Jennifer Lawrence is arguably the hottest property in Hollywood in 2015.
The 25-year-old actress is set to reprise her star-making role as Katniss Everdeen in this weekend’s blockbuster finale of the Hunger Games franchise, recently penned the Bible of the entertainment industry’s equal pay movement, snagged a reported $20 million paycheck for the upcoming sci-fi movie Passengers, and was named the highest-paid actress in Hollywood by a long shot.
Most actors could be forgiven for wanting to take a breather after such a hectic year, but Lawrence isn’t slowing down for a minute; in addition to currently filming Passengers, the actress will reprise her role as Mystique in next year’s X-Men: Apocalypse and is reportedly working with Steven Spielberg to develop a film about the life of wartime photographer Lynsey Addario.
But before all that, Lawrence will next appear in Joy, the “wild story of a family across four generations centered on the girl who becomes the woman who founds a business dynasty and becomes a matriarch in her own right.” The film, set for release on Christmas Day, teams Lawrence up with her Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle director David O. Russell and actor Bradley Cooper.
The film’s Christmas Day release allows it to qualify for all-important Academy Awards consideration. But the frame is particularly crowded this year: three other Oscar hopefuls will be released the same day — Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, Alejandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant, and Peter Landesman’s Concussion, though not all of them will open wide until January. Still three more films — an Alvin and the Chipmunks sequel, the Mark Walhberg-Will Ferrell comedy Daddy’s Home and a remake of Point Break — will compete for moviegoers’ attention. Oh, and a little movie called Star Wars will be in its second weekend in theaters.
Lawrence’s film will need all the momentum it can muster to draw an audience, particularly when adult moviegoers have so many options (including just spending the holiday around the tree with family). With that said, Lawrence didn’t do her film any favors with comments she made recently about Christianity.
Lawrence happened to sit down for a wide-ranging interview with Vogue magazine the day after Kentucky clerk Kim Davis was released from jail, where she had been held for refusing to comply with a court order to grant a marriage license to a same-sex couple. Lawrence wouldn’t even say Davis’ name, even though she reportedly brought up the topic voluntarily, instead calling her the “lady who makes me embarrassed to be from Kentucky.”
“Don’t even say her name in this house,” Lawrence told the interviewer, going on to criticize “all those people holding their crucifixes, which may as well be pitchforks, thinking they’re fighting the good fight. I grew up in Kentucky. I know how they are.”
The actress also weighed in on the 2016 presidential race: “My view on the election is pretty cut-and-dried: If Donald Trump is president of the United States, it will be the end of the world. And he’s also the best thing to happen to the Democrats ever.”
Lawrence’s comments about Trump aren’t exactly shocking; Hollywood’s Hispanic community has been after the outspoken Republican frontrunner from the get-go, and most in the mainstream entertainment industry have already chosen to back Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
But making comments about Christians wielding crucifixes like pitchforks — unprompted, no less — is an unfortunate choice for an actress whose film opens on Christmas Day.
Joy appears to be the kind of film that religious moviegoers can enjoy. At the very least, it offers thoughtful audiences an alternative to the blood-soaked Hateful Eight, the juvenile Daddy’s Home, and kiddie fare like Alvin and the Chipmunks that will open the same day. But could one blame these religious moviegoers (the same moviegoers, by the way, that turned War Room and several other faith-based films into sleeper hits this year) for staying away from Joy on Christmas?
Lawrence need not look further than last month for evidence that actors’ comments can negatively affect box office performance.
Seth Rogen angrily curses out one of the most popular men in the country, Dr. Ben Carson: boom, Steve Jobs gets clobbered at the box office. Quentin Tarantino calls police officers “murderers” at a a police brutality rally in New York City: boom, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of police officers nationwide pledge to boycott The Hateful Eight.
The comments don’t even have to be political in nature: the day before the release of the big-budget Fantastic Four reboot this summer, director Josh Trank fired off (and quickly deleted) this tweet: “A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.”
The film ended up bombing anyway, due mostly to horrid reviews. But one analyst suggested that Trank’s tweet alone may have trimmed between $5 to $10 million from the film’s box office.
Still, the creatives behind these films often fail to acknowledge the harm that can be caused by poorly-timed or politically divisive comments. Just this week, director Danny Boyle put the commercial failure of Steve Jobs down to a release strategy that saw the film go “too wide too soon.”
“People in Hollywood are smart, but they’re bubble-dumb,” Breitbart’s own John Nolte put it succinctly in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
“Hollywood is the only business I know of that doesn’t worry about what the face of their product says,” he explained. “If Mr. Whipple or Ronald McDonald said Christians are Nazis, and people who oppose gay marriage are evil, and f*** Ben Carson, the people in those industries would worry about selling less toilet paper and hamburgers.”
One common criticism leveled at this observation is that Hollywood stars, like anyone else, have a right to First Amendment speech and are free to say whatever they want. But this criticism misses the point: no one would suggest that Lawrence, Rogen, or anyone else should be barred from expressing their views or continuing to produce and promote their work. Besides, the left already has that covered.
What conservatives don’t like to do is pay hard-earned money (ticket prices are at or near all-time highs) to have their faith and values repeatedly and relentlessly mocked. At a time when there is so much excellent on-demand film and television content vying for a viewer’s attention and providing more hours of entertainment than anyone could possibly watch, why would hard-working Americans — either conservative or liberal — pay good money to be insulted?
Lawrence is a certifiable movie star, a rarity these days, and she will likely have a long and productive career regardless of how much money Joy pulls in at the box office. The movie seems to be following the traditional awards-season strategy anyway, and is therefore less reliant on flashy opening-weekend revenue: release in December, hope to get some Oscar love, and then ride that love through January and possibly into February, a time when studios generally dump films they don’t believe in.
Hollywood stars should, by all means, continue to believe in what they believe in, and should feel free to express themselves in any way they see fit. That is the promise of this country, after all. But these stars should realize that now, more than ever, their comments will be widely reported, discussed, and more acutely understood.
Hollywood is already dying a slow, painful death, both as an industry and as the arbiter of cultural values. Celebrities would be wise not to hasten its demise and, by extension, their own.