Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook, and the Less Filtered Life

by Jason Boyett

jason boyett one eye squinted

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 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. . 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 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.

What’s even better, she realizes it, too. In a , she defends David O. Russell’s prickly reputation as a director:

“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.

 


43 Responses to “Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook, and the Less Filtered Life”

  1. Kimberly March 12, 2013 at 2:10 am #

    “Pearls. Might. Get. Clutched” This made me laugh and then it made me want to cry a little. I’m struggling to find this balance as a writer and as a Christian. I want my writing to reflect who I truly am: vulnerable thoughts, questions, R-rated movies and all. But, those damn pearls get me every time. Thanks so much for acknowledging the tension between all of these things; thanks for removing the filter.

    • Courtney March 12, 2013 at 8:26 am #

      Same here! I actually snort laughed, because really? It’s the gosh darn truth. Sometimes when I can write I can almost hear the muffled gasps, the disgruntled harumphs, the frantic clutching of pearls. But for every person that gasps, there’s gotta be someone else who cries, who nods their heads, who thought the same thing and needed that word. Sure, there will be haters. I’m sure Jennifer Lawrence has a few of her own, but look at how many more people are drawn to her klutzy, imperfect, tell-it-like-it-is style.

  2. Amy Hunt March 12, 2013 at 3:45 am #

    Me, too . . . “pursuing it.” Amen.

  3. Shannon Coe March 12, 2013 at 4:50 am #

    One of my favorite passages in Scripture is where Jesus meets nathanael and says “a man in whom there is no guile”. I probably refer to that text more than any on a weekly basis. The only filter we need is truth. Good post.

  4. Ed March 12, 2013 at 5:43 am #

    How will I ever think of a clever enough comment??? ;)

    I regularly struggle to balance the need for authenticity with a sensitivity to my readers’ expectations. The lines are often gray and hard to define. I hope that I can at least speak truthfully and openly even if there is a bit of a filter in order to help the message go through at times.

  5. Janet Oberholtzer March 12, 2013 at 6:19 am #

    Unfiltered life… I like that.

    Thanks for the challenge and the encouragement.
    Day by day, step by step, choice by choice… I’m headed there.

  6. Joy @ Joy in this Journey March 12, 2013 at 6:43 am #

    You know I’m so here. But there’s one thing I have to add to this. People who lack a bullshit filter, and people who have finely-tuned bullshit detectors, are often seen as dangerous. They are threatening to people who love their filters and their bullshit.

    This is something I wasn’t quite prepared for. I didn’t realize that for as many people who love the real, there would be just as many who hate it. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because me being real exposes them as fakes?

    What I do know is that being real is polarizing. I also know that I can’t be any other.

    Looking forward to next month!

    • Jason Boyett March 12, 2013 at 7:47 am #

      A lot of it may have as much to do with personality as a fear of fakery. IRL, I’m not an aggressive or confrontational person, to the point that confrontational people can make me uncomfortable. Blunt, aggressive truth-telling can certainly be seen as confrontational. Could much of the polarity exist there?

      • Joy @ Joy in this Journey March 12, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

        Hmmmm. Yes, I think personality could play a role. I think too that it’s seen as not playing by the unwritten rules.

        I know that when I choose debate mode rather than smile-and-nod mode, I can come off too strong. That can shut down a conversation because many people don’t like arguing/debating as a way of processing an issue. Instead of seeing as an intellectual exercise, it lands on them like a personal attack, and they don’t know how to respond. I’ve heard this from some family members in particular. But I don’t know that this is so much a lack of filter as it is my way of thinking out loud.

  7. the life artist March 12, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    You had me at “THE LESS FILTERED LIFE”. Hallelujah.

  8. Jen March 12, 2013 at 6:50 am #

    I agree with Joy. My dear darling friend E lacks every kind of filter, and while it is truly endearing to me, I can see others shiver at her comments and straighten their spines at her choices. She is “that woman.” But I love that woman because she says what we’re all thinking. Anyway, yes. Filters are part of life, and maybe that’s part of Lawrence’s schtick, too. And maybe it’s all bullshit, even for the bullshit deflectors. And still we try to peel it back, because we know the edifice is not the artifice. (How’s that for fancy, hip word play?)

  9. Sharideth Smith March 12, 2013 at 7:37 am #

    As someone who is essentially filterless, they do come in handy on occasion. It’s been a process for me over the years to learn when to use them. But I love what Jason says here. You don’t have to be as blunt as I am, you just have to let go of the fear and speak truth.

