Anne Hathaway was the toast of the movie industry when the year 2013 rang in. After all, she had just appeared in two major films, as the female lead in box-office smash "The Dark Knight Rises" and the focus-pulling emotional high point in "Les Misérables," the film for which she went on to win an Academy Award.
But the adoration of one's contemporaries doesn't always equate to that of the public. And the currents of dislike for Hathaway that had been running through pop culture prior to the 2013 Academy Awards erupted into full-on schadenfreude, over her last-minute choice of an Oscar dress and, truly, just about everything about her. When I wrote about the phenomenon of Hathaway hatred after the Oscars last year, I found myself coming away more mystified than I had been when I started as to what was so uniquely loathsome about Hathaway. Her apparent interest in winning an Oscar was "annoying," sure, but did it merit such outsize distaste on the part of the Internet?
It was a question made all the more pressing by Hathaway's attempts to do penance over the course of the past year. The actress, who is to appear at the Oscars this coming weekend, has kept an incredibly low profile over the course of 2013 and early 2014; she skipped the Golden Globes, which the previous year's best supporting actor winner Christoph Waltz attended, and appeared in only one movie -- a cameo role in "Don Jon."
This year of relative quiet, though, only came after mockery of Hathaway's pale pink Prada Oscar gown with unflattering darts came in for so much criticism that Hathaway issued a statement as to why she chose the dress (her costar, Amanda Seyfried, was wearing a gown too similar to her first choice, a Valentino) and apologizing to Valentino.
This was uncharted territory -- an actress forced, immediately after her Oscar win, to apologize for herself, and then to retreat. Sure, people made fun of Gwyneth Paltrow's Oscar gown and weepy speech, but she was still one of the most prominent stars in the world after her Oscar win in 1999. Anne Hathaway seemed to disappear -- if only by contrast to her best actress counterpart, Jennifer Lawrence, who only got more omnipresent after her Oscar win.
Hathaway has been an unusually rare interview subject since last year's Oscars, but she did appear at Sundance to promote "Song One," the low-budget movie she'd made in 2013 in place of a big star vehicle. In her telling, she took on the role in part to escape the public's scorn: "We had been working on the script for almost two years before we actually started shooting. All of the elements came together in that moment. I don't want to bring up a sore subject or anything — I think my publicist is probably like 'No, no no' — but I had just taken a little bit of a beating from the Internet." In another interview, Hathaway said she'd been trying to avoid the public eye: "My impression is that people needed a break from me."
In some ways, it's hard to feel too bad for Hathaway -- absorbing the attitudes of the public are part of what she's so well-compensated for. But while it's fun (really fun!) to speak freely online, the degree to which Hathaway appears to have been pushed to keep silent at the moment of her greatest triumph may make some of her haters take a sober second thought. Was Hathaway, really, annoying enough that she deserved to feel as though she ought to flee the spotlight?
Time off, for a celebrity, is a great thing -- recent statements by Harvey Weinstein that Jennifer Lawrence will soon take a year off acting are, if true, a welcome sign that Lawrence is aware of the dangers of overexposure. Julia Roberts' legend status was cemented by a hiatus early in her career, during which she became an object of intrigue rather than familiarity. And other past Oscar winners, including Natalie Portman and Kate Winslet, had avoided the public eye after their big moment in the spotlight, but that had tended to seem like an attempt to preempt derision, not to run from it. But those decisions were undertaken proactively rather than reactively. No one need like Anne Hathaway, but it's worth asking what, exactly, the public "needed a break from," and how urgently the break was needed.
Those who don't like Anne Hathaway can vote with their pocketbooks, and if there's a critical mass, her career will eventually end of its own accord; little chance of that happening, though, as even those who deplore the fact that she's in the next Christopher Nolan film will still make it a box-office success. The attempt to make Hathaway such a figure of fun online that she spent a year hiding out feels less like fun celebrity spectatorship and more like the worst sort of Web culture.
The traditional Oscar-presenters scheme sees the previous year's acting winners present to the acting winner of opposite gender; Anne Hathaway will, if tradition holds, present the best supporting actor trophy. Past presenters in this situation have made jokes out of their poorly received Oscar speeches, as when Gwyneth Paltrow told America "you probably all remember how wimpy I was" or when Hilary Swank, who'd famously forgotten to thank her then-husband, took the opportunity before presenting a trophy to Russell Crowe.
Anne Hathaway ought to avoid this, if she can -- though given that the qualities of impulsiveness that led her to apologize and confess, again and again, to America, she may not be able to. But she owes America nothing, and should show up in a dress she actually likes and a smile. If she truly is unworthy of her success, her anti-fans can change the channel until the next award presentation, knowing this will be one of her final trips to the Oscars, anyway. But somehow that seems unlikely.