Yes, this started as deleted material from my Silver Linings Playbook essay from Saturday. I don't want to get into another 'roles for women' rant, but it's interesting that Jennifer Lawrence may win an Oscar for arguably the first role of her career where she exists purely to support the male lead's arc (even her token girlfriend role in The Beaver had a character arc for *her*). She has not a single scene in this film where she exists as a character outside of her role as Bradley Cooper's girlfriend/spiritual healer. She is basically a glorified manic pixie fuck toy who exists purely to support the male lead's emotional journey, not fit for even a single scene disconnected from Cooper's story. This parallels the career trajectory of the likes of Shailene Woodley and Blake Lively, solid actresses who did film and/or television work as leads who only earned real acclaim after they took supporting roles in more automatically prestigious 'manly dramas'. Blake Lively was a lead in films like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and the television show Gossip Girl. But she was written off as a kid-friendly television star before she played a strung-out junkie with romantic feelings for Ben Affleck's oh-so-conflicted bank robber in The Town. Shailene Woodley was a lead actress in ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teenager, but critics only started taking her seriously once she played supporting fiddle to George Clooney in The Descendants. It's a great film and Woodley is terrific in it, but would critics have even noticed the picture had it been told from her point of view? I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more of this as the newer crop of child actresses 'come of age'.
Chloe Moretz, Dakota Fanning, and Saoirse Ronan have given superb performances in any number of films and they've often been proverbial masters of their own destinies in films mostly about their journeys. But what happens once they graduate into 'adult roles'? Will the kind of leading roles in star vehicles like Hanna, The Lovely Bones, Hick, Let Me In, Hound Dog, or The Runaways still be there? Or will they end up alternating between the fairy tale princess box (as we speak Saoirse Ronan is 'in the running' to play Cinderella) and token girlfriends there to be eye-candy and/or emotional therapy for the male leads? It's not set in stone, as any one of them (or all of them) could have careers along the lines of Rachel Weisz, Nicole Kidman, and/or Naomi Watts. But even Weisz and the newest wunderkind Jessica Chastain (who arguably should win the Best Actress Oscar for Zero Dark Thirty) find themselves as the glorified arm candy and/or second fiddle to manly would-be heroes (see, or don't see, Lawless and The Bourne Legacy). The sad irony, especially when it comes to mainstream Hollywood products, is that there are better roles for child actresses than their are for adult actresses. Once she is old enough to be viewed as a sex object, into the girlfriend box they go. Heck, Elle Fanning, barely past puberty has twice found herself playing the token love interest and/or the helpless hostage in the likes of We Bought A Zoo and Super 8.
Would The Silver Linings Playbook have been taken as seriously had it been about an angry young widow who bonds with a just-released bi-polar teacher whose wife recently cheated on him? Would the film be getting the huzzahs if it were basically the same contrived narrative told from the female's point-of-view? I think we all know the answer to that. We'd be bemoaning Lawrence for starring in a romantic comedy and wring our hands about her traveling down the Katherine Heigl path. But it is nothing less than annoying that one of our finest new actresses is being lauded for playing (pick one) the 'token girlfriend', the 'prize to be won', the 'manic pixie dream girl', etc. She can do better and let us hope that this isn't a testament to the kind of roles that she will be getting offered now that she's old enough to theoretically play adult characters.