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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Frenzy on the Wall: Anne Hathaway is a Great Actress … Right?

“Anne Hathaway is a great actress.”
“Is she, though?”

Both speakers in that conversation are me. This was the dialogue I was having with myself as I watched Hathaway on Saturday Night Live this past weekend. She was so effortlessly charismatic, her timing excellent, and her presence inviting. Whether she was playing a hillbilly waiting in line at MegaMart or a very frightened Kate Middleton, she seemed at ease getting into the skin of many varied characters. She, like Justin Timberlake, was one of the rare guest hosts who I could see being a regular cast member (provided, of course, she wanted to take a huge step back career-wise and make far less money).

I found myself thinking that it should have been obvious how good she would be (and she was excellent last time she hosted too) based on how talented she is. Then I started to think of all the great performances she had given.

That’s where I ran into a bit if a problem. I rushed onto IMDb and found that, despite the universal praise for her acting skills, she has given only one unquestionably great performance – Rachel Getting Married – and a whole lot of forgettable or passable or pretty good ones. Have we all been brainwashed by some kind of massive conspiracy plotted by a team of publicists and journalists into believing that Hathaway was the next Meryl Streep?

Let’s look at the evidence.

Hathaway burst onto the scene with The Princess Diaries, a film that is admittedly not aimed at me. However, I thought that she was pretty good, considering the material. Although I don’t really know how much of that performance is due to good acting and how much is simply due to the fact that, as we’ve already covered, she’s immensely likable and charismatic. She has something that is completely separate from any kind of talent – she has a face that we trust and like and she projects warmth as a human being, especially in interviews. So I’m inclined to believe that her portrayal of Mia Thermopolis is really the result of her being a performer we like rather than one who is truly crafting something special.

I never saw The Other Side of Heaven, but I’m fairly certain that if she set the world on fire with that one, I would have watched it by now. Her next film is Nicholas Nickleby, the adaptation of the Dickens novel. I thought the film was passable and utterly unmemorable. In fact, I remember very little about it – including Hathaway’s performance. I would fault the filmmakers more than Hathaway for that, however, because as we’ve already established – Hathaway is memorable. To somehow take a performer like her and have her not make much of an impression is a shame. But I do like that Hathaway was attempting to make a “prestige” film, so points to her for that.

Next we have the one-two punch of Ella Enchanted and The Princess Diaries 2. If anything, these two films proved that Hathaway had officially outgrown films aimed at people under thirteen. Once again, she gets by on her luminosity and smile rather than finding an interesting character in a complex film and then making complicated choices once on set. Because these films are aimed at younger folks, they have characters that aren’t particularly well-drawn and Hathaway doesn’t add that much performance-wise that another performer that was equally charismatic wouldn’t have. In other words, she was coasting.

After that, we have Havoc, in which Hathaway wanted to show exactly how grown up she was. Unfortunately for her, the film was utterly awful and sadly, she was terrible in it. She was not convincing as this damaged character, unable to really make me believe that she was as troubled as she’s supposed to be. And the script doesn’t do her any favors, with lines like “We’re teenagers and we’re bored.” I doubt any actor could say those lines and make them sound right. I admire the fact that Hathaway attempted something that would be a complete 180 for what she had been known for, but she was flat, stilted, and mannered. I saw the wheels spinning the whole time.

With Brokeback Mountain, she had finally picked a winner. It’s a terrific film and while she’s good in it, she is absolutely blown off the screen by Jake Gyllenhaal (who seemed much more focused), Heath Ledger, and Michelle Williams. I thought Hathaway got the part right mostly, although I think she went over the top a few times, whereas the rest of the cast underplayed – making her stand out a bit more, for the wrong reasons. But she was passable and I think the rest of the cast just seemed a lot more comfortable with that kind of material that she was venturing into for the first time.

Then we have The Devil Wears Prada, a choice that I can’t fault because it gave her the opportunity to work with Meryl Streep. A lot of people point to this film as Hathaway’s coming-out party because it was such a massive hit. Unfortunately, she is completely overshadowed by Emily Blunt and – of course – Meryl Streep. So she’s working primarily with two performers who steal every scene from her and, as a result, make her seem like the least interesting character in her own movie.

