Culture

The Silver Screen Playbook: How Jennifer Lawrence and Kristen Stewart Manage to Keep their Heads (and Careers) Together

If the media gods' prophecy becomes reality and Jennifer Lawrence follows her iconifying turn as Katniss in the big-screen version of "The Hunger Games" with the lead role in "The Silver Linings Playbook," the earth will not spin off its axis, the time-space continuum will remain intact, and Kim Kardashian will remain an inexplicable presence in our cultural peripheral vision. And yet because the fervor surrounding The Hunger Games long ago reached fever pitch, Jennifer Lawrence's every move has become monitored more closely than a pre-hacking-scandal British celebrity.

Even in this age of wall-to-wall celebrity coverage, there are few stars subject to more adulation and scrutiny than the actors chosen to embody teenage heroines from blockbuster literary franchises. Jennifer Lawrence and Kristen Stewart are now sharing space near the the eye of this hurricane and it can be a heady, exciting, confusing, and potentially emotionally damaging place to be. From a distance, they both seem relatively impervious to the storm of attention -- but that doesn't mean it hasn't been a struggle.

Having interviewed Kristen Stewart (aka Twilight's Bella Swan) several years ago at the height of "Twilight" mania, it was clear that becoming a vehicle for people's escapist fantasies had taken its toll. She had decided to use her time off from the vampire saga to retreat to the relative obscurity of New Orleans, where she was shooting a no-budget film in which she played a teen stripper. She seemed giddy with the rare freedom she felt as  she gave me a walking tour of the low-rent neighborhood where she was spending most of her time researching the role in the darkened anonymity of real stripper bars. As Stewart gulped down oysters, she seemed to be living on borrowed time, like the  girl on the lam she was.

If Lawrence isn't careful, she could find herself in a similar situation: a human projection screen for the fantasies of the most lonely and restless among us. Though The Hunger Games doesn't come close to Twilight levels of chest-heaving romance, the books have justifiably inspired a cultish devotion from readers eager to see cinematic iterations of these profound and exhilarating allegories about the casual cruelty we tolerate and perpetrate in our media conformist society. Lawrence will inevitably become (if she hasn't already) the vehicle through which fans connect with the books and characters. She will be a subject of endless debate. People will come out against or in favor of Team Katniss. And there will be those who punch and jab as if she were their opponent in a death match. Her personal life will be the subject of great fascination. And make no mistake: Every career misstep and triumph will be parsed, dissected, and analyzed across the digiverse.

Which brings us full-circle to her potential role as long-suffering estranged wife who inspires Mark Wahlberg to clean up his life after a stint in a mental institution in David O. Russell's adaptation of The Silver Lining's Playbook by Matthew Quick. It's quite a leap forward in terms of age, life experience, and maturity from the characters Lawrence has played in the past. But with Russell's proven ability to push great actors to do their best work with roles that look just okay on the page, we're keeping faith. (Think: Christian Bale in "The Fighter" and Ben Stiller in "Flirting with Disaster.") Plus, we can't help but root for this project because the book offers such a warm and winning portrait of the struggle to rebuild after an emotional meltdown stops life in its tracks.

Talk about a project (not to mention an allegory ) worth getting behind. This is especially poignant when you consider the menu of projects from which Lawrence will choose her first post-Hunger Games role. The most promising of the batch is the Sissy Spacek-directed "Sweet Tea," about the struggles a group of Alabama families face attempting to survive during the Depression.  Then there's "Truckstop," in which she's been rumored to play a troubled prostitute who befriends a man with cerebral palsy -- a role, should she take it, that would be eerily reminiscent of Stewart's stripper project, "Welcome to the Rileys," which came and went last year virtually unseen.

Here's hoping Silver Linings becomes a prophetic project for Lawrence and that Stewart finds her own fairytale ending in the title role of "Snow White and the Huntsman."

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