Is Gwyneth Paltrow a star? We don't ask that to be mean or snide: It's a legitimate question about terminology. She's won an Oscar and appeared in some big movies (like the "Iron Man" films), but if you're talking about someone who can "open" a movie, well, then that seems a little more debatable. But does she even want to be that type of star? It's hard to say, and it's certainly not decided with her latest, "Country Strong," which has done decently in limited release but hardly spectacularly. She's at a crossroads: sort of a serious actress, sort of a movie star. She should chat with The Wolf.
He's Winston Wolfe. He solves problems. He's here to help.
Here's how to fix your career, Gwyneth.
1. Calm down. Apart from Katherine Heigl, you probably have the chilliest relationship with the American public of our high-profile actresses. Part of the reason is that you live in England, but a bigger part is that you come across in interviews as being superior to your home country. You just seem so above it all, which makes it really hard for moviegoers to warm up to you when you try to soften your image by showing up on "Glee." There's a lingering impression that you think being a star -- however we're defining that -- is just silly. Hey, that's your right, but you have to realize that such an attitude isn't going to make people want to take a chance on your "Watch Gwennie sing country songs!" movie.
2. Take the Lead. In the late '90s, you were the unofficial muse of Miramax, starring in "Emma," "Sliding Doors" and "Shakespeare in Love," for which you won an Oscar. You were a young starlet then with a big future ahead of you. Since then, you've gone for supporting roles (in films like "The Royal Tenenbaums") and ill-advised star turns ("Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," and "View From the Top," a movie we had absolutely forgotten all about until just now). We know that marriage and motherhood are keeping you pretty busy these days, but we would very much like to see you go for a lead role in a major art house film. You're two years away from 40, so the starlet roles are out, but you can definitely be doing work that's more rewarding and substantial than "Country Strong" that reminds us that, deep down, you're an actress first and foremost.
3. Get messed up. We have noticed an interesting trend in recent low-budget films you've made: Whether it's "Two Lovers" or "Country Strong," you've played damaged beauties who are about ready to crack. After the delicate ingenues of your early career, it's been a fun transformation to see -- it's as if those Miramax characters grew up, got kicked around a bit, and realized life basically sucks. Whether mere coincidence or not, it's a persona we like on you: It's brave to be that unsympathetic, and it's something a lot of actresses can't do. Don't overdo the drama -- that happens a bit in "Country Strong" -- but this could be a way to establish yourself as someone in the Julianne Moore school of naked emotional honesty.
4. Lighten up. The reason why you're so fun in the "Iron Man" movies is that you're so effortless. Sure, playing off Robert Downey Jr. helps a ton, but you never act like you're "trying" to be funny. As a result, your reputation for being glassy and brittle just melts away. Does this mean you should do broad comedies? Naw, even though, to be fair, you held your own in "Shallow Hal." But appearing in more movies where you can just be likeable without breaking a sweat could really suit you.
5. Hope that "Contagion" catches on. You're part of the ensemble of Steven Soderbergh's disease-outbreak thriller "Contagion" (with your old "Talented Mr. Ripley" co-star Matt Damon), which comes out in October. If it's a hit, then you're in a great position -- you'd be a part of two different successful big-budget entities, and in neither would you be the primary focus. So, you'd have the best of both worlds: commercial success and your independence. For someone who doesn't seem to pine to be the next Julia Roberts, that would probably be your definition of success. We hope it happens for you -- but, seriously, lay off the "Americans aren't as cool as Brits" stuff, OK?
There you go, Ms. Paltrow. That should do it.