A good deal of the problem rests with the character herself, who is not pleasant to be around, but Hathaway plays her in such a whiny way that I found myself siding with Streep’s character way more than was intended. I didn’t understand why this snotty girl stuck around if she thought the work she was doing was so beneath her. I found her arrogant, stuck-up, and pouty. It was the first time I had seen Hathaway lose her charms and play a character who was utterly unlikable.

Next was Becoming Jane, which I think I remember as being fine, but truthfully it’s a blur in my head. I remember walking out of the theater and thinking that she had redeemed herself partially, but I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the performance. At this point in Hathaway’s career, I was certainly not a fan.

Her role in Get Smart didn’t make me jump on the bandwagon either. But I thought it was actually an interesting step in the right direction for her. She had found a character that was sexy and in control and she seemed very much at ease in that role, while able to bring back her charisma and likability and winning smile. Her chemistry with Steve Carell was good and I believe in her character. She wasn’t aiming very high in that one, but at least she hit the mark.

Okay, then comes Rachel Getting Married, where for the first time I felt like I “got it” with Anne Hathaway. She was playing a character that was dark, tortured, beaten up and beaten down and supposed to be putting on a happy face for her sister’s wedding. This is the stuff that drama – and great acting – is made of: putting characters in a combustible situation in which outward actions belie inner emotions. It’s also the type of role that needs to be played expertly or else the entire film falls apart under the weight of that failure. Hathaway hit it out of the damn park, taking the audience on a whirlwind of tumult with a biting wit to help us ride out the bumps.

Other actors shine – notably Bill Irwin and Debra Winger – but none brighter than Hathaway. I walked out of the movie believing that Hathaway would win the Oscar that year and I’m pretty surprised that she didn’t. Either way, I could finally see that not only was Hathaway charismatic but she had greatness in her.

And then she does the following: Passengers, Bride Wars, and Valentine’s Day. I don’t think I can express to you how awful all three of those movies are. Granted, the last one she’s not in for more than twenty minutes and she’s actually pretty charming in it and the first one just seemed like it got mangled somewhere in production, but Bride Wars is just inexcusable. I suppose I can’t begrudge actors for trying to get paid, but why that movie?

With the other films, I could understand that it might be about the opportunity to work with a certain actor or director, but was Hathaway’s desire to work with Kate Hudson so great that she would lower herself to those depths of idiocy? I mean, that movie just flat-out doesn’t work. It’s a film that purports that all women want is a fancy wedding at a certain place and they are so persnickety and self-centered that they can’t even allow their friendships to alter their plans. It boggles my mind how Hathaway could stoop to this. I can’t even judge her performance in it because I spent the entire time screaming at the screen, “Why are you doing this?!” (Note: not literally.)

Earlier this year she played the White Queen in Tim Burton’s useless remake of Alice in Wonderland and she was fine in it. The movie was boring and silly, but she got to work with Depp and Burton, so all is forgiven.

Love and Other Drugs comes out this week and I really need for it to be good. More than that, though, I need Hathaway to pick projects worthy of her talents. It’s all well and good to have a fun time at work, doing projects that don’t make you miserable, but the best actors and actresses – I’m thinking Daniel Day Lewis and Kate Winslet, among others – do indeed make themselves mad playing certain characters. Acting is an art form and if I’m to believe that Hathaway is a talent worthy of calling great, I need to see evidence that she believes it’s an art form as well.

While it’s possible that she is the great actress of her generation, the evidence sadly isn’t there to support that. I think she’s got all the talent in the world, but until she starts consistently picking better projects and difficult roles, I can’t put her in that upper echelon. Here’s hoping Love and Other Drugs gets her closer.

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7 Responses to “Frenzy on the Wall: Anne Hathaway is a Great Actress … Right?”

  1. James says:

    Was I watching the same episode of SNL as you were? Cause’ I was highly disappointed by her acting skills, it felt like I was watching a high school student perform in a play as opposed to an Oscar winning actress. And I never got how Justin Timberlake was great on SNL, his acting was terribly stunted. The only time he’s ever funny is when he has to do musical numbers… but that’s it. His acting is atrocious on SNL.

