Today we investigate a fascinating and difficult question plaguing what I’m assuming is most people in the movie watching world: DOES ANNE HATHAWAY SUCK? In my experience with watching movies with friends and family, Hathaway produces the widest range of violent reactions, from outright adoration to malicious hatred. Regardless, we know she’s going to be around for a while going forward, so I have to know the answer to this troubling question. Otherwise, how will I know how to react to her in the future? With admiration for her beauty and talent or scorn for her annoying voice and lavish bravado? Unlike our previous debates, this one simply pits one star against our minds, so I will deviate from the usual categorized format.
For most of us, 2001 brought us our first glimpse of Hathaway, with The Princess Diaries showing her to be a princess who just didn’t know it yet. For me, the problem was simple: she just wasn’t that likable! Julie Andrews was the highlight of the movie (along with Mandy Moore killing it). As Mia Thermopolis, Hathaway was a jaded high school loser who was forced to embrace the elegance and propriety expected of someone close to the throne. We expected Hathaway, following this breakout, to be a hidden, humble princess after this, and for a brief time she fit these expectations. 2004 brought both a Diaries sequel and Ella Enchanted, both lackluster movies through no fault of Hathaway’s. With those movies released, judgment could not really yet be made on Hathaway. She had played two different princessy characters with large chips on their shoulder, but her polarizing confidence and zeal had not quite alienated viewers yet. But she still wasn’t quite the wholly lovable force one expected from an emerging female star in Hollywood.
Things got a little complicated over the next couple of years, with Hathaway showing off substantial dramatic chops while still dipping her toes into lighter fare. 2005 brought Brokeback Mountain and Hoodwinked!, with praise heaped upon the former and its stars, though Hathaway was largely overshadowed by the performances of Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. Inarguably a great movie, Brokeback did not really do any harm or good for Hathaway in my estimation. Hoodwinked!, sadly, remains largely unappreciated despite its modest box office success. This does not help Anne’s cause, especially considering her role as a spunky little girl was animated, separating us from a lovable incarnation of the star. Next came a movie that continued to spark debate over her suckiness: The Devil Wears Prada. You would think going up against a tyrannical boss (the wonderfully evil Meryl Streep) would augment Hathaway’s likability, but it didn’t help that she very easily succumbs to being a bitch upon entering the cutthroat world of fashion. She sort of learns her lesson by the end of the story, but Andy as a character still remains a somewhat annoying person, to the point where you don’t really care whether or not she regains her sense of self by the end of the movie.
The next year, 2007, Hathaway played Jane Austen. Gross.
2008 brought a big commercial success in Get Smart and Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for her role as Kym in Rachel Getting Married. The former once again built up her bankability without really solidifying her spot as a beloved superstar. Steve Carell’s infectious likability dominated, perhaps preventing Hathaway from working her way into more hearts. For Rachel Getting Married, Hathaway’s heartbreaking turn certainly deserved the praise heaped upon it, but the critical acclaim that comes with playing a self-condemning drug addict does not a mainstream star make, evidently. This left her in an awkward place, undeniably talented and respected but not receiving the same type of love as some of her female contemporaries. Maybe in some sort of effort to rectify this, she chose some mainstream chick flicks for 2009 and 2010. Unfortunately, those were Bride Wars and Valentine’s Day, respectively. Not exactly a stunning couple of years. For a lot of true movie fans, movies like these two leave sour tastes in the mouth and negative associations with anyone starring, so Hathaway did not exactly end up in an ideal position.
Here’s where I begin to find it hard to condemn Hathaway. She’s still just 31 and in these past few years — the prime of her career — she has shown incredible versatility and reminded us of her still-growing potential. She shed her reputation and clothing to frustrate Gyllenhaal in Love and Other Drugs, once again proving that she cares more about real acting than fitting into the mold of a Hollywood starlet. I admit I still found her a tad annoying in that Golden Globe-nominated role, but that speaks more to her ability than personality. Then came what very well could be her most incredible feat to date: surviving the 2011 Oscars alongside the incomparable James Franco. The whole show has been mocked and regretted endlessly, but any blame placed on Hathaway’s shoulders is misguided. What could have been a huge boost to her rep was torpedoed by The Great and Powerful Ass. From there, Hathaway made sure to forge her own Oscar night success, bringing home Best Supporting Actress for Les Mis. Just months before the musical blockbuster, she pleasantly surprised the whole GWW family by impressively filling the shoes of Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. Now I’m not here to debate the beauty and legacy of TDKR (that comes later), but for now let’s leave it that Hathaway held her own next to Christian Bale, pulling off the delicate art of delivering comic-booky one-liners and slinking her way around. Still, though, Selina Kyle thrives as a thief because of the lasting chip on her shoulder, angered by the alleged greed and ignorance of people like the Wayne family. So where does that leave us? Where does Anne Hathaway stand along the sucking scale? Where is she headed?
When first thinking about this conundrum, I thought my answer would be a fairly confident yes. Hathaway has often rubbed me the wrong way, but working through this debate makes me think that discomfort comes not from her but through the way we expect our star actresses to conduct themselves on and off the big screen. Rachel McAdams and Emma Stone and actresses like Julia Roberts before them become megastars by banking on their sass or laugh or smile or damseliness, but Hathaway refuses to live by one defining trait or pattern. It seems to me that those of us who have bemoaned her as annoying or overconfident or detached have punished her for simply breaking the expectations of a Hollywood star, clashing with our hope to be able to confine celebrities in the comfortable confines of what we see from them in their work. Her characters always seem to be playing from behind, fighting against curses or bad hair or corrupt bureaucracies, and because of this we don’t know what to make of her. In the world of Kym and Selina and Andy Sachs, people aren’t always nice, and institutions sometimes win out over the individual. In order to exist and succeed in these worlds, one has to be confident and persistent even to the point of being annoying, or else the status quo will remain untouched. We don’t let our famous women bounce around creatively like our leading men, but Hathaway is trying to change things up. Hate her if you like; stick by your predictable actresses if you must. But know this: Anne Hathaway, in fact, does NOT suck.
Final Verdict: She doesn’t suck! We just need to widen our expectations.