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Was Jennifer Lawrence Too Young to Play Rosalyn in 'American Hustle'?

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by Ryan Lattanzio
January 14, 2014 7:17 PM
50 Comments
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Jennifer Lawrence in 'American Hustle.'
Jennifer Lawrence in 'American Hustle.'

Age is just a number. But what if that number is 23 and you're Jennifer Lawrence?

It seems like just yesterday that the quippy, vanity-free, red carpet-impaired star was an indie debutante. Now she's Katniss Everdeen, and muse of David O. Russell, who directed her all the way to an Academy Award last year, a Golden Globe win earlier this week, and likely to her third Oscar nomination this Thursday for her explosively brazen performance in "American Hustle."

In a recent Film Experience column, writer Matthew Eng argues that America's Sarcastic Sweetheart was simply too young for the part of Rosalyn Rosenfeld, a suburban housewife writ wild who's also the only clean conscience in a messy film full of messy characters always lying to each other or themselves. Rosalyn is the flowers beneath the garbage, as she says of her sweet-and-sour nail polish. Eng writes:

'Hustle' is perhaps the first movie, post-Oscar, that knows and willingly presents not only Jennifer the Bona Fide Silver Screen Star, but also Jennifer the Jokester. The Comedienne. The Ham. In essence, Jennifer As We Know Her, except in period garb; nothing less, and yet nothing much more.

Is the problem that she doesn't fully disappear into the role (a complaint other critics have leveled at the film) a testament to her shortcomings as an actress, or is it that we've gotten so balled up in Jennifer Lawrence the Persona that we can't see straight? Are we gaga for the spiky women she portrays, or is it just Lawrence herself we're in love with?

I'd argue both. In "American Hustle," Jennifer Lawrence gets to play dress-up as much as Amy Adams' scantily clad trickster: she gets to be Jennifer Lawrence the Id, going-for-broke while shaping Rosalyn into a deliciously comic creature, a more unhinged and unstable Betty Draper, a young Mabel Longhetti without the straightjacket. 

And while Rosalyn's florid garb and wanton '70s updo may be the stuff of broad caricature, amid all the spunk and the manic lip-syncing and the feline sexuality, Lawrence takes her to real and raw places in two key scenes: the bathroom kiss-off opposite Amy Adams, and a naked table-side confession to the man for whom she'll eventually leave her husband. "I don't like change. It's really hard for me," the caged bird sings.

In his eloquent column, Matthew Eng doesn't just sling arrows. He admires the performance, though from a distance, calling Russell's choice "age inappropriate" and a feat of "stunt casting," as if Lawrence were some life-sized doll Russell gets to dress up and play housewife with:

If there is any one viewer who can honestly say that they believed -  even for a second - that Jennifer Lawrence was ever really that woman, unhappily married for years to that man, counting the days in that house, and nearly burning down that kitchen, can he/she please stand up?

Is the 23-year-old star too young for the part? Agewise, yes. You're grasping at straws if you buy the generous gap of years between Rosayn and Irving (Christian Bale). But even if the character might've better tailored for a more mature actress like Marisa Tomei or Maria Bello (huh?) as Eng suggests, who cares? Lawrence oh-so effectively pantomimes Rosalyn's turbulent inner life, even if an early-twentysomething couldn't possibly know that life, that in her case, age really is just a number. And who's counting? Lawrence is sublimely talented no matter how you dice it.

So what do the J-Law backlash and her recent Globe win portend for the Oscars? She'll surely be among the list of names announced in the Supporting Actress category this Thursday, but fervent support for Lupita Nyong'o, in a more Seriously Important Film, still thrives. The whole issue begs a question that's been on the table all season: Will the Academy be swayed by a film whose pleasures are easy and accessible, or a by a serious film about American slavery that leaves a great deal of responsibility with the audience?

50 Comments

  • Angie | June 9, 2014 10:54 PMReply

    Jennifer Lawrence is beyond overrated and over hyped. Don't get me wrong, she was witty and funny in SLP but was it Oscar worthy? This role in American Hustle was all over the place... Her accent was way off, I didn't know if she was from Long Island or from Missouri! Amy Adams was queen in American Hustle, it's sad that J.Law was the only one getting the credit and praise. J.Law needs to change her range; she's always the same character just in different clothing and different films.
    Unfortunately, I think J.Law will fall into obscurity in a couple of years even though it seems she isn't going anywhere. It's the early Oscar syndrome! The Hunger Games put her in front of the world and she has been winning awards everywhere for performances that are good but not outstanding. I like her, I hope she can change it up and show us she's more than the crazy yet hilariously sympathetic woman in every film.

  • Franciely Rosier | April 5, 2014 11:11 AMReply

    People who are saying she's too young probability would like to see her in those retarded disney's movies playing a 16 years old girl, she's 23 not a teen , sure in Hunger Games it was great, but she can play other kind of roles too. She was great in American Hustle. JL is a wonderful actress that knows what she's doing! Go Jenn!

  • LW | July 21, 2014 2:20 PM

    That's a generalization. I am quite a fan of Jennifer Lawrence, but I feel that her performances lacked a certain maturity/wisdom that would have pushed them from good to outstanding. She scraped the surface of her more experienced characters rather than probing them. I think she would have slain the performances with a bit more life experience to channel into her acting. Her characters were raw and imperfect, but she seemed very clean-faced to me.

  • Okdone | March 29, 2014 12:49 AMReply

    When you see the acting, the acting is not good. Yes JLaw was too young for the role, but the acting on all parts was obvious. It was not the movie that everyone says it was. It was good, but forgettable. The acting was not on par with the true greats. The ones you get lost in and forget who is starring. Or cry, get angry or some emotion and wonder how did they do that? This was not that film. A great launching pad for the actors, individually.

  • Anonymous | March 26, 2014 7:07 PMReply

    Would everyone quit whining about "Oh, she's too young." I completely disagree. I loved her performance, personally.

  • Brianna | March 3, 2014 2:14 PMReply

    I just saw the movie, and I came online looking to see if anyone else had this opinion. I love Jennifer Lawrence and think she is wonderful at what she does, but I just think she looked waaay too young for the role, and personally, I found her youthful appearance to be very distracting. I expected the makeup and hair to help, but it didn't; it just looked like she was a young girl playing dress-up. There's nothing wrong with casting an actor in a role that is meant for someone of a different age-- provided they look the part. For example, Margot Robbie is the same age as Jennifer Lawrence, but she visibly looks much older and therefore blended well into her 'Wolf of Wall Street' role.

  • Bastet | January 20, 2014 10:42 PMReply

    Hollywood is deluded when it comes to this actress. She keeps getting cast on roles more siitable to an actress 10-15 years older.

    In Silver Linings Playbook she was meant to be a widow. Personally, I just couldn't get into the movie premise because it wasn't believable that this 20 yr old actress had been married already. It also wasn't believable that she wpuld be attracted to a man around 20 years older with serious mental health issues.

    And now they've done it again. She may be a good actress but it's hard to see her actual skill against the backdrop of male fantasy.

  • Okdone | March 29, 2014 12:55 AM

    Bastet, You are so right. She is too young for the roles we are supposed to believe which makes the whole experience unbelievable. If they had casted with age appropriate actors they would have had a better impact. I read the book of Silver Lining, and never conjured a young JLaw. And though it was the "Darling" of the Academy voters, I don't think it resonated with the everyday book readers and film audience. I am beginning to think every movie every book is written and acted for the Screen Actors Guild. Even the little independents have fallen for this.

  • Dede | January 17, 2014 5:37 PMReply

    She is terrible in an terrible movie. American Hustle? Who are they kidding. It's a Hustle alright.

  • Donella | January 19, 2014 3:57 PM

    Shoes... whatever.

    TOH asked a question. The question got answered. I'm looking forward to Lupita Nyong'o being acknowledged by the Academy.

  • Shoes | January 19, 2014 12:28 AM

    At both of you.

    Very brutal to a young actress. Too bad she will be crying herself all the way to the bank in her shiny Porsche. And you? Nothing. I hope people come up to you during your day job and say you suck at your job. Unlike Jen lawrence, I must say

  • Donella | January 18, 2014 10:42 AM

    They certainly hustled the Academy.

    A flim flam of a film if I ever saw one.

  • Hmm | January 17, 2014 8:02 AMReply

    "GUEST" has it right. J-Law wasn't playing a 23 year old, but she also wasn't playing a middle-aged housewife. She was playing a young-ish wife, who'd been in a previous relationship, had a kid, the relationship ended, and she ended up settling with an older man who took the kid as his own. Maybe she was playing up 5 or even 10 years, but she certainly wasn't playing up 20-25 years, which is what she'd have had to be doing if you think this was a part for Tomei or Bello. You've got to read the film more carefully. As "GUEST" says, it was referenced pretty explicitly.

  • Guest | January 17, 2014 3:56 AMReply

    How many morons are there in the film-viewing public that don't realize that Lawrence's role is not of middle-aged woman, but of a young, immature and reckless trophy wife around her age. It's even referenced in the film for Christ sake.

    Bloody idiots.

  • Let's Be Real | January 16, 2014 3:15 PMReply

    Wow, a lot of people seem hung up on age. Jennifer is more than mature enough to inhabit the roles she play. She was the heart and soul of Silver Linings, and she breathed life into that film every time she was on screen. That's why she won for that.

    And she more than held her own in the microwave scene with Bale. She knows who she is and isn't afraid to express herself and that seems to threaten a lot of people. Get over your own insecurities and stop projects your issues on a brilliant actress, regardless of her age. I'm not a big fan of David O. Russell, either, but stop taking your hate for him out on her. She's spectacular.

  • unconvinced | January 16, 2014 12:39 PMReply

    Look she is (obviously) a very talented actress. I thought she was brilliant in Winter's Bone. But I did just not buy her in both American Hustle and Silver Linings. Because yes, simply she was too young; and it just threw me off with half of the things she was claiming to have gone through - which is a shame because her performances were great in them.

    That being said, I also still feel that the praise for her performances in these films (and actually for the films in general) is a little overblown. She's good, very good even, but are the characters that challenging to play? Are they a huge reach for her? Can everyone honestly say they will be memorable in 10 years time? I'm not so convinced.

  • unconvinced | January 16, 2014 12:39 PMReply

    Look she is (obviously) a very talented actress. I thought she was brilliant in Winter's Bone. But I did just not buy her in both American Hustle and Silver Linings. Because yes, simply she was too young; and it just threw me off with half of the things she was claiming to have gone through - which is a shame because her performances were great in them.

    That being said, I also still feel that the praise for her performances in these films (and actually for the films in general) is a little overblown. She's good, very good even, but are the characters that challenging to play? Are they a huge reach for her? Can everyone honestly say they will be memorable in 10 years time? I'm not so convinced.

  • Donella | January 16, 2014 10:38 AMReply

    If both Casino and Goodfellas were not so clearly memorable and sharply defined in my memory, I could be more understanding of the bizarre tonal shifts in American Hustle, but David O. Russell did borrow from those classic movies and one aspect was his encouragement of Jennifer Lawrence to attempt to update Sharon Stone's vibrant supporting role in Casino.

    No.

    Lawrence is talented but has insufficient experience to hold her own in scenes with Christian Bale. Bale outdoes Lawrence everytime and it makes the viewing tilt off-balance to watch Lawrence over-compensate for her lack of experience with loud, hammy, over-the-top shouting, screaming, broad gestures, crazy hair, and temper-tantruming. Whereas the more experienced actors are subtle and disappear into their characters, Lawrence brings what she remembers from Silver Linings Playbook and throws in some of her own personality to the role yanking the viewer out of the movie each time as the noise she makes clangs like a bell.

    By the time she did a karaoke of Live and Let Die, I concluded that it wasn't completely Lawrence's fault. She did as directed. The blame could easily be shared between Lawrence and her director, David O. Russell.

    The two outstanding performances in American Hustle despite Russell's pale imitations of greater movies are Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner. The two of them delivered what they needed to despite Russell.

  • GUEST | February 1, 2014 9:40 AM

    David O. Russell's directing style is very different to other directors, he likes to make changes to the script on the fly (there is a lot of imporv when he is directing) and he lets his actors/actresses just perform the scene and then he puts cameras where he feels captures the scene the best whereas most films is based around the position of the cameras, this is why the actors/actresses in the movie feel so natural.

  • Anuds | January 25, 2014 7:21 PM

    Actually Lawrence outshines Bale easily in every scene.

