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With mother!, is Jennifer Lawrence in or out of the Best Actress race?

mother! premiered this morning at the Venice Film Festival and as expected, the film was…polarizing to say the least. Some critics loved it, others hated it. But regardless of the polarizing reactions to the film itself, let’s examine Lawrence’s chances for a Best Actress nom.

Unlike other articles we ran here recently, making the case for Frances McDormand, Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water among others, here are some reasons that – after watching the film – may work against Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar prospects.

  1. The Role

Make no mistake, Lawrence delivers a fine performance as a wife who is experiencing a series of unexplained – and unfortunate events. She is alive to what’s around her and the actress tries to bring in sincerity to her character and succeeds mostly in making us care about her. However, there is one major flaw – or rather trait – in the character that stops this from being a real showcase for Lawrence: the writing makes it a rather passive, reactive character. In most of her scenes, she is reacting to what’s around her and is on the verge on being a supporting character. Not in terms of scenes – she is in every frame, every scene – but in terms of the impact. Take Amy Adams in Arrival for instance. While she is reactive to her commanders, the aliens, the news swirling around her and on TV channels, she does more than just react. Lawrence simply doesn’t have that character arc or development. She is there responding to what’s around her but she is a thin and underdeveloped character.

  1. The Film

While some may see that mother! is an ambitious effort that should be celebrated, other reviewers – and more importantly award bodies – may be put off by the unjustified gory and bizarre sequences that don’t just hold together in what may seem as an alienating plot particularly to old voters. While films such as Three Billboards, The Shape of Water and others will have a more consensus appeal and a less polarized reception, Mother! will surely have its passionate base. But will it be enough for a nom? Most likely not.

  1. The Competition

Gone Girl could be an example of a film that despite being polarizing to the Academy was able to secure a nom in a relatively weak field. This is not the case this year as Lawrence faces other passion picks in McDormand, Hawkins, Stone, Streep (because she’s Streep), Dench, Ronan and others. In a field that has stronger films and passion picks, Lawrence – while being a passion pick herself by those who will like mother! – will need a lot more #1 placements than when she got in for Joy where there was literally no other option that year (except maybe Carey Mulligan for Suffragette but this film never took off).

  1. The Reviews

As with point #3, the reviews matter when your competition is strong. Critics don’t vote on Oscars and Trumbo is a perfect example of a film that was dismissed too early as an Oscar non-factor only to then see an industry boost. But mother! is no Trumbo, it is not AMPAS catnip and will turn off a lot of people. Here is where reviews can be an added extra factor to an actress’ case for a nomination and mother! will not end up with absolute raves. It’s true that a newbie like Negga got in over Bening and Adams just last year for a film which had a somewhat muted critic response, but that was a role that is right up AMPAS’s alley. Mother! is not.

  1. The Box Office

That’s an important factor because, unlike arthouse and indie fare no one expects to make money like Three Billboards, mother! comes from a top studio (Paramount) and has a solid promotional push especially that it is headlined by the highest paid actress in Hollywood. The film’s bleak, punishing nature is likely not to go well with the average moviegoer. While challenging films such as Arrival (also Paramount) did end ups making $100+ million in the box office, such films had an emotional core and a relatable theme people can get behind. mother! most likely will earn less than a third of what ‘It’ – another film sold as a horror event.

Mina Takla

Mina Takla is a foreign correspondent for AwardsWatch and the co-founder of The Syndicate, an online news agency that offers original content services to several film brands including Empire Magazine’s Middle East edition and the Dubai Film Festival. Takla has attended, covered and written from over 10 film festivals online including the Dubai International Film Festival, Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Cannes, Venice and Annecy Film Festivals. He been following the Oscar race since 2000 with accurate, office-pool winning predictions year after year. He writes monthly in Empire Arabia, the Arabic version of the world’s top cinema magazine and conducts press junkets with Hollywood stars in the UK and the US. He holds a Master’s degree in Strategic Marketing from Australia’s Wollongong University and is currently based in Dubai, UAE.

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