On Thursday entrenched movie crank Jeff Wells took an unfair and thoroughly incorrect potshot at Lena Dunham, the creator and star of the forthcoming HBO comedy Girls and the critically-acclaimed independent film Tiny Furniture. Wells posted a trailer for Girls along with the following commentary:
“Drop 30 pounds and 75% of the series loses its narrative propellant. I agree that Lena Dunham is essential to the conversation and to 2012 hip film culture, but she needs to do a Jonah Hill and see where she stands without the weight.”
Let’s start with the unfair part of the criticism. For argument’s sake, let’s say that he’s right, and that Dunham’s looks are the “narrative propellant” of her work (they’re not—but more on that shortly). Why is that a problem in and of itself? Woody Allen would not be Woody Allen if he did not look like a wizened Jewish hobbit. His non-standard appearance is the basis for his outlook on the world, and it informs his work. Should Woody Allen have ditched the glasses, hit the gym and taken elocution lessons so that he could see where he stood without those idiosyncratic traits as a crutch? No, that is a preposterous suggestion, just as the suggestion that Lena Dunham needs to lose weight for her work to be fairly evaluated. Furthermore, this is insulting to Jonah Hill, whose wonderful performance in Moneyball shows that he’s got a range beyond Fallstaffian buffoonery no matter what his weight is.
And here’s the incorrect part. The majority of the narrative push behind Girls doesn’t have much to do with Dunham’s weight. Certainly Dunham is not shy about using her naked body for maximum effect, but that effect is awkwardness, and everyone else in the show suffers the same, cringeworthy fate as Dunham’s character, Hannah. The show—which by the way, is terrific—is about the various humiliations of being a young woman coming of age. Hollywood-issue bombshell Allison Williams (who plays Dunham’s best friend in the show) flails around trying to figure life out just as Dunham’s character does, embarrassing herself in dramatic and physically revealing ways.
One thing I will say in semi-defense of Wells—that’ he’s an equal opportunity “fat”-hater, and disses Jason Segel for his “weight issues”—so I guess he gets points for consistency (Though it’s ridiculous that I need to point out that neither Segel nor Dunham would be considered big anywhere outside of Hollywood). Still, his throwaway assessment of Girls is all wrong.