cinema sweethearts of the 1990s — will reunite in the World War II drama Ithaca.
The three rom coms that made them superstars, Joe Versus the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, were fuelled by the platonic chemistry they share in real life.
“He makes me feel less alone,” says Ryan.
Kate Winslet and co-star Leonardo DiCaprio are so close in real life that her children refer to him as Uncle Leo. As Titanic’s star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose, they defined romantic tragedy for a whole generation before recoupling 11 years later in the feel-bad love story Revolutionary Road.
Despite what fans thought, their friendship never turned romantic off-screen. “He always saw me as one of the boys,” said Kate.
Despite falling in love over and over again in movies like The Wedding Singer, 50 First Dates and Blended, Drew Barrymore says she and Adam Sandler have exchanged nothing more than a “church kiss.”
“That’s probably why we’ve been able to stick together all these years,” she says, “because there never was that awkward moment.”
The lesson learned is that chemistry off-screen often leads to good results on the screen, but not always. Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe fogged up the lens in Some Like It Hot, but reportedly did not like one another.
We’re celebrating everyone’s favourite award show in true Drake style. Put on your best threads + play our Oscar pool while snacking on free popcorn from the Drake kitchen. Did we mention the evening is hosted by cinema king Richard Crouse? Meet us here + challenge your friends in a match of cinematic trivia. There’s great prizes to be won + even a special bubbly menu to choose from, while cheering on your picks from the silver screen.