Jennifer Lawrence: an essential viewing guide

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It’s easy to think that Jennifer Lawrence has been gadding about Hollywood – tripping over herself, giving endearingly self-deprecating interviews, acting her not inconsiderable pants off – since time immemorial. Lest we forget: she's been acting professionally for less than a decade. Yet in that time, Lawrence has had the sort of career that actors twice her age would kill for, effortlessly blending big-budget franchise thrills with critically-acclaimed dramatic weight. Now at the ripe old age of 26, we felt it a good time to re-examine her brief-but-fruitful career in more detail.

Essential viewing: Winter’s Bone (2010)

Jennifer Lawrence

Winter’s Bone, Lawrence’s first leading role, is the very definition of a breakthrough performance. There had been earlier bit parts, largely in television, although they rarely offered much of a showcase for her talent. But this low-budget drama – which saw Lawrence play a tough-as-nails teenager raising a rural family while hunting a fugitive father – made Hollywood sit up and take notice. Aged just 20, the actress earned her first Oscar nomination. In our original five-star review, Empire called Lawrence’s performance “indomitable”, and a “truly standout piece of work”. Worth watching, if only to witness the birth of a star.

Essential viewing: The Hunger Games (2012)

Jennifer Lawrence

Funny to think now, but the odds were not necessarily in the favour of this franchise. Back in 2012, adaptations of YA novels were not the guaranteed money-printing machines they are today. The Hunger Games changed the landscape, with Lawrence leading the resistance, and in the process establishing herself as a banner star. Three sequels were to follow, but the original – blending expansive sci-fi thrills with intimate adolescent dramatics – remains, arguably, the strongest entry. Empire thought Lawrence was “perfect as Katniss” in our original review. An almighty legion of three-finger-saluting fans concurred.

Jennifer Lawrence

Silver Linings Playbook is a strange beast: a romantic comedy that is neither conventionally romantic nor particularly funny; depicting a formerly violent bipolar disorder sufferer making googly-eyes at a sex-addicted widower; concluding in a dance-off where the heroes lose. Also, Chris Tucker is in it. The whole enterprise does not sound like a recipe for Oscar glory, but glory came. David O. Russell’s film takes a bracingly frank approach to mental illness, and infuses it with crackling chemistry between Lawrence and Bradley Cooper (the first of four collaborations so far). Empire’s review noted that Lawrence “continues to mature and surprise as a leading lady” – and sure enough, the Academy agreed.

Jennifer Lawrence

Before she volunteered as tribute, Lawrence’s first taste of big-money franchises came in 2011 with this X-Men prequel, which saw her join a bevy of rosy-cheeked up-and-comers to form a fresh new mutant line-up. Lawrence played Mystique, the role originally played by Rebecca Romijn, which required a patience and buttock-testing eight hours in the make-up chair. But behind the blue prosthetics, the film found a previously unexplored humanity for the character, delving into Raven’s early relationship with Charles Xavier and her place within the X-universe. Our reviewer thought it was “...all you'd expect from an X-Men film (or spin-off, or prequel), but not all you'd hope for.”

For the fan: Joy (2015)

Jennifer Lawrence

David O. Russell is Lawrence’s most fertile creative collaborator (she recently told an interviewer that she hopes to work with Russell until he dies). Their most recent partnership is perhaps the weakest, but dedicated J-Law fans will find much to appreciate. Lawrence plays the titular Joy Mangano, the de facto matriarch of a none-more-dysfunctional family, who finds time between babysitting her divorced parents and ex-husband to invent a ‘miracle mop’. Worth watching for the performances, if not necessarily the plot. Empire’s review spoke of “another dazzling Jennifer Lawrence performance” with “some inspired moments”, but felt the film “never quite gels”.

One to avoid: House At The End Of The Street (2012)

Jennifer Lawrence

Boasting one of the most aggressively bland film names in recent memory (it may as well have been called Two Bedroom Semi-Detached Town House), things don’t improve beyond the title on the poster. A quickly forgettable horror, it sees Lawrence assume scream queen duties in a house haunted of murder and psychological abuse. “A few old favourites like the inconveniently wonky torch and the probably-not-quite-killed maniac deliver the required jolts,” wrote Empire’s reviewer, “but early promise dwindles to hokum.” For Lawrence, it’s a rare blot on an otherwise damn impressive copybook.