Photo Credit: Murray Close/Lionsgate
When Jennifer Lawrence was first cast in The Hunger Games, a surprising number of fans revolted because they couldn't picture a blonde actress as Katniss. One year and a bottle of hair dye later, Lawrence, 21, is getting hit with an equally ridiculous criticism: that she's "too big" for the role.
"A few years ago Ms. Lawrence might have looked hungry enough to play Katniss, but now, at 21, her seductive, womanly figure makes a bad fit for a dystopian fantasy about a people starved into submission," writes New York Times critic Manohla Dargis.
Is Dargas saying that Lawrence is too grown-up to play a teenager -- or is she pointing out that, in the Hunger Games books, most of the characters outside of The Capitol are literally hungry? Did The Hunger Games movie have an obligation to stay true to the book by casting scrawny actors?
That complaint seems somewhat valid, if the actors were ruining the believability of the movie by being too well-fed. But did anyone seriously walk out of the theater in a huff because they didn't see enough rib cages? Also, there are plenty of malnourished people in the world who don't look skeletal. So what's really happening here?
L.V. Anderson of Slate.com points out that there's been a lot of reviewers griping about Jennifer's body... and no one else's. The Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy refers to the starlet's "baby fat," while Hollywood Elsewhere critic Jeffrey Wells calls Lawrence "big boned" and says she's "too big" to be believable next to her leading man Josh Hutcherson. But no one, says Anderson, is knocking Hutcherson's strong arms or Liam Hemsworth's healthy body, both of which also exist in a fictional world without protein smoothies.
"Movie critics suspend their disbelief all the time," writes Anderson, "and when they suddenly refuse to do so for a female actor whose body looks more like an average woman's body rather than less, it's hard to see that as anything but sexist."
Basically, it's a garden-variety case of body-snarking: attacking women for the way they look, just for the sake of appearing witty or superior. (Or for no reason at all.) It's a nasty habit that the media needs to shake, and it's especially sad to see it applied to The Hunger Games: a rare action movie with a female protagonist, who's smarter and quicker than any other characters. This is a time to be celebrating women in the movies, not tearing them down for a number on the scale.
Plus, for all the criticism of her appearance, nobody seems to have any complaints about Jennifer Lawrence's acting skills. And when it comes to her performance as Katniss, that's the one thing that actually matters.