Despite only being in her twenties, Jennifer Lawrence has managed to snag win one Oscar and pick up three other nominations in between leading multiple box office franchises, including one of the highest grossing in the U.S.. She’s got one of the most successful and enviable careers of anyone in Hollywood these days.
So, whilst we wait to see if Red Sparrow brings us new, surprising feats from JenLaw (JLaw is reserved for Jude Law, sorry. I don’t make the rules,) let’s re-examine her best work to date.
5 – American Hustle
Honestly, Jennifer Lawrence was completely miscast in this role, and arguably in most of her work with David O. Russell. She’s far too young and beautiful to be a single mother that needed ‘rescuing’ by an uglied up Christian Bale. Despite that, Lawrence manages to steal the movie — she was featured heavily in the marketing despite having a small role for a reason. She’s high energy and electric and her character feels lived in, despite how little time we spend with her. There’s also a sadness underneath her manic appearance that hints towards the real life Rosalind’s suicide. American Hustle netted Lawrence her third Oscar nod, just one year after she took home the trophy.
4 – Joy
There’s no arguing that Joy is a completely mediocre film, but perhaps if it wasn’t so mediocre, her performance wouldn’t register in quite the same way? It’s easy to look good onscreen when there’s amazing writing, directing and editing all behind you, but Lawrence manages to look good all on her own. She sells the story in a way the script can’t, using what we now see as her signature traits: loud, brash behaviour masking vulnerability, and an engaging and charismatic presence. The only reason this movie works is because Lawrence shines. David O. Russell should consider himself lucky to have had her.
3 – Silver Linings Playbook
Another film where she’s somewhat miscast (a widow at age 21 ending up with a 40-something divorcee is NOT a happy ending for a rom com, I’m sorry). Silver Linings Playbook is the first chance we really get to see Lawrence’s comedic chops and charisma. Instead of being dressed down, serious and stoic, she’s lively, engaging, and draws you in. It’s the kind of performance that brings the film to life, and although her Oscar win could be considered an upset or a shocker (no offence to Lawrence but she can’t hold a candle to Emmanuelle Riva and we all know it), it’s no surprise that voters were ready to recognise a lively, career-defining performance.
2 – Winter’s Bone
Jennifer Lawrence’s breakthrough role is now that one that seems the most in sync with the rest of her career. Her performance is steeped in subtlety; something we, for better or for worse, no longer define her with. There’s no big, showy moments. No screaming in a diner or fighting with a microwave; but it’s such a strong, solid performance that it doesn’t need any. She carries the film with such a world-weariness and stubbornness that makes you believe a full life has been lived, even from such a young girl. When revisiting Winter’s Bone now, it’s no surprise she went on to have major awards success, but much of her work with David O. Russell is almost unrecognisable from these humble beginnings.
1 – The Hunger Games series
It’s the only entry on this list where she never got an Oscar nom, but if you ask me it’s her best work. Throughout the series (though the earlier entries are best), Lawrence uses her full potential. Everything we’ve seen in Winter’s Bone is here – the stoicism, gravitas, the ability to carry a both a film and the weight of the world on her shoulders. But she also has sparks of what she’ll bring to O. Russell’s movies later: a brash, gruff persona that’s used as a shield, hints of naiveté and vulnerability, and a real presence. Not everyone can bring a real character to life in these massive, set-piece heavy blockbusters, but Lawrence keeps The Hunger Games grounded around Katniss at all times. No offence to all the other YA blockbuster heroes out there, but this one is the gold standard.