Film News

Why Does Jennifer Lawrence Keep Playing Characters She’s Too Young For?

Funny or Die has declared that Jennifer Lawrence playing characters she’s way too young to be playing has officially entered into mockable territory. To be fair, it’s pretty much exclusive to her David O. Rusell movies (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, Joy), and it started off as something you could kind of, sort of ignore, like the nearly two decade age gap between her and Bradley Cooper in SLP.  However, as Vox argued in their review of Joy it became a problem pretty quick:

Russell has frequently cast Lawrence as women who would more likely be played by actresses in their 30s or even 40s. This won her an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook — where you could sort of buy the then-22 Lawrence as a widow, without trying too hard. But in Joy, Lawrence essentially plays the same role as she played in 2013’s American Hustle: that of a woman who has kids and has been divorced for a while. There’s an air of frustration and desperation to these characters that Lawrence captures, but she’s simply too young to fully embody it.

It’s easy to see why Russell is so drawn to her for these parts. Lawrence has tons of natural screen presence, and her bold, brassy nature aligns well with women characters who feel like they can’t waste their last shot at a better life. But when the latter portions of Joy ask Lawrence to play a 40-something version of Mangano, the problems with the casting decision become all too apparent. A 35-year-old Lawrence would have knocked this role out of the park; at 25, she’s just too green.

So, Funny or Die’s latest video takes things to the extreme and argues Lawrence will next play a grandma who somehow still looks 16, like some weird variation on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or The Age of Adaline:

But if you actually want to get serious about this, maybe even make multiple line graphs, you totally can.  This past June, Vulture took a slightly differently angle on this by looking at why exactly it is that Lawrence as well as Emma Stone and Scarlet Johansson keep getting cast to play love interests to much, much older men.  The opening line of their piece read, “Emma Stone is a mere 26 years old, but in the last cinematic year, she’s had four onscreen love-interests who were over 40, including two male characters who were impotent.”

Gangster SquadTo add some stats behind that, if not for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Stone would have flashed her big eyes at a man three decades her senior (Sean Penn in 2012’s Gangster Squad, Colin Firth in 2014’s Magic in Moonlight) in two consecutive movies.

Johansson’s been doing it her entire career, starting off as a 16-year-old to Billy Bob Thornton’s 46-year-old in The Man Who Wasn’t There and obviously breaking through as a 18-year-old to Bill Murray’s 54-year-old in Lost in Translation. In each case, the age gap was actually part of the story, but she’s struggled to shake that  ever since. Surprisingly, the leading man she’s been paired with who’s actually closest to her age is Chris Evans, who is only 4 years older and was her love interest in The Nanny Diaries and work husband in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

It’s like Black Widow and Captain America hooking up except, you know, not really

Pause for a moment to acknowledge that I had no idea Chris Evans was in The Nanny Diaries.  As a Winter Soldier fan, I now feel kind of obligated to circle back around and check out Evans and Johansson together in their pre-Marvel Studios days.

This isn’t to say that, in real life, there’s anything wrong with people coming together romantically despite a considerable age gap nor is it exactly news that Hollywood likes to pair young girls with older men, both off and on the screen.  However, these are three of the biggest actresses of their generation, and this same thing keeps happening to them.  Jennifer Lawrence at least played someone her own age in her first X-Men movie, but the man she tries to seduce, Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, was 14 years older than her.  In that case, the age gap was referenced, Magneto turning her down for being too young for him.  Her David O. Russell movies, though, take the more traditional approach, which is to more or less ask, “What age gap?  I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about [wink, wink].”

I’ll let Vulture take it from here:

Since most prestige movies are made by middle-aged men about middle-aged men, actresses like Jennifer Lawrence have to age themselves up to grab those high-profile roles, a pattern that not only contributes to a continued dearth of leading men in their 20s but also indirectly takes parts away from actresses like [Maggie] Gyllenhaal. Indeed, Lawrence keeps playing roles for David O. Russell — bitter widow, divorced mom, single-mother mopping magnate — that would typically call for women in their 30s, not a woman who’s yet to even hit 25.

And while we don’t necessarily look to the movies for realism, steering these young actresses toward near-constant May-December romances is wholly out of step with what’s actually going on in the culture. According to the 2013 census, nearly 60 percent of heterosexual married couples are within two to three years of each other; a union separated by 15 years, like the one between Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook, comes up only 1.6 percent of the time, and some of Emma Stone’s recent screen romances with men who exceeded her age by 20 years are reflected by a mere one percent of actual couples. I don’t doubt those percentages would be different if you surveyed only Hollywood, where aging movie stars and powerful producers routinely walk the red carpets with blonde 20-somethings on their arm. But shouldn’t we want more for our best young actresses than an onslaught of onscreen age disparities that evoke the notion of a trophy girlfriend?

Source: Vulture


  1. I love the work of Jennifer Lawrence, but I think there are many actresses of 34-40 years quite capable to fulfill this role (Joy) and who should have the opportunity to do so. Jenn is an excellent actress, but I think they should give roles according to her age, is not very credible see her as a 18 year old girl, and next day as a 34 year old woman with kids. other actresses deserve this opportunity (Reese Witherspoon, Rosamund Pike, Kate Hudson, Natalie Portman, and so on)

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