“The Jessica Chastain Conundrum: Greatest Actress of Her Generation or Found Art?”
Let’s start with the headline, which posits a rather insane either/or question. Yes, Chastain could only either be her generation’s greatest actress or a free-standing object of contemplation, not merely an interesting young actress who has made some smart choices and some dubious ones.
“Why is she so excellent in the one movie and so not excellent in the other? To the extent we can bat around theories — and ignore the collaborative nature of movie-making — we can begin to solve the even deeper mystery that is Chastain herself…”
The question is being asked in regards to the chasm in quality between Chastain’s work in Zero Dark Thirty and in her next film, Mama. And clearly, it is a question that can only be answered by delving into the “deeper mystery that is Chastain herself,” and not by responding, “Well, one was a masterful Oscar contender from one of our finest directors, and the other was a throwaway January thriller about creepy kids.”
“She’s obviously beautiful, but there’s something about Chastain’s features that doesn’t quite hold your eye.”
“When you get past the dazzle, a lot of movie stars are actually kind of funny looking, like Julia Roberts with her big upper lip or Emma Stone with her huge, Bratz-doll eyes or Channing Tatum with his blockhead…”
I don’t know about you, but all I could think while I was watching the Oscar red carpets was “Holy lord, these movie stars sure are a funny-lookin’ bunch! Back to the circus, freaks!”
“Actors and actresses who are even more beautiful than that, who approach a classical ideal, as Chastain and Blanchett do, we call ‘timeless’ or ‘ethereal,’ but that can be limiting.”
Indeed. I think we’ve all seen the kind of limitations Cate Blanchett’s beauty has placed on her as an actor. She’s been limited to only playing mothers, schoolteachers, KGB agents, CIA agents, ingénues, Queen Elizabeth, Maid Marion, and Bob Dylan.
“Looks aside (a phrase rarely spoken in the film world), on-screen Chastain seems disinclined to convey a sense of who she really is — she can often be a recessive presence.”
It’s almost like she’s more interested in blending into the fabric of a film’s story, instead of jumping around and screaming, “Look at me!” Weird, huh?
“Plenty of actors are said to ‘disappear’ into their roles; Meryl Streep and Sean Penn come to mind…”
This is the kind of thing people who don’t actually know anything about movies and acting are always saying about Streep and/or Penn. Meryl Streep — whom we love! — never “disappears” into a role. She is always Meryl Streep, diligently showing her work (Look at this make-up! Listen to this perfect accent!). It’s part of why she’s such a textbook definition of Great Acting; because everyone can see it. Modesty in performance, the kind of thing Chastain does, is harder to appreciate. Speaking of which…
“The truth is, she doesn’t really have that much to do in Zero Dark Thirty, either, where a lot of the performance takes place in reaction shots, and she’s mostly required to just look fierce and determined.”
Yeah, reaction shots. No acting required in those. I’m surprised she even bothered showing up those days!
“Another actress — [Jennifer] Lawrence, say, or Kristen Stewart, either of whom would have also been more cast to type as a punk — could have filled out the part with their personalities.”
Because if there’s one thing Kristen Stewart is known for, it’s the fount of personality she brings to her roles.
“Perhaps the lesson is she’s a performer who needs either too much scaffolding from a script or almost none at all.”
So in summary, Jessica Chastain is a hard actor to figure out because the films she makes are either really busy or really not. Which is sort of a description of every script that every actor does. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the thesis of the think piece that Vanity Fair decided not to run, which is now a scandal! Discuss.
[via The New York Observer ]