“Gwyneth Paltrow is not the most courteous scooter driver,” went the Vulture headline last week, and skimming it, this reader had one immediate thought: there is not one thing in that headline I care about. I don’t care about scooters; I don’t care about who is and is not good at driving them; and I especially don’t care about how the Oscar-winning actress stacks up in the scooter-courtesy derby. But here’s the real question: why does anybody care?
The question/problem of Ms. Paltrow raises its head this week, as it does a couple times a year, because she is in a new film, and is really pretty good in it. The movie in question, Thanks for Sharing, is deeply problematic — an examination of sex addiction that falls prey to the same half-dozen plot points and clichés that infect all movies about addiction, chemical or otherwise. But the performers are absorbing: Mark Ruffalo in the leading role of a sex addict taking his first crack at a relationship after five years of “sobriety,” Tim Robbins as the wise sponsor with an adage for every situation, Josh Gad as the self-destructive young horndog in denial. And Ms. Paltrow (as the woman Ruffalo is contemplating taking the leap with) is very good as well. She’s charismatic, charming, and, yes, likable — if you go into the movie without a predisposition to feel otherwise.
But the chances of that are increasingly unlikely. Paltrow, as we all know, founded a loathsome bourgeois website, named her child after a fruit, is married to the lead singer of Coldplay, and comes off in most interviews as a generally terrible person. A couple of years back, the opportunity to watch her die onscreen was chalked up by cynical sorts as a factor in the box-office success of Contagion. Paltrow-hating is not a new sport, but it apparently has legs; she topped Star magazine’s 2013 “Most Hated Celebrities” poll, ahead of such up-and-comers as Kim Kardashian, Katherine Heigl, John Mayer, Anne Hathaway, and Chris fucking Brown. Say what you will about Goop.com, but it never, y’know, punched anybody in the face.
Look, I’m not here to mount a defense of Gwyneth Paltrow, who, admittedly, seems pretty awful. But she’s far from the only actor who is best considered only through the prism of her (or his) work. In their comprehensive guide to “not hating Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man 3” (yes, they did that), Vulture helpfully points readers to co-star Robert Downey Jr.’s GQ profile, filled with cringe-inducing statements like “I’m probably one of the best … But it’s not that big a deal. It’s not like this is the greatest swath or generation of actors that has ever come down the pike.” Her contemporary Cameron Diaz doesn’t exactly come off like a Rhodes scholar in interviews either; Brad Pitt seems like a very nice and giving guy who also may not be the brightest bulb in the batch. And let’s not underestimate the importance of Twitter in allowing us an entirely unfiltered glimpse at the deep thoughts of our celebrities.
But the question remains: why bother? If you choose to — and trust me, it can be done — you don’t actually have to pay attention to this drivel. Gwynnie doesn’t require you to go to her website; you don’t have to follow John Cusack on Twitter or watch Katherine Heigl on Leno. And if you genuinely want to cultivate and maintain a respect and affection for an actor, or musician, or athlete, you’ll save yourself considerable unhappiness by steering clear of their interviews anyway. Let the work speak for itself. The rest of it is marketing and hype and, eventually, disappointment.