' ' Cinema Romantico: The Tears Of Gwyneth

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Tears Of Gwyneth

It’s difficult for cinematic seismologists to pinpoint the epicenter of Gwyneth Paltrow becoming one of Hollywood’s Most Hated. Was it when she named her daughter Apple? When she vowed to suffer death before letting young Apple eat cup-a-soup? When she authored a cookbook? When she became a singer? What has been generally agreed upon is that the initial foreshock of Paltrow’s downfall occurred on March 21, 1999, the evening Ms. Paltrow earned a Best Actress Oscar for her work in “Shakespeare In Love” and crumbled into tears. Writing for the UK version of Yahoo Movies Steve Charnock declared: “Gwyneth Paltrow's podium performance in 1999 was so blub-filled you could barely even call it a 'speech'. She emoted more in those two minutes than she has in her entire acting career.” Hey now!

“She emoted more in those two minutes than she has in her entire acting career”? Really? How many of her films has Mr. Charnock seen? “Iron Man” and a little bit of “Shallow Hal” on Comedy Central? This was what Gwyneth’s public tears wrought – they made everyone forget the greatest tears she has ever shed.

Now even in real life Gwyneth cries a lot. How do I know this? I know this because I Googled “Gwyneth Paltrow Cries” and learned she exercises so hard that it makes her cry and that she cries over pancakes and that, well, heck, she herself has said “I cry all the time” and that when Jay Z apparently performed his song “Song Cry” at the Royal Albert Hall several years back he selected Gwyneth to sing the chorus – “I can’t see ‘em comin’ down my eyes so I gotta make the song cry” – because, I mean, who better to make a song cry than her?

Perhaps this real life affinity for waterworks helps her turn them on so regularly and skilfully at the cinema, perhaps not, but whatever the case may be when a movie director needs a few tears on cue who they gonna call? Gwyneth Paltrow. I’m pretty sure she blubbered her entire way through “Hush” and she whimpered in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and she sobbed in “Bounce” and while I can’t recall off the top of my head if she actually wept in “Hard Eight” or “The Royal Tenenbaums”, well, rest assured anyone who has witnessed those roles knows full well she came out of the womb with her mascara already running.

(Almost) best of all, though, is her crying opposite Hollywood’s most notable oddball, Joaquin Phoenix, in the operatic but intimate and wildly under-appreciated “Two Lovers.” There she played the erratic and erratically enchanting Michelle, the sort of woman who, as the late, great Roger Ebert so astutely noted, “represents so many problems she should almost dress by wrapping herself in that yellow tape from crime scene investigations.” Whenever I watch that truly captivating performance (her best ever in my humble estimation) I think of a real life girl on whom I will forever have an unrequited crush (whose name I won’t mention) who once told me how she suffered a public breakdown on a subway. Sigh. ……… Wait, where was I? Oh. Right. Gwyneth Paltrow. “Two Lovers.” She sheds tears and gets the teary sniffles more than once in the film, including in a magnificent rooftop sex scene between she and Phoenix that somehow manages to be erotic, awful and beautiful all at once. Still, though, they are not the most memorable tears in Gwyneth’s canon.

Once upon a time I loved David Fincher’s “Se7en” but confess I have fallen out of love with it in the intervening years. Maybe it’s my age showing but it feels a bit overwrought to be an effective tug of war between good and evil. Paltrow’s character, Tracy Mills, married to Brad Pitt’s police detective David, is little more than a contrivance – existing to cultivate sympathy so her head can wind up in a box. But Paltrow, in only brief flashes, is able to create someone with a very real life spark that has been dimed because of where she is and what she’s doing. Because of her husband’s job she has been cast adrift in a place (New York City) she does not want to be.

She summons Morgan Freeman’s detective – her husband’s partner – to a diner and spills the beans on her pregnancy, which is necessary to set up the grisly end. But the worst part? The worst part is after she makes the confession she makes another confession: “I hate this city.” And then she……crumbles into tears.

Well, those are the finest, most moving, most crushing tears Gwyneth The Crier has publicly shed. I didn’t understand them – not really – when I first saw the movie as a teen and again here and there in my twenties. Now I understand. Now I know the true weight of that weeping, that displacement, that disconnection, that isolation, that……fear. Gwyneth, despite playing a character meant to have reached the dividing line of 30, was but a wee 23 when she played the role and somehow summoned the notion of so many emotions I can only imagine she did not yet understand or had not yet even felt.

Can the version of Gwyneth the public sees get on my nerves? Sure. I’m reasonably certain if I ever attended Baconfest Gwyneth would be at the gates with a megaphone and group of picket sign-wielding dissidents screaming at me like a vegan-styled Fred Phelps. But even so, Most Hated, Most Beautiful, whatever, the tears of Gwyneth Paltrow on the silver screen are a gift. Let's make sure to treasure each one.


Andrew K. said...

Wish I was less busy so I could give this an appropriate write-up, but short version - this an excellent piece on a fine actor who's too often not given her due. Love everything about it (except for nary a mention of her crying abilities in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE).

*standing ovation*

(Also, completely makes me reevaluate that moment in se7en. Great stuff.)

Nick Prigge said...

Thank you, my friend. Too kind.

And you know I love "Shakespeare In Love" - of course I do - and I honestly meant to include that in this piece and then I got into it and it all just sort of went in a different direction. But yes, her welling up in that one is matchless.