And here we are, at long last, with a fresh version of one of the most debated magazine spread of any year: the Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue, shot again by Annie Leibovitz. We’ve covered 2016, which made Viola Davis and Helen Mirren look ghastly; the insane spectacle of Channing Tatum shouldering Amy Adams like a sack of potatoes in the extremely non-diverse 2015 spread, a piece which is worth your click because it links to lots of OTHER covers through time that are hilarrible; the 2014 cover where Julia Roberts got to sprawl all over Idris Elba; and the hideous bedroom one from 2013 where Emma Stone has to be the meat in an Affleck-Cooper sandwich.

Vanity Fair is always