    You’ll learn to love the look on people’s faces when you say something unexpected. It can be damn satisfying.

    • Jason Boyett March 12, 2013 at 7:52 am #

      Agreed. There’s a big difference between applying honesty to myself and honesty to other people. I can reveal myself. But I don’t want to use a lack of a filter to tear down others. It takes courage to tell the truth, but sometimes unfiltered honesty can be a weapon. The question is : Will the benefit of knowing a certain truth outweigh the pain that might accompany it?

      • Sharideth Smith March 12, 2013 at 8:38 am #

        I’ve intentionally hit people where it hurts with truths about themselves or certain situations. But only when I intend to help them fix it.

        It’s never cool to cause pain to another when the only goal is to see them hurt.

        • Joy @ Joy in this Journey March 12, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

          That’s a really great point, Sharideth. I think the times when I’ve received the harshest backlash have been those times when it wasn’t clear that I really did want to make things better. People took it personally, and I was genuinely shocked that they were more concerned about being called out than about correcting a problem.

  10. MPT March 12, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    Jesus is my filter!

    (Loved this, Jason. Well done.)

  11. Tyson March 12, 2013 at 7:55 am #

    Excellent first post … I almost backspaced over that because I was worried you would misinterpret that to mean “not bad for your first try; I assume it will get better”.
    I fashion myself as a “thinker”. I script most everything I say and type. Not so much out of fear of exposing “the real me”, but moreso out of a deep desire to be accurate and understood.
    This often leads to being long-winded and misunderstood. Go figure.

  12. Heather March 12, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    Thank you. I love the truth so much. Something wakes up in me. For some, I’m filtered, but mostly I struggle to have a filter and therefore I don’t ever really fit in, especially in Christian circles. Other people find it refreshing that I can’t control how I say EVERYTHING. Church people shift in their seats and look away. I ask too many personal questions. I give too much away too quickly. It’s kind of lonely.

    H

  13. Brindle March 12, 2013 at 7:58 am #

    Silver Linings Playbook is a flawed film, but does good job juggling the comedy and drama scenes. The main flaw I found was that it glossed over the destructiveness of gambling addiction and the movie could have delved deeper into the dark places of both Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany’s (Jen Lawrence) characters.
    What SLP will ultimately be remembered for is being the movie that has elevated Jennifer Lawrence to a place among current actresses shared only by Meryl Streep—Lawrence is that talented.

  14. Alysa March 12, 2013 at 8:19 am #

    Brilliant. I struggle too with how honest to be, what does this do to my “brand” (shudder), how much should I admit to… But in the end, I find the more honest I am, the more people respond, and the more I am a help, not a hindrance to others.

    Brutal honesty (and the willow filter) ftw!

  15. Susan St. Laurent March 12, 2013 at 8:21 am #

    I’m so tired of filters and filtering. They keep me from asking hard questions like “Why?” I’m trying to peel off the mask, and it’s encouraging to me to know that other people are too. Thanks.

  16. Caroline Starr Rose March 12, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    This doesn’t exactly apply to what you’re saying, but kind of. I carry in my mind (and shared yesterday at my blog) my favorite quote from George MacDonald’s THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN.

    “But in the meantime, you must be content, I say, to be misunderstood for a while. We are all very anxious to be understood, and it is very hard not to be. But there is one thing much more necessary — to understand other people.”

    I read PRINCESS with a book club during a time I was desperate to have my side of things understood by others. I would have stopped people on the street corner to tell them my story, if I’d thought it would have made a difference. This made me think of your idea of filters and the self we present publicly in an effort to be liked and accepted and understood.

    Love the way literature speaks into our lives so profoundly.

    As for brand, I’m a children’s author and know first hand the work and time it takes to craft an image. And how weird the whole thing is. What a strange world we live in! But I’m happy to be here, all the same.

  17. John March 12, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    The unexamined life is not worth living and the over-examined life can be exhausting. If you choose the unfiltered path (and I’m trying to more and more everyday) you hafta realize you’re signing up for a little loneliness, maybe a lot…maybe even a cross (which sorta sucks hard). You’re off to a good start here, Boyett…unfilter on.

  18. Caris Adel March 12, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    I think I would like any column about Jennifer Lawrence and SLP, so I’m biased already. But I loved this. Really great article and great point. One of my favorite parts about the movie was the swearing, actually. It was all just so real and honest.

    • Brindle March 12, 2013 at 11:24 am #

      The swearing in the movie made sense. In and at my job a lot of messed up stuff happens. I often mutter under my breath the f-word and occassioally the mf-word when things are really really messed up. It allows me to feel a little more in control of my boundaries and humanity; in that in doing my job my job owns my time but not my emotions or perceptions.
      I very rarely, almost never swear out loud or in public so in SLP I enjoyed their freedom.

  19. grace at {gabbing with grace} March 12, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    love this! And all so true. Pearl clutching? so funny. Yay! Glad to have you doing this here once a month! what a gift!

  20. Susie Klein March 12, 2013 at 11:32 am #

    Thank you for this post! It is helping us articulate a freedom that is available to us as believers but so difficult to do it right. The loud and vocal people of faith in the news etc seem to embrace freedom in an unhealthy way and that leaves the rest of us wanting to inch away and distance ourselves from them.

  21. Micah J. Murray March 12, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    most meta thing i’ve seen since Community. the snake is eating its tail, and its brilliant.

  22. JessicaB March 12, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    Pearls. Might. Get. Clutched.

    Perfect. And amen. :)

  23. Rebecca Trotter March 12, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    Love it! Over the last couple of years I’ve been so frustrated trying to get any attention for my writing. I always felt like I was on the outside looking in and it was really painful and frustrating. But then it finally occured to me that if no one in a position to pass judgment on my work was going to pay attention to it anyways, I might as well just be me. Write whatever I want and talk about God and sex and swear all in the same sentence. Just take all those filters off. And in doing so I finally found my own voice that at least a few people really appreciate me for. It turns out that not getting the attention I thought I wanted was liberating and a really good thing. There are still things that I keep to myself because I think it might be pushing things too far, but I’ll probably get over that eventually. In the meantime, it turns out that having my brand be who I actually am is a sort of freedom and freedom is good!

  24. Diana Trautwein March 12, 2013 at 6:33 pm #

    Loved the movie, love this essay. Some filters are helpful, I think – the ones that allow us to take just a breath before responding, time enough to search a tiny bit for the kindest way of speaking the ‘truth in love.’ But when the s**t hits the fan – it’s time to let the filters fall away. (And yes I typed in the word, but No, I cannot leave it there. . . so there you go.) Some level of filter falls away when we’re in safe company, I think – with family or dear friends, with a counselor or therapist or spiritual director. I encourage filter-dropping in my own direction practice – gently, of course, because it’s scary as hell to a lot of people to let the masks down. Thanks for the encouragement to take the risk, Jason. Delighted to see you in this space!!

  25. Leslie March 12, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

    I love this post. Just yesterday I actually wrote a similar post on my blog. I grew up a PK so I have always had people criticizing my words and actions, I was always having to be cautious because I knew I was always under observation. I really love your take on it, and appreciate your honesty.

  26. Sarah Mae March 16, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    So good.

    And now I’m off to find your book (books?)…

    • Jason Boyett March 16, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

      Thanks, Sarah! You can find them at jasonboyett.com/books. (Or at Amazon.)

  27. Kristi March 18, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    “Pearls. Might. Get. Clutched.” I actually had to go back and read that paragraph out loud to my husband…not sure he found it nearly as funny, not having read the whole essay, but still, very well said!

  28. OBrian Tallent March 28, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    This is something that has been on my mind for…quite a while now. I’m not too good with not being honest, I wouldn’t call myself “unfiltered” but I do have bouts where my filter slips…well some times it just down right flies out the window and i have to go chasing after the darned thing.
    I am also the founder and director of a youth/young adult outreach in my city. This year we celebrate 14 years. That’s only relevant because of Facebook…why must it always go back to facebook!!! I recently posted in a status something along the lines of all too often we only want to be the church inside the four walls of a building and dont want to carry it outside those walls into our own backyard…something like that anyway. The next day I received a very scathing email from my pastor telling me that I was stepping on toes which might have detrimental effects for my youth center.
    I have a very finely tuned BS detector and I’m told it appears on my face as if a flashing beacon in my expressions. See, here’s my question for others much more versed in public presence…we are called to live as Christ…since when did that mean shaking hands and kissing babies in order to do the work of Christ? How do you juggle the politics of Church and a life of Christ?

  29. Melissa Crager May 8, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    This is great! I was feeling really bad about myself until I read this. Awesome. Thank you.

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