Can Anne Hathaway move a muscle without the entire world freaking out? Her new film Colossal would argue “no.” In this comedy, Hathaway’s character is imbued with a most unusual ability: If she wanders through a playground near her home, she can conjure up a skyscraper-sized monster in Seoul that will mirror all of her movements. A casual flick of Hathaway’s wrist, then, can be interpreted by the South Koreans as a sign of warlike aggression. A simple step forward has the whole city wondering where she’s going to go. And if she wants to let loose and dance, she does so knowing that millions of people will be watching her every move.
In real life, Hathaway is subject to the same sort of outsized scrutiny, but the reason isn’t nearly as outlandish as the sci-fi excuse offered by Colossal: It’s simply because she’s a woman in Hollywood. Even among her peer group, though, Hathaway gets an atypical amount of flak.
“Why Does Everybody Hate Anne Hathaway?” asked a Hollywood.com article written in 2013, just weeks before Hathaway won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Les Misérables. The article helped codify a notion of free-floating “Hatha-hate” that continues to follow the actress like a storm cloud. “It comes up in every interview I do, just about,” Hathaway told Jezebel this week. When I spoke to Hathaway several months ago at the Toronto Film Festival, I was struck by how affable she remained in the face of that constant criticism. A simple question from another reporter — “What do you do when you’re shooting a movie that just isn’t coming together?” — earned a telling response from the actress: You put on your best face, said Hathaway, and you continue to work as hard as you can. Then, knowing the final cut is ultimately out of your control, “you prepare yourself for the onslaught of humiliation the internet will serve you.”
What has Anne Hathaway ever done to earn this kind of continued online scorn? Certainly, nothing as dire as half of the men on the A-list, who weather rap sheets, brutal flops, and countless stories of arrogant behavior without a dent in their public approbation. Hathaway’s greatest sin is being perceived as “actress-y,” meaning that she’s the sort of ambitious theater kid who likely practiced her Oscar speech in the mirror at age 8 and then went on to make good on that dream. It’s telling, though, that so many of the people who slam Hathaway for wanting it too much are the same people who criticize Kristen Stewart for not wanting it enough. When it comes to female ambition, there’s no acceptable mode: Any vibe you exude can and will be used against you.
While it might be strange to describe an Oscar-winning, well-compensated actress as underrated, I’d argue that the pop-cultural target on Hathaway’s back has kept her skilled, always-committed performances from getting their due, though that may be about to change. In Colossal, she’s a lot of fun as dissolute Gloria, a woman who’s initially hesitant to come into her power because she’s surrounded by men who’d rather keep her at heel. In the portal-like playground near her house, anything Gloria does becomes literally monstrous, but outside the sandbox, her acts of agency are demonized in a different way: If she simply drinks late at night, sleeps with a man she desires, or remains unencumbered, it’s treated by the other male characters in the movie as an act of world-ending aggression. It isn’t easy to work on yourself when everyone around you is trying to chip away at your self-esteem, and that’s a conflict I’m sure Hathaway knows all too well at this point.
Perhaps it’s time, then, that we start celebrating Hathaway’s star instead of scorning it. This is a woman who has appeared in more than a few stone-cold classics (including Brokeback Mountain and The Devil Wears Prada) and even in some of her lesser films, she always gives her all. She refused to give up when James Franco corpsed his way through an entire Oscars ceremony, she starred in the last great Jonathan Demme movie, and she looks great in snakeskin. She’s one of only three guest stars to ever win an Emmy for The Simpsons, and she was the first person to make out with Chris Pine in a feature film (an accomplishment in and of itself). If you’ve got time to listen, I could teach a class on the perfect way she shut down a sexist Matt Lauer in 2012, and I haven’t even gotten to Hathaway’s delivery of the line “Oops” in The Dark Knight Rises, or the just-right Sunday-afternoon movie that is The Intern.
Even Hathaway’s most maligned moments are better than you remembered. Yes, she steamrolled her way to Oscar for a brief turn as Fantine in Les Misérables, but you know what? She was damn good in that movie, running herself ragged in that famous rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” without ever losing a note. And while she was pilloried for accepting that Oscar with a winsome “It came true” — again, treating her admittance of ambition as a cardinal sin — let me tell you, “It came true” is an awfully fun GIF to drop into any good-news thread on social media. Even unwittingly, Hathaway delivers.
So let the woman live. She’s giving us too much good stuff to continue getting it this bad, and if your biggest qualm with Anne Hathaway is her effort and eagerness, examine why that is. Is it bad for a woman to be big, and to inhabit that space fully? The characters in Colossal think so, but ultimately Hathaway’s Gloria comes to find that she likes it: From way up there, she finally finds perspective. Let’s endeavor to look a little differently at Hathaway from now on, too.