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The Penny Lane Effect: There's A Difference Between A Great Actor And A Great Performance

By Joanna Robinson | Miscellaneous | June 7, 2011 |

By Joanna Robinson | Miscellaneous | June 7, 2011 |

It’s no secret I love Almost Famous. In my opinion it’s one of the few perfect films that exist. I know not everyone agrees and I certainly know not everyone agrees with my assessment of Kate Hudson’s performance in that flick. She is, astonishingly good. Charismatic, sly, heartbreaking and raw. When that film came out I fell as much in love with Kate Hudson as young William Miller did with Penny Lane. The problem is I confused the actress for the role. In the intervening years, Hudson has proven herself time and time again to be a featherweight when it comes to acting. She has never again come close to whatever magic it is she tapped into when playing Penny Lane. Was the role just that perfect for her? Was Cameron Crowe just that good at drawing out whatever talent she has buried under all that McConoughorror? Who can say?

Well, fool me once shame on me. Fool me twice-wait, I already messed that up, didn’t I? This brings me to Jennifer Lawrence. The beautiful, young (age 20) actress garnered much acclaim for Winter’s Bone and, based on that performance alone, landed pivotal roles in not one but two major Hollywood franchises (X-Men, The Hunger Games). Problem is, folks, I will be completely honest with you, she was staggeringly underwhelming in X-Men. (I believe my friend called her “remarkably pedestrian.” Yes we are those people.) I said as much yesterday and received this comment from long-time Pajiban Christian H.:

Okay, you need to lay off Jennifer Lawrence. Winter’s Bone is fucking beautiful, and she was insanely great in it. You want to take pot-shots at young actresses? Fine. At least lay off one of the good ones.

I agree, my friend. Winter’s Bone was fucking beautiful. Jennifer Lawrence was insanely great in it. But don’t confuse a great performance for a great actress. Don’t make my mistake. Don’t allow yourself to be Penny Lane’d. To help you all remember The Penny Lane Effect, here is a list of young, often untested actors who were praised (and Oscar-nominated, oh boy!) for a particular role. Some of these actors are fine, serviceable performers who just never lived up to their initial potential. (Ryan O’Neal, there’s still hope, buddy). Do I think these actors deserve praise for these roles? Yes, absolutely, 90% yes. (Sorry, Mira.) But it’s dangerous to judge an actor based on one nominated performance.

By the by, this list is illustrated with a fun new feature called The Hollywood Career-O-Matic which is based on data from Rotten Tomatoes. Go play with it yourself when you’re done here. The charts are included just for fun and aren’t meant to prove anything because a) the greatness of a movie is certainly not made or broken by a single performance and b) sometimes Rotten Tomatoes is full of crap.

Cuba Gooding Jr.—“Jerry Maguire”
Gooding Career.jpg

Goldie Hawn—“Private Benjamin”
Hawn Career.jpg

Kate Hudson—“Almost Famous”
Hudson Career.jpg

Timothy Hutton—“Ordinary People”
Hutton Career.jpg

Ryan O’Neal—“Love Story”
O'Neal Career.jpg

Haley Joel Osment—“Sixth Sense”
Osment Career.jpg

Anna Paquin—“The Piano”
Paquin Career.jpg

Mira Sorvino—“Mighty Aphrodite”
Sorvino Career.jpg

Jennifer Tilly—“Bullets Over Broadway”
Tilly Career.jpg

Oprah Winfrey—“The Color Purple”
Winfrey Career.jpg

By they by, I’m not saying Jennifer Lawrence is a bad actress. As this list proves, it would be as ridiculous to judge her based on one performance, good or mediocre. I hope she is as fantastic as her Winter’s Bone performance promised she might be. I hope nothing but the best for both Lawrence and young Hailee Steinfeld, but they’ve got a ways to go before they win me over completely.

Joanna Robinson almost included Minnie Driver on this list and then she realized she absolutely loves Minnie Driver and wishes she were in more things.