Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Curious Case of Gwyneth Paltrow

We're only a few days into what will be known by future generations as the Gwyneth Paltrow Reputation Rehabilitation Tour and the internet is already flooded with stories of "we hated her, now we love her!" So forgive me if this is something you've already seen--I'll try not to waste your time by making this piece about the Oscar-winning actress everyone seemed to hate before this week a little more detailed than you've been reading.

What to make of this recent surge in Gwyneth Paltrow we've been experiencing recently? From her new movie Country Strong that arrives this awards season and is trying so hard to get Paltrow another Oscar nomination (which she will not get) to the titular song she sang at last weekend's Country Music Awards to critical acclaim to last night's episode of Glee, the Shakespeare in Love actress is everywhere. And not only is she all over the media these days, that same media that turned up its metaphorical nose at her celebrity persona for almost a decade has now fallen in love with her once again.

Most careers don't start by winning an Oscar, and Paltrow's didn't, either, but it's where the problems with her career begin. After her acclaimed work in Emma and Se7en, Paltrow was cast in John Madden's 1998 film Shakespeare in Love as the titular bard's love interest. Her performance was universally lauded and rightfully nominated for an Academy Award.

Then she won. And that's where her career goes off the rails.

Paltrow won her Oscar over Cate Blanchett, a nominee that year for her interpretation of Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth. Blanchett would win her Oscar a few years later for The Aviator (of which she was arguably not only the best part, but one of the only good parts), but most today agree that the 1998 Best Actress Oscar belonged to Blanchett, not Paltrow. Looking back, there's merits to both performances, but the Oscar forever changed Paltrow's career, and it wasn't for the better.

After her Oscar win, Paltrow's celebrity persona took a sharp turn for the far more serious and "holier-than-thou". Her film choices remained varied, and some choices were even brilliant (The Royal Tenenbaums), but on the whole, they were taking a turn for the melodramatic (Proof is probably the best example for this). Not only that, but she started up her site, which was designed, more or less, to tell us all how to run our lives. She created a show with chef Mario Batali called Spain...On the Road Again, which is not intrinsically a bad show but continues to fulfill that "tell everyone what to do" stereotype. She also married somewhat standoffish Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, named her children Apple and Moses. Oh, and she said that she preferred British culture over American culture in a Spanish magazine, which, in combination with all her fake British sayings, was a bad public relations move. (Seriously, all that was saving this woman was her friendship with Beyoncé.)

This reputation continued for just about a decade, but it seems to finally be evaporating with her recent rush of work. Certainly no one of great import is criticizing her work last night on Glee, which has inspired multiple critics to declare the race for next year's Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy over, since she will most certainly win. And it's a rightful win, too: as difficult as it might be for some to believe, Paltrow was not only great in the episode, she was brilliant. The episode itself is one of my favorites in the show's 30-episode life, and her guest performance is my favorite in the show's history as well. Her singing, of course, wasn't great, though she did amp up the energy in both her performances (all three, if you count her brief rendition of "Conjunction Junction" which was a full ten seconds of elementary school flashback bliss). Her "Forget You" was an instant classic thanks to her ability to be as goofily white (or whitely goofy?) as one song will allow, while her participation in a mashup of "Singing in the Rain" and "Umbrella" added to that experience as well.

I'd imagine that with Country Strong being released near the end of this year, as well as a sure-to-be-guaranteed second guest spot on Glee sometime in the future, this swell of Paltrow love isn't likely to end soon. And while I've never had any particular love or hate for her (though I do agree with the commonly held belief that she was the wrong winner in her Oscar year), I found her to be one of the best parts of one of the best episodes of Glee in a long time, so I don't mind a little more Paltrow in my life.

No comments: