It’s Society’s Fault Drew Barrymore’s Not Seven Years Old Anymore, But Does It Make Her a Different Actress?

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Yesterday, Variety critic Owen Glieberman wrote a bizarre piece expressing concern over the impact the perceived changes in Renée Zellweger’s face will have on Bridget Jones’ Baby, blaming society for the pressures it puts on actors and their faces while being the embodiment of the pressures society puts on actors and their faces. But it turns out articles like this aren’t uncommon. Flavorwire dug up an older piece by a certain Nolan Bieberman, bemoaning a similarly societally-induced phenomenon, this time taking Drew Barrymore as its focus.

Poor Drew Barrymore. The unsightly product of the damn culture we live in, and the awful nature of discourse surrounding women in Hollywood. Where misogyageism makes celebrity a particularly harsh burden for women over the age of seven. You know how it goes, with the blogs: the question of “did she or didn’t she stop being seven?” pervades, insidiously, surrounding Barrymore. Of course, society and science collide to make the young grow up. Chubby cheeks are whittled down to brittle cheekbone; to quote a lost line from Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game,” “dimples turn to pimples over time.” But it’s not actress’ fault for no longer being seven — it’s not. It can be off-putting and repellent, but I’m blaming society.

No, it’s not the fault of the formerly-young — there’s pressure, from teachers, parents, from calcium, that infests the helpless bones of the young and stretches them, making them…less young, the oxidization of the skin, the growth of the mind that makes their phrasing sound sinisterly lucid. Already, only 27 years after E.T., people have been tittering about Drew Barrymore looking…different. There’s something…taller about her? Where are the pigtails? “Are those, pray-tell, mammaries bedecking her chest?” society tacitly wonders, disgustingly. It’s hard to put one’s finger on it, but you know it’s there. You want to cheer her on, say it’s okay to stop being seven, and yet what it really comes down to is the question of what it’ll do to her acting. I don’t personally mind that the mammaries happened, but I do wonder if that makes Drew Barrymore redeemable as an actress. What does it mean that she can no longer believably watch Sesame Street alongside a little alien — with the audience feeling she and the alien are both truly learning something from it? What has the sudden intrusion of mammaries — this societally enforced notion that one needs mammaries — done to what was once such a profound and promising career of being cute while interacting with a barely-verbal sentimentalized brown lump?

Though as far as personal matters go, I feel it is entirely up to an actress whether or not she wants to stop being seven years old, I recently revisited Home Fries, 50 First Dates and watched the impeccable Grey Gardens (the TV movie adaptation). They’re all stellar films, and yet, I wasn’t able to enjoy them, because I found Barrymore’s not-seven-ness revolting (but, again: not her fault). I was caught off guard by the sheer realness and inconsiderateness she showed vis à vis the choice that’d clearly be detrimental to her acting. There was a deep, and frankly, I feel, substantiated feeling of, “Lady, do that shit in private” that overtook me when I was forced to watch this entirely different person, this — I don’t even know what to call it, adult? — onscreen. Celebrities can do what they want with their faces — they can even stop being seven years old with them — but that doesn’t mean I won’t feel sudden, gaping void inside me, or that I won’t watch Never Been Kissed and think, the whole time, “why the hell can she speak in full sentences?”

On the left, Barrymore appears with Alien and wears pigtails; on the right, there’s no alien and no pigtails; it can thus be deduced, albeit with a heavy heart, that she stopped being seven.

In mainstream media, we’re not allowed to say that an actress is “no longer seven” unless she owns up to it herself. And here’s the true fact of the matter: I do not know. Can I prove that Drew Barrymore actually stopped being seven years old? No. But I have a hunch. And it’s literally eating me alive from the inside out, and the only momentary respite I can possibly think of is to write about it for Variety. For other actors it’s been a bit more obvious: In both Grumpy Old Men and Grumpier Old Men, the fact that the actors were no longer seven was generously made a disclaimer and a warning within the very title. Jane Fonda has outwardly stated she’s not seven by appearing in a series called Grace and Frankie, which is expressly about not being seven. (And I thank her for this honesty, and while I do still find it inconsiderate that her body reminds us of the passage of time, at least she’s not a fucking liar). Emmanuel Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant admitted to not being seven in the film Amour, in which Riva’s character gradually deteriorates and becomes incapacitated, because she is not seven. But with Barrymore we’re simply left guessing. I do it all day long. I go to sleep and I dream of guessing and I wake up and I guess some more.

Drew Barrymore became the literal poster child for children, because she was a child. There was something effortlessly radical about this gesture. You have to realize just how radical it was that this tiny nothing, this useless speck of a person, this being only seven years removed from being a goddamn fetus — a group that has it perhaps the roughest in Hollywood — would suddenly be accepted to co-star in a film by the great Stephen Spielberg alongside a swollen hairless pug puppet. It was transgressive! It was important! Drew, when did your sense of rebellion become so feeble?

The most toxic thing about “not being seven anymore” is the feeling it can create in me that some aspect of my world has changed, that life is slipping away from me — from all of us. It’s not your fault, Drew, you were just brought down by an inclement system that put pressures on you to grow up and thereby ruin your ability to appear alongside charming anthropomorphic turds.

We are our faces, so if you’re a seven year old with a seven year old face, it’s inarguable that it’s inauthentic to stop being seven, and when I look at that wretched grown up “actress” — again, not her fault! — these days, all I sense is duplicity. I’m one of the few critics who loved every second of Home Fries — that is, every second that didn’t include Barrymore’s repugnant not-seven-year-old face. Now, I’m not going to refuse to watch Riding in Cars With Boys, per se, but I can almost guarantee I won’t enjoy this supposedly seminal work as thoroughly as I know I would have, otherwise.