Is Gwyneth Paltrow Really That Bad? Yes, And No

Illustration for article titled Is Gwyneth Paltrow Really That Bad? Yes, And No

Maybe it's just contrariness, but lately I've been feeling sort of defensive about Gwyneth Paltrow: the recent vitriol - including charges of plagiarism - seems out of proportion. Anna disagrees. Both sides, after the jump!

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Sadie: No. I know GOOP can be risibly tone-deaf, and I know we're all in high dudgeon about the economy...but is she really that bad? I mean, really? Let's look the plus side: she's made some decent movies. Say what you will about her Oscar win, Shakespeare in Love remains a solid view; Emma was pretty good; she was funny on SNL; and who doesn't like Margot Tenenbaum?

And let's play devil's advocate here: is what she does on GOOP really that different from the recommendations and musings we get from Oprah or Martha Stewart? The difference may be that she was raised in privilege; but because she had advantages doesn't mean she's lazy - there are a lot of celeb spawn out there doing a lot less. We resent her taking the time to instruct us on attaining her perfection, but in a way, don't we want it both ways? It's annoying when stars are mysterious and elusive a la Angelina, yet when someone spills - and obviously she's going to be rich and oblivious and out of touch when she does! - we pillory her.

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I guess the main thing, for me, is that apparently she's pretty nice. The few people I know who've had dealings with her (one of them's a teacher of mine who taught her in high school) have all said she was kind, generous, and genuinely interested in non-celebs in a way most stars simply are not. We hear so much about celebrities who are assholes, that should count for something. At the end of the day, can you really fault someone for obliviousness? Well, yes: no one likes to be patronized. But the thing is, she really seems to think she's offering useful information to people, and is hurt and baffled by the backlash. And let's be frank: GOOP is the gift that keeps on giving, and I for one like presents.

Anna: Yes. Sadie, let me say first off that you are a far more generous person on the subject of celebrities - and Gwyneth Paltrow in particular - than I will ever be. The woman has long come off like a phony, as evidenced by this self-satisfied, overly smiley appearance at the Grammys last night:

Okay, the wink at the end to her husband was cute.

Listen, I've had an admittedly strange dislike for Ms. Paltrow and her offscreen image for a long time, from back in the mid '90s when I was an assistant at an entertainment magazine and was assigned to cover numerous parties and events, many of which she attended. These were usually small, "private", Miramax-run functions - this was the era in which Harvey Weinstein was grooming her for A-list status and Oscar glory, the era right before Emma and Shakespeare in Love; when she had just begun dating Brad Pitt and when NY Mag tattooed a large, virtual target on her back by putting her on the cover and deeming her the "Luckiest Girl In The World" - and Gwyneth Paltrow, while "nice", never struck me as particularly authentic or sincere. Maybe it was the stint at Spence, or the fact that her entree into Hollywood came courtesy of her parents, or maybe it was that she was more fabulous than I ever would be, but there was something about her mannerisms both on and off-screen - condecension? snobbery? actually, I'd describe it as "smugness" - that always rubbed me the wrong way.

[On a somewhat-related note, I went into my closet yesterday and dug out a paparazzi picture of her (that's me in the background trying to pretend I am unaware of the camera) from a private screening back in March 1996. I "defaced" it and put it up in my cubicle at the time. Yeah, the bad blood runs deep.]

Illustration for article titled Is Gwyneth Paltrow Really That Bad? Yes, And No
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I disagree with you: Celebrities of her caliber are not always going to be "rich and oblivious and out of touch" when they spill, and Gwyneth Paltrow has had the poor judgment to share her elitist, oblivious and out of touch opinions with the world at a time when no one wants to hear them. And comparing her to Oprah or Martha Stewart is giving her way too much credit; I fear for a world in which women are on a first name basis with Gwyneth Paltrow and sent into fits of screaming, consumptive ecstasy at every mention of her Favorite Things. The difference between Gwyneth Paltrow and Oprah and Martha is that the latter two built their audience - and their audience's trust in them - slowly, surely, and with sincerity. They are also self-made women. This GOOP and gym stuff seems random, arrogant, presumptuous and, at the same time, obvious... exactly what you'd expect a privileged, native New Yorker with an uptown pedigree and a downtown designs to say and do. (Sometimes I think Gwyneth Paltrow is an animated version of the worst parts of the NY Times' "Styles" and "Metro" sections.) But this isn't just about GOOP and designer gyms; it's about the years and years of her saying stupid and/or snotty stuff ("I can't pretend to be someone who makes $25,000 a year" - note to casting directors, this Oscar winner can't hack a Monster's Ball type role!); it's about that friendship with Madonna; it's about the ice queen image she's done little or nothing to counteract; it's about those pictures of her sunning herself on Valentino Garavani's yacht; it's about that rumored indiscretion while she was engaged to Brad Pitt; that "I Am African" advertisement; oh, and did I mention Madonna? It's about the sorts of things that are well-documented and widely reviled, and the sorts of things you hear whispered among friends who know more than you do, and, of course, it's about me.

Because the problem is, even though I didn't like Gwyneth Paltrow when she was the ice queen who never made an effort to thaw out, my hatred of this new iteration makes it clear that I don't like her when she tries something new. I guess the woman can't win.

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Related: Fishy's GOOP Might Be A Copycat [DListed]
Gwyneth Paltrow: The Girl Who Fell To Earth [NY Post]
Gwyneth Paltrow To Elle: I'm No Goody Two Shoes [NY Daily News]

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DISCUSSION

mockmyworld-old
MockMyWorld

Oh, boy. I gotta weigh in on this, 'cause I can speak to both sides of this debate. Apologies in advance; this will probably be long.

I had something of a girl crush on Gwyneth when she was new on the scene in '96. She'd been really good in stuff like Flesh and Bone, Seven, and Hard Eight, she had terrific style, she had a kind of unapologetic intelligence and presence that I thought of as "that women's college thing" (girls' school thing, whatever, same difference), and in spite of the animosity that was already building toward her it was pretty clear that she was actually a nice person. She clinched it for me by doing justice to my fave Jane Austen novel in Emma, which remains the movie I've seen the most times during its theatrical run (though that was also down to Jeremy Northam and the rest of the excellent cast).

A few years after her Oscar win, though, I began to feel disappointed with what you might call the Weinsteinification of her career: movie choices that were adventurous within a mainstream context, but not otherwise, and that never quite lived up to their potential. Harvey Weinstein made her, got her the Oscar (in retrospect, "bought" does not seem too strong a word), and eventually broke her by tethering her to that Miramax aesthetic, but it's pretty clear by now that that aesthetic represents her own tastes as well. With all the resources she already had at her disposal, she really didn't need Hollywood, and she could have done almost anything with her career, taken all sorts of chances. She could have been Samantha Morton or Emily Watson, an actor's actor - she really is that talented, believe it or not. Still, I didn't hate her for this failure, and continued to defend her to my Gwynnie-bashing friends well after most people considered this stance untenable.

You know what finally put me in the anti-Gwyneth camp? "Apple." That curse of a name she gave her firstborn was an unprecedented and definitive lapse in judgment, proof positive that she had ceased to be a regular citizen and now lived in the celebrity bubble where people are protected from the consequences of their own pretentious, ludicrous choices. What was she thinking? "Apple" is a child's name (actually, it's not a name for a human being of any age, but let that pass), but that girl will be a grown woman one day; she'll try to find work, she'll have sex. Through all of this, she'll be known as "Apple." ("Moses," while it still suggests the ego and attempted specialness of so many celebrity baby names, is close enough to normalcy that I'll give it a pass.)

GOOP and the many grating statements Gwyneth has made in connection with it are just more emissions from that protected celebrity bubble she lives in nowadays; I'm no longer surprised to hear this sort of b.s. coming from her direction. Still, she's human, and it sounds as if all may not be well in her world lately. Lainey, whose gossip blog is getting deserved love upthread, has a theory that GOOP is Gwyneth's response to crisis: rumored marital problems, career decline (Iron Man aside), the fact that even her genetically superior body is starting to show signs of fallibility. She's invested a lot in GOOP emotionally, perhaps; hence her brittle, defensive reactions to all the criticism.

Gwyneth, I can't get with you any more; you set my bullshit detector off too much. Still, I have no truly haterish hate for you. If you can manage it, just try to check yourself before you wreck yourself.

/novel. Ah, it's so late, no one's going to read this anyway!