James Murphy leaps to the defence of Gwyneth Paltrow
You’ve heard the news: Gwyneth Paltrow is ‘consciously uncoupling’ from Chris Martin. It’s only human to be interested. We are conditioned towards prurience. In the case of Gwyneth Paltrow, however, it’s personal, pernicious and pervasive. The poor woman has been hounded by a sinister reflection of our modern media machine.
It’s a nebulous trend: no ‘hand that holds the whip’ (to paraphrase Ian Fleming) but it has been a regular feature of many columnists’ work, to belittle Gwyneth Paltrow. A picture of the lovely Gwynnie would be pasted across the piece, thereby lending her likeness to an article taking a ‘who does she think she is?’ attitude. But there are many things to love about her. I felt compelled to race into defence, via a reminder of why she is a star.
Let’s not forget: Paltrow’s a highly respected actress. True, one does not hire Gwyneth Paltrow the character actress: she’s always ‘in’ there (voice/poise/eager finger wag and smiling or crying) but what’s interesting is that the movie star persona drives some emotional arc in the character’s situation.
Shakespeare in Love puts a human face on the repression of Elizabethan women (Paltrow won an Oscar for that). In Sylvia, she captured the paranoid pain of poetic souls. Hitchcock would have loved her in Perfect Murder (a remake of Dial M for Murder) and Jane Austen would approve of her take on Emma. Robert Downey Jr. might be the star of the Marvel universe movies as Stark/Iron Man; but his work is enhanced in every scene he shares with Paltrow’s Pepper Potts.
Downey himself has acknowledged Paltrow’s power; her support in his first steps as a movie super hero proving invaluable to rebuilding his confidence (like all great men, he’d suffered a wilderness period). She has a pastoral conscience and a sense of mission and that extends beyond film and into food and lifestyle with her cookbooks and a helpful weekly online magazine of tips called Goop.
I’ve read two of her cookbooks. One can see how they’d incense the kind of writers who take pride in being ‘ordinary’. Paltrow’s writing style can be gauche and naïve. “If you cannot make it to the gourmet health food store” and things to do with ‘quinoa’ did make me chuckle; as did the revelation that her children love “popcorn camerooni” (I suspect that’s popcorn, as a treat, served by the slightly naughtier and funnier Cameron Diaz?).
But the fact is that many of the dietary discoveries work wonders (trust me; I tried them) and there is no doubting Paltrow’s sincerity. She genuinely feels an obligation to raise a family with the very best of one’s efforts and resources. Her own means and monies might well exceed the ‘average’ but then, surely it is that very raising of our aspirations through which movie stardom is defined? In my view, Gwyneth Paltrow is a movie star in the classic sense.
If writers explored Planet Paltrow in just a little more detail, they’d find a fragile, decent and vulnerable woman. She loved her father (Bruce Paltrow, the director) deeply and still misses him; she’s striving to do the best for her own children in turn (hence the ‘uncoupling’: removing any tension from a household). In that sense, Gwyneth Paltrow is not so different from you or me. She just happens to be blighted by beauty, talent and an over-earnest determination to do the right thing.
James Murphy is a graduate of New College, Oxford and the University of Law. He is currently working on a screenplay.
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