It wasn’t even supposed to be her role. That’s what I kept thinking when my wife and I watched Silver Linings Playbook last month, a few weeks before Jennifer Lawrence took home an Oscar for her turn as Tiffany Maxwell, a widowed sex addict sparking with neuroses and hang-ups.
It’s an amazing performance. Lawrence embraces her character’s dysfunctions, spitting out phrase after phrase of unfiltered honesty without caring what anyone thinks, including Bradley Cooper’s character, who falls in love with Tiffany half a movie later than the audience falls in love with her.
At one point, Tiffany says, “There’s always going to be a part of me that’s sloppy and dirty, but I like that. With all the other parts of myself.”
Funny how it sounds just like something the real Jennifer Lawrence would say. The Jennifer Lawrence who told the New York Times she goes through life “free as an idiot” because she has no idea what she’s doing. The Jennifer Lawrence who said “I’m the fastest pee-er ever” in a Rolling Stone cover story. The Jennifer Lawrence who admitted to having done a shot right before her now-legendary post-Oscar interview (below).
The role fit Lawrence perfectly and all of us are forgiven for thinking director David O. Russell adapted the character just for her.
But he didn’t. He wrote it with Zooey Deschanel in mind. And I’m as big a fan of New Girl as anyone else, but “adorkable” is not a word I’d associate with Tiffany Maxwell. For the record, Angelina Jolie wanted the job, too, and Russell initially cast Anne Hathaway as Tiffany until scheduling conflicts pulled her away.
Hindsight, blah blah blah, but how different would the film have been with a hardened, tough-talking Anne Hathaway? Or, sweet saucy Schmidt, with Zooey Deschanel?
Not the same. Sometimes the actress-character Venn diagrams overlap perfectly, and in Silver Linings Playbook that sweet spot was Unfiltered Real-Talker.
Jennifer Lawrence and Tiffany just fit. That’s why people cringe-laughed at those Oscar videos, then shared them far and wide. Because Lawrence comes across as awkward and unpolished and exactly how we would feel in the same situation.
“I think that the only problem, really, is that he cannot bullshit and he’s in Hollywood. And people who can’t bullshit in Hollywood don’t fit in well, because that’s how this industry is fueled and how actors are maintained—bullshit. I grew up in sports, where you were screamed at all day. I can’t work in an environment where they’re constantly talking about how everything I’m doing is right.”
So the actress Jennifer Lawrence lacks a bullshit filter and we find it refreshing and endearing.
The film character Tiffany Maxwell lacks a bullshit filter and we know it’s a symptom of, you know, her mental illness.
Speak truth and you get our attention. We’ll categorize you as an outlier or maybe someone with a mental disorder. But whatever slot we put you in, know that your unfiltered truth-telling makes you different and weird.
Me? I’m beset by filters. I am the product of a conservative religious upbringing and have spent a decade writing within a conservative religious publishing culture. Every word that comes out of my mouth or gets tapped into my keyboard passes through a grit-removing sifter. How does this sound? What will they think? Does this align with my brand?
I edit myself constantly.
This column included. A decade ago, I actually might have rethought the public admission that I’d seen an R-rated film. (I know: the horror!) A few years ago, I might not have written a sentence containing the word bullshit. Because what will the children think? Or my grandmother? Pearls. Might. Get. Clutched.
Some filters are beneficial, of course, like spam filters, water filters, or aquarium filters. They keep the bad stuff out.
Other filters are less necessary. I’m a pretty heavy Instagram user, and I over-rely on its filters (Mayfair ftw!) to make my imperfect iPhone photos look prettier. They disguise the limitations of my dog photos with a nice border and warm tones and extra contrast. As much as I love them, Instagram filters are crutches. I use them so you’ll think better of my photos. Or of me.
Our world makes this kind of self-consciousness unavoidable. As an author, I cultivate my online presence with carefully worded tweets, comments, and posts. Several sentences ago I use the abhorrent phrase “my brand” with barely an eye roll. What people think of me matters. I want to help those one-star Amazon commenters better understand my books. I want to set Twitter followers straight when they misinterpret 140 of my characters. “Forget this idea of what’s true or not,” David Foster Wallace once told Rolling Stone, “what you want to do is rhetoric; you want to be able to persuade the audience and have the audience think you’re smart and cool.”
Guilty. In fact, I may have just tried to persuade you of exactly those things by quoting David Foster Wallace. The thing is: I want you to like me. I want everyone to like me. I want church people to like me so I filter out my doubts and questions and certain words. I want Deeper Story readers to like me so I self-deprecate and casually divulge my cultural breadth. I want you to think I’m thoughtful so I’m trying to write something that uses pop culture to Make You Think About Yourself.
I pass everything through a filter and so maybe I end up saying nothing. I self-identify as a Christian—a religion that’s supposed to be committed to the Truth—and yet I’m overwhelmed with masks and partial truths and falsity. If you know me here, or on Facebook, or in the real world, it’s likely you know me as something I’ve put together for you, rather than the truest me.
Probably Jennifer Lawrence is no different. And Tiffany Maxwell, God bless her. I think we all are. Maybe that’s the part of us that’s sloppy and dirty. Maybe by embracing more truth-telling we’d all just end up wearing Jennifer Lawrence masks. Maybe we should accept that we fake it and love ourselves anyway while trying to get a little better. I don’t know.
But I know a less filtered life can be beautiful, and I’m pursuing it.
The title of this column? It comes from one of Flannery O’Connor’s letters in The Habit of Being: “I can with one eye squinted take it all as a blessing.” See you next month.