Sunday, October 02, 2005

Gwyneth as "Math is Easy" Barbie

Remember how there was a Barbie a while back that said, "Math is hard!"? The movie Proof is the tale of one tall, skinny, gorgeous blond woman's ability to simultaneously be a math genius and frolic around the UChicago campus, making everyone else--extras I recognized as UChicago students, UChicago grads watching the movie, and so on--look bad. Those proofs! Those abs!

I really liked Proof. But as with other movies in which Gwyneth Paltrow plays a genius (The Royal Tenenbaums, anyone?), her looks are distracting. It's not that someone couldn't be really good at math and really good-looking. And Paltrow is a talented enough actress to make the audience believe she's a genius. It's just that in both movies she's playing a character who's not supposed to be stunningly beautiful. No one in Proof reacts to her as if she is--her sister expresses no jealousy, the guy after her is interested in either her own or her father's mathematical ability. He once complements her on her appearance, but in the way one complements a friend who for once wore something other than sweatpants (a common situation at Chicago), not in the way one reacts to someone who looks like Gwyneth Paltrow. As in The Royal Tenenbaums, a gaunt figure meant to represent a tragic character ends up looking, on-screen, more Audrey Hepburn than mopey goth girl from your high school.


Isaac said...

But isn't that the basic fun of movies: we get to pretend that it's normal to be amazing looking? I wouldn't call the other actors in the movie average looking either.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Anthony Hopkins is "amazing looking?" Not so sure. Jake Gyllenhal is nice-looking but nothing extraordinary, certainly not the Gwyneth of men. And the actress playing the sister looks typical for a Lincoln Park trixie (a type of Chicago yuppie)-turned-NYC yuppie.

But what gets to me with the Gwyneth-as-genius genre is that unless paired with, say, Brad Pitt, she makes everyone around her look average, and it becomes difficult to believe that the other characters are reacting merely to her, ahem, beautiful mind. If all actors in a movie are merely better-than-average, and there are no UChicago student extras, then you can suspend disbelief and imagine that the world of the movie is a plausible one. But that's not the case in "Proof."

Dylan said...

Paltrow is the most looks-overrated actress of her generation. She's mildly attractive, that's it.

Maureen said...

And yet we still get "I'm too pretty to do math" T-shirts at Urban Outfitters.

Attractive mathematicians of the world, unite! We have nothing to lose but our self-deprecation!