  2. Glamourboy says:

    I think you have it entirely wrong….there are many people that are charming in real life….but fall flat on the screen–it doesn’t automatically translate. If Hathaway has charm and ‘luminosity’, then she should rake high above most actors and actresses. Think back to Cary Grant–he was so likeable and charming on screen that we took him for came so easy he must have obviously been playing himself, right? No. Hathaway is the same–she was GREAT in The Devil Wears Prada–and definitely held her own against Streep. We believe her in the role and we take the journey with her, gladly. Trust your initial instinct…the one that tells you she’s a great actress.

  3. brainypirate says:

    I think a lot of the Hathaway buzz has been supplemented by the good reviews she got doing Shakespeare in the Park with Raul Esparza and a host of established Broadway vets, as well as her awards-show appearance (was it the Oscars with Hugh Jackman?) where she proved she could sing.

    I think the buzz lately has been about her versatility and potential–the actress that no one thought much about until she demonstrated an unexpectedly surprising range. It’s still buzz, but it seems based more on the promise of greatness than on a record of established excellence.

  4. jp says:

    James and brainypirate , please, Anne Hathaway ( and Justin Timberlake) was brilliant on SNL . I’ve seen these ladies host SNL : Natalie Portman, Jane Lynch ( one of my favorite actresses) , Winona Ryder, Joan Allen, Amy Adams, Claire Danes, Ellen Page, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Marisa Tomei, Kate Winslet, Reese Witherspoon, Renee Zellweger, and Betty White. Trust me, none of these actresses came close to the wonderfulness that Anne brought to SNL last Saturday night- not even Sean Penn ( another favorite) when he did the hosting gig.

    I live in NY, so i was able to catch her incredible turn in Shakespeare In The Park’s “Twelfth Night”. In this production, Hathaway very easily held her own with the Raul Esparza and the extraordinary Audra McDonald – two of the finest thespians in the NY theatre world.

    Anne Hathaway has proven with her SNL gigs, theatre work, song-and-dance number with Hugh Jackman ( the Oscars), her stupendous and edgy performances in “Rachel Getting Married” and ” Love And Other Drugs” -that she is a force to be reckon with. This woman is not only a great actress, but she has range and versatility. Plus, she takes risks.

    I agree Anne needs to be more selective with her film work, but she has to make a living. It is not simplistic to be a actress in Hollywood today. For example, Jennifer Lawrence is acting in an X-men prequel, after her lovely turn in “Winter’s Bone”. Nicole Kidman just acted in a a promise to be atrocious Adam Sandler flick.

    Now, more than ever, box-office success rules, and the competition is tough. Mostly, for an A-list actress to have a long film career, boffo box -office is a necessity. Only actresses with box-office clout get access to the quality roles and get most of their indie films greenlit . So, it is not easy for an actress to mix indie films, commercial films, while maintaining acting credibility. It is definitely an end of an era.

    P.S. Because Hathaway is one of the few young A-list actresses that will continue to take risks on stage and in film, I will follow her career.

  5. EthanG says:

    I have a problem imagining that a film commentator of your caliber had to “rush onto IMDB” to research Hathaway. And I don’t believe you, except you headed to IMDB to brush up on her chronology. Duhhh…

    Other than that, Hathaway has always been a stunning example of “indie face” for me. What’s that? A SLIGHTLY unconventionally beautiful face that attracts untoward awards buzz for a mediocre movie/perf. Hathaway has defined this for awhile….for me Jolie, ScarJo, Marisa Tomei, Knightley, early Winslet, Lohan, McAdams, early Michelle W, Aniston (who parlayed it) are great examples previously….

    I think Jessica Biel is a better actress than Ms. Hathaway…and totally agree with her that she’ll never get the chance to prove herself…even in a flop like “Love/Drigs” unless she Therons herself up

  6. jp says:

    Hilarious !! EthanG, you must be high if you truly believe Jessica Biel is a better actress than Anne Hathaway. Now, you know I don’t take you seriously. Did you see Hathaway host SNL both times ? Have you seen her great turn in “Rachel Getting Married”? Did you see her wonderful performance on stage with Shakespeare in the Park’s “Twelfth Night” ? EthanG, don’t hate, congratulate !

  7. Jen says:

    I actually really loved the charm of Hathaway prior to watching an interview with the “real” Hathaway. I was so taken aback by how inauthentic, snooty, condescending and at times rude she was.

    After that watching her on screen also took on another life. The spell was broken and it’s too bad her acting/singing is now (for me) overshadowed by the stench of the spoiled interviewee.

Frenzy On Column

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon