The XX Factor

Blue-Collar Oscar Bait

On Slate today, Joe Keohane has an amusing video slideshow about ” how Hollywood makes beautiful actresses look working class ” in order to secure Oscar nods. Keohane illustrates some of the sneakiest tropes of the “slumming actress subgenre”-fugly sweaters, messy hair, bad posture, a slack-jawed stare-with clips from films like The Good Girl and Monster’s Ball .

Of course, it’s no secret that frumping up is one of the easiest shortcuts to gaining Serious Acting Cred. (It’s almost as good as a mental disability .) It can make viewers feel virtuous, which in turn casts a halo of nobility around the whole artistic project. But as Keohane’s slideshow proves, it’s a risky move; a badly-calibrated performance can easily turn ridiculous and be exposed as a grade-grubbing sham.

For me, these kinds of performances always make my brain a little itchy. Maybe there’s an uncanny valley when it comes to lovely lady actresses going blue-collar? Keohane suggests that Charlize Theron in Monster and Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl manage to clear this hurdle; their strong performances “ultimately do credit to their parts.” Do you agree? What’s your favorite “slumming actress” role-either because it’s so successful, or because it’s so utterly unbelievable?