Real Living: Debate

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Women are split: there are those who adore Gwyneth Paltrow and think she is beautiful, talented and fully deserves her Oscar nomination last week. And then there are others who see the star of 'Shakespeare In Love' as a sorry sign of just how bland Hollywood has become. Elizabeth Heathcote (a fan) and Anna Melville-James (a critic) fight it out

Movie queens should exhale personality, says Anna Melville-James, not sweetness.

Poor Gwynnie - as she is known to family and friends; it's not her fault she's so pretty and so forgettable. When you've spent your life grooming yourself to succeed within late-20th-century Hollywood confines it must be hard to have an interesting character, let alone life or world view. In fact anything to mark her out as something other than soothingly pretty and inoffensive movie Mogadon. She doesn't even possess the double-edged niceness of a Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan; women who might possibly have a slight bitter aftertaste given the right material. Gwyneth's sweet souffle of a persona gives me cavities in my soul.

In Hollywood's land of mirrors the current female to epitomise collective Western consciousness is as bland as mozzarella and as forgettable as a thousand other gawky actresses with highlights and famous associations. Gwyneth, it's not your fault! I'm sure that personally, or perhaps in another profession we'd get along quite happily together. It's just that to my mind the job requirements of a film star are charisma, character and talent, and a quagmire of hype just will not convince me that there is any lurking in that fragile, overgroomed exterior.

Today's movie queens are less the enigmatic quasi-goddesses they once were, and more the dull product of a thousand master classes in "Becoming Famous by Numbers". Identikit females like Gwyneth are common currency in an industry that fears idiosyncrasy and confuses formulaic with fantastic. Star quality is in the novelty, and the novelty these days is in replicating what has gone before, but with a different hair colour/boyfriend/name.

Lacking an emotional well to plunder powerful performance from, it's no coincidence that most of her screen roles have been period-costume fluff. Blinking prettily in the spotlight, there's little to remember of her but a succession of porcelain poses, head bobbing around on ostrich neck to indicate emotion. Bette Davies, she is not. Of course there was Seven, where she went a little radical and had her head chopped off. The only problem was that we had to wait until the end of film for that happily ever after. Sliding Doors showed her talent for the British accent and an incredible need for nourishment. Give that girl a square meal for Pete's sake, before her shoulder-blades give someone a paper cut. Serve it with a side order of irritation, for every underweight bag of bones vaunted as the "perfect female form". She's not delicate, she's positively gaunt, and asceticism in any sense is not the stuff that stars are made of.

Even her love life is colourless; pedestrian affairs with men fashioned by Mattel. Step forward Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck. When the best she can do is decide that she and Mr Affleck are "better friends, than lovers" then the world of full-blooded passion really is in trouble. How very mature, but while she's being foisted on my consciousness I'd much rather some good old fashioned histrionics; something reassuringly larger than life.

Stars should act as a prism for the rich and messy business of the human condition. Gwyneth Paltrow speaks to the android in all of us, reducing the wonderful ridiculousless of stardom to an exercise in vacu-packed personality and the whimpering safety of mass production.

Leave her alone, says Elizabeth Heathcote, she just doesn't know how to be liked, that's all.

Poor Gwyneth. That's how I feel about her, whenever I see her on yet another tabloid cover. And it's bizarre, because why? She had what sounds like an idyllic childhood in New York, cosseted by liberal, wealthy, loving parents and nurtured by the company of people who were clever and interesting in a world-class kind of way. And now, in her twenties, she's famous, rich in her own right, fantastically beautiful and shows no sign of doing anything remotely useful with her life. And yet I still feel sorry for her and protective of her. Why can't I just stop wasting my sympathy and get on with hating her the way that most women I know do?

My feeling are mostly a response to the way that she looks of course, but then how many of the people who can't bear her really care about the way she acts or lives? Gwyneth is stunning but flawless, exquisite in the way that Grace Kelly was, in the way that a mannequin would be and that's why women despise her. Her beauty is remote - it's not about passion, dirt or experience and so it seems truly skin deep. And just as men use that 26-year-old face as a blank canvas on which to impose whatever fantasy they might have of her (classy/pervy probably), women use it as proof that she's an ice-maiden, a woman who could never be their friend.

But to me it's about her being fragile. I can see it in her eyes. She might have all the privilege in the world but like Grace Kelly before her, it's never going to make her happy and how can you hate someone like that? I just have this feeling that Gwyneth is going to spend her fifties battling with dependence on drink/prescription drugs.

The evidence for this is, of course, thin to non-existent, but there is possibly more on my side than on the side of the women who loathe her because the one thing that we do know about Gwyneth is that she's had no luck with love. Her relationships with men, most notably with Brad Pitt and most recently with Ben Affleck, have ended in tears and you just sense that she's the one who got hurt. The Gwyneth-haters have their own theory for this - that she may be beautiful but she doesn't know how to put out, that old ice-maiden thing again - but the relish with which they suggest it puts me in mind of those gangs of girls at school who bullied or excluded anyone who failed to make them feel good about themselves. That's how I think of Gwyneth, as the girl who can't find a way to compensate for the fact that she's beautiful and clever in order to be liked. As the one who's destined to feel somehow unlovable and forever on the outside.

Poor Gwyneth. Her style is right out of fashion. Women want big characters who will entertain and not threaten them, women's women who they feel instinctively will be on their side, and Gwyneth will never be able to do those things. But that doesn't mean that she's a bitch.

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