  • unconvinced | January 16, 2014 12:44 PM

    Agreed! Every film he makes feels like a cheaper copy of something else. I don't what his style actually is? They are all ok films, but its really bizarre how much hype there is for what are ultimately just average. (I Heart Huckabees was also really overrated in my opinion).

  • unconvinced | January 16, 2014 12:44 PM

    Agreed! Every film he makes feels like a cheaper copy of something else. I don't what his style actually is? They are all ok films, but its really bizarre how much hype there is for what are ultimately just average. (I Heart Huckabees was also really overrated in my opinion).

  • TuffsNotEnuff | January 16, 2014 9:55 AMReply

    So ??? In the movie version, Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld is no where near 57 years old. He's more like 40. Maybe 45. If you peg the Rosalyn Rosenfeld character at JL's real age of 23, that means Irving would have knocked her up as a teenager. What, 15 years old? Maybe 16. Like that never happens on Long Island. (Please, allow an introduction to Joey Buttafuoco and Amy Fisher. 36 and 16, if you please. Joey was a perfect model physically for the movie Irving.)

  • Ron Kolb | January 15, 2014 10:26 PMReply

    Marie Weinberg, the real wife of conman Mel Weinberg was 50 at the time of her apparent suicide in 1982. Her husband was 57 and his British mistress Evelyn Knight Weinberg was 39 (she had changed her name even before Marie apparently hanged herself). Marie had exposed her husband's nefarious activities during Abscam on national TV, and after three months of both public and private harassment primarily from Weinberg, she was dead.
    Once Russell, Bale and others were forced to deal with the ugly truth, the character of the wife was rewritten to make her a drunken manipulative adulteress, and all in an effort to keep "Mel Weinberg" (now Irving Rosenfeld) more likable. Weinberg recently admitted receiving a quarter million for the film, and has called his late wife "a wacky broad."

  • gagafan | January 15, 2014 9:05 PMReply

    The movie was great, the acting supurb and JLawrence top notch. She'll win another Oscar and is well on her way to major stardom! A major player in the film industry and a very nice one at that.

  • tina | January 15, 2014 5:30 PMReply

    She was the only one who deserved an award! Movie wasn't good

  • K. | January 15, 2014 4:27 PMReply

    Are we going to ask the same question about Margot Robbie, she's 23 a mere one month older than Jennifer Lawrence?

  • Temmere | February 11, 2014 9:36 PM

    Is Margot Robbie on the verge of her second undeserved Oscar? No? Then why would we ask the same question about her?

  • Guest | January 17, 2014 3:58 AM

    Exactly. The bias is palpable.

  • TuffsNotEnuff | January 16, 2014 9:59 AM

    Margot Robbie. And here I'd gone on for years thinking that the Viagra ads' warning about a "four hour erection" was puff.

    She could raise the dead.

  • rodie | January 15, 2014 11:06 AMReply

    I thought Rosalyn had her baby when she was 16 or so and now she is about 23. I didn't get the impression that she and Irving had been together for longer than a couple years. So maybe they met and got married when she was around 20? Either way, Lawrence seems to be the PERFECT age to play a young mother and bride. I don't see what's at issue here...

  • Marley82 | January 15, 2014 10:01 AMReply

    Now you say it? First they praise her, then they ask was she too young? She was one of my many issues with this movie. She's a great actress, but she felt out of place in the film to me and she didn't deserve the Golden Globe over Lupita either, but again Hollywood has this sick obsession with her. I hope she takes a break from acting this year, because she's wearing thin on likability for me at least.

  • Tony | January 15, 2014 8:37 AMReply

    … and so we arrive predictably, and depressingly at the Jennifer Lawrence backlash. It would seem that even charm, self-deprecating humour, and most importantly enormous talent is not enough to guard against this most tedious stop on the fame train. One can only hope that it remains low-key, and that we can pass through it quickly, and with little incident. Though that’s probably too much to ask. All the same, I am heartened by the tenor of the response her.e

    As many have pointed out already, Rosalyn’s youth is more than just an excuse to stunt cast an Oscar winning actress at the height of her popularity. It’s fundamental in understanding her relationship with Irving. Rosalyn is the poster girl for Daddy issues, and she casts Irving, perhaps unconsciously, into a sort of twisted paternal role, that she then rebels against like a troubled teenager (see the ‘science oven’ incident). This is mixed with some childishly brazen attempts to entice him sexually, or use her sexuality almost like a cudgel (the kiss she violently plants on Irving’s mistress) in the war she’s waging to keep control of him, such is her fear of being abandoned. That’s without even bring her child into the equation.

    It is this complexity, much of which emerges in the performance rather than from the text, as well as Lawrence’s natural ability to command the screen, that makes it one of the best performances of the year.

    This is an actress who keeps surprising us. Not only with her seemingly inexhaustible range, but in her ability to demand our attention each time, and with apparent ease at that. Of the potential supporting actress nominees, it is Jennifer and June Squibb who are the scene-stealers (surely the reason supporting categories exist at all). But it is only Jennifer who actually threatens to steal the whole movie she’s belongs to. As many have noted: when she’s not on screen in 'American Hustle', you’re waiting for her to return. That’s not because we’re charmed by the woman in interviews (what nonsense), it’s because she is an utterly captivating talent, the likes of which doesn't come along very often.

    So no, I don't agree with anyone who might claim that she's too young to play Rosalyn in 'American Hustle'. LOL

  • TuffsNotEnuff | January 16, 2014 10:05 AM

    Jennifer Lawrence does on screen what Marilyn Monroe did on screen.

    Maybe smarter, wider range. Maybe a skosh less sexy, a normal personality. Same impact. Wicked funny in person, the both of them.

  • Jules | January 15, 2014 8:26 AMReply

    @BENXPETE: This article is a criticism of the Film Experience essay...contradicting the points that Mathew Eng makes in his argument. The essay was also strategically timed and worded (a week before Oscar nominations no less...how obvious). It would appear that someone is very worried that Jennifer Lawrence just might win another Oscar this year so, articles like this are written, silly memes pop up on the internet, faux outrage over wins, etc.,...it's manufactured, folks. Mr. Latanzio explains that though the age difference is great between the characters that Bale and Lawrence play, it doesn't matter because Lawrence knocks her role out of the park because she is "sublimely talented". Jennifer Lawrence has been receiving consistent praise as an actress since The Poker House right on through to American Hustle...there hasn't been an actress like Lawrence since when???...don't say Julia Roberts because Roberts never had the kind of acclaim that Jennifer Lawrence has. Whenever you stand out, people will try to cut you down out of jealousy, resentment, fear, etc., and they mask their motives or arguments into the kind of points that Mathew Eng writes about in his "essay". In an attempt to try to change the perspective people (read: Academy Voters specifically) have formed and that's it and that's all.

    Ryan Lattanzio has written a great article of support of Jennifer Lawrence as well as the many critics who have been praising Lawrence's performance in American Hustle since the earliest screenings. Great article.

  • lyta | January 15, 2014 1:12 AMReply

    i love about her playing the role is that she is to young, wich is good thinking that is a movie in the '70, where it was normal to see womens in their 20 or something with more than one kid already. if American Hustle would have been a movie based on this time then they would have done the same thing that they did with silver linings playbook. age her so she would look the part
    she is a good actress and i think that at the end she is the reason why the story in american hustle works. and that can only happend if this was a good perfomance. i think she get´s over look compared to Lupita because is not such a out there character. in 12 years Lupita´s character is suffering and dealing with so much drama that normally that is called the best performance, in the case of Jennifer is more of a humorist and even like a cartoon character. but is my pick for supporting at the oscars for that and also because i don´t know if this is Lupita´s range, or if she is a trully good actreess. i haven´t see other movies of her, and in Lawrence case we do know she can play any role, whether is comedy, crazzines, drama, etc.

  • benxpete | January 14, 2014 11:38 PMReply

    Shut up shut up. I love how this "criticism" makes no mention of the time period, nor the supporting dialogue that Bale's character gives for being so enamored with this particular woman. 23 in the 1970s is not the same as 23 today - my mother and all her three sisters were married at 20, and that was normal. It doesnt take a sociologist to know that. Look at the fact that Bale's character could not leave her because she was "so magical." What better choice was there other than Lawrence? No one.

  • No | January 14, 2014 9:45 PMReply

    Uh-oh...here comes the backlash...masquerading as "criticism." This was bound to happen notice; how she was referee to as "J-Law" in the hyperlink. This is first step in stripping a person of their humanity: you reduce them to a persona moniker.

  • Inide Film Minute | January 14, 2014 9:36 PMReply

    C'mon. Really? Can anyone watch this film, or frankly any of JLaw's films thus far, and get lost in such a manufactured controversy? Superb talent wins out. And that attempt to bring race and guilt into the equation is simply low. This is film. Not social justice. In our opinion, there is a lot of guilt out there trying to bring 12 years to the fore, but to use it here in promotion of one fine actor over another is rather low. "Seriously Important Film" (CAPS no less!). Sorry, AH may not be on the greatest list but it is very deserving singular art and one film to another, stands well above 12 years. Want an important race movie, Fruitvale Station stands head and shoulders above 12 years, and has far more relevance today.

  • M. | January 14, 2014 9:36 PMReply

    I LOVED this article especially: "Lawrence is sublimely talented no matter how you slice it"....and that's exactly right ( actually the entire paragraph is awesome). I must confess that I find the folks over at Film Experience to be an incredibly pretentious bunch who have a habit of championing actors as they are working their way up, only to trash them when they finally DO succeed!. I loved American Hustle and thought Lawrence nailed her role. Jennifer Lawrence is a terrific actress, who also happens to have a terrific personality and is popular...that is fine with me.

  • Guest | January 17, 2014 4:02 AM

    "a habit of championing actors as they are working their way up, only to trash them when they finally DO succeed!"

    You NAILED it. That's how the world works unfortunately. Build them up, cheer for them when they're the underdog, tear them down and call for them to 'go away' when they're on top of the world.

  • sure | January 16, 2014 12:47 PM

    Yes she is talented but that doesn't mean she's right for every single role out there.

  • sure | January 16, 2014 12:47 PM

    Yes she is talented but that doesn't mean she's right for every single role out there.

  • Betsy | January 14, 2014 9:02 PMReply

    Two comments: 1) Age: Jennifer looks younger in this film than she did in Silver Linings and I think this was intentional. In this film she looks like she is her actual age, so maybe her character had Danny when she was 17, like my cousin did.... 2) The Oscar Race: So, who should win for supporting actress is answered this year by what we want out of a film. If it's box office, 12 Years looses. So does HOW we want to be entertained come into play (yes). There were scenes in both American Hustle and 12 Years that just stunned me. But they stunned me in different directions. We'll just have to see which way Hollywood leans this year. Just let's not try to undermine either actress publicly, especially by age, which I think is hard for Ann to do because we know what direction she is leaning. Jennifer Lawrence has incredible range and has the films to prove it. Lupita Nyong'o stunned us her first time out, but will that be enough? Either way, filmgoers are the real winners this season. Thanks.

  • astro | January 14, 2014 8:41 PMReply

    She was too young to play Rosalyn (who was written to be her actual age) and Tiffany and too old to play Katniss. And she couldn't possibly understand the hardships of Ree (or Agnes or Mariana), or understand heartbreak like Sam. And yet she hit them all out of the park. Talent is hard to replace.

  • Emily | January 14, 2014 8:40 PMReply

    After thinking about it, I thought no, she's not too young. The son is about 5 to 7 years old? So the character had a baby when she was about 17, struggled for a few years and then got married at 19 or 20. She's been married for 3 or 4 years.

    That helps explain her relationship with her husband, a mix of rebellious teenager manipulating the parent figure and treating him like the boyfriend in a younger relationship. That makes it more satisfying that she finds a new partner closer to her own age. You can see how the transition marriage would have been frustrating for her.

    Lawrence does a great job (although Adams is my favorite). Maybe more young actresses could also play a wider variety of parts. I 'd pay to see that.

  • MDL | January 14, 2014 8:21 PMReply

    Yeah, I felt she was too young. Also didn't think the role was award worthy. But they don't ask me to vote for such things.

  • JSam | January 14, 2014 8:19 PMReply

    That's beside the point her character was supposed to be young, ignorant and still be a single mum who married Irving. I thought Jlaw was a excellent fit for Rosalyn.

  • Sydnie | January 14, 2014 7:57 PMReply

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  • P | January 14, 2014 7:34 PMReply

    I thought she was very young to play the character she played in Silver Linings Playbook!

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