As I covered the 2012 awards season, I found it impossible to ignore the fact we were witnessing the birth of legendary actresses in the form of Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain. All season long, these two powerhouse females were in a neck-and-neck race to claim the Best Actress prize, with Lawrence sizzling in Silver Linings Playbook and Chastain internally boiling in Zero Dark Thirty. Though Lawrence prevailed, becoming the second youngest actress to ever win the award at age 22, the two are poised to meet again, and I would even argue that this is probably the first of many times we see Lawrence go up against Chastain for Best Actress. Why? Well, its simple, these two are modern legends – their beauty attracts us to the screen and their immense talents keep us glued and keep us talking for days, months, even years after we see them turn up in a role. I’ve often wondered when my generation would see the emergence of legends – actors people in the future will revere much like we do Gable, Stewart, Leigh, and Bergman – and I think I’ve finally arrived at some answers: Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain.
I’ll start with Lawrence, who in the last year alone became one of the most sought after actresses in Hollywood. Between winning Best Actress at 22, a feat made all the more remarkable when you consider that it was her second nomination following 2010’s Winter Bone, and leading The Hunger Games to a truly giant $400 million domestically, more than any Harry Potter and Twilight movie, Lawrence has become a rarity of sorts in Hollywood – she’s a huge box office powerhouse AND an acclaimed dramatist. Not many actresses live a double movie star life – finding success with blockbusters and independent fare – but Lawrence is already thriving off one at 22 and there’s really no wonder why: she may be young, but on screen she exudes a maturity that is beyond her years, one that gives her a level of respectability while allowing her to be high spirited and in your face.
All of this is on full display in Silver Linings Playbook and it’s the very reason she took home the Best Actress trophy this year. Playing Tiffany, a recent widower with a knack for speaking the truth, Lawrence shows a maturity that is jaw dropping for her age. On the surface, Tiffany is vivacious, sexual, and blunt – and Lawrence brings these traits out in hilarious fashion thanks to her ace comedic timing – but underneath it all she’s alone, desperately waiting for someone to connect with her, and it’s this vulnerability that Lawrence buries in herself that makes Tiffany a character we slowly root for, despite the fact that she is loud mouthed and forcefully frank. The sadness in Lawrence’s eyes during the Diner Scene and the rage that takes over her when she realizes Pat thinks he’s less crazy is so exhilarating to watch because it subverts the first impression Lawrence gives us during the dinner scene at Veronica and Ronnie’s house, where she’s emotionless and straight to the point in both posture and vocal delivery. Throughout the film, Lawrence’s becomes more alive and more human – she goes from the outside of our minds to the inside of our hearts – and by the time she’s dancing a hybrid of Singing’ in the Rain tapping and Pulp Fiction shimmying, we want her to succeed more than anything, a testament to Lawrence’s ability to make us believe in tough, rough-rounded characters. In many ways, Lawrence is like a young Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock with razor sharp edge.
Chastain, on the other hand, is a chameleon, a young Meryl Streep in many ways, someone who gets lost in her roles and creates unique and fascinatingly complex characters with every new film she’s in. While 2012 was all about Lawrence, let’s not forgot the remarkable year Chastain had in 2011, where the gorgeous 35-year-old actress scored an acting hat trick with The Help, Take Shelter, and The Tree of Life. In each film, Chastain is a completely different beast – she’s the graceful enigma in Life, the emotionally tested wife in Shelter, and the lonely and misunderstood soul in her Oscar-nominated role in The Help – yet she understands how to make all her characters memorable in the same way: give them layers. In any Chastain role, lead or supporting, the character becomes emotionally multi-layered and Chastain succeeds in showing pain, joy, torment, sensuality, happiness, and more, even when the scene doesn’t call for such a display. Celia Foote is a dim witted blonde, a social outcast, a bumbling cook, and a self-imposed failure of a wife, and Chastain was nominated for Best Supporting Actress because she infused all these traits all at once, giving us a supporting character with the personality and emotional state of that of a lead.
This is exactly why Chastain is such a marvel in Zero Dark Thirty, a role for which she earned her first Best Actress nomination this year. Her character, Maya, is an introverted CIA agent, someone who can’t show her emotional nerves and fears, and Chastain locks a lot of personality under her emotionless gaze for large portions of the movie. Maya may not say much, but Chastain shows her character’s progression through body language, and the insecure folding of arms that we see during her first interrogation soon turn into arms that are torturing themselves, a bold progression of physicality that argues the merits of power and control in a post-9/11 world. Chastain keeps Maya’s raging emotions bottled up, making the few times they come out, such as when she attacks Kyle Chandler’s Joseph Bradley for more protection in Islamabad, moments of unrelenting power. The conviction in Chastain’s eyes and body language grow more and more until everything breaks following bin Laden’s death; the way Chastain slowly shatters in the plane at the film’s end is what gives the movie its post-9/11 power – she’s speaking to a generation of people who have lost themselves in an age of ambiguous tension and terror.
Regardless of how may more awards and nominations these two receive – and I expect it to be plenty more – they have easily become America’s greatest actresses working today and their next films will certainly be given awards consideration just from the fact that they are starring in them. While no one can predict where their careers will go (though up is certainly the direction I’m pointing to), it’s been truly wonderful to see two actresses emerge as legends during my generation, and with great beauty and even greater talent, it appears Lawrence and Chastain will be around for a very long time, destined to face off again and again on Oscar night.
Are you as big a fan of these two ladies as I am? Share your thoughts below.
Article by Zack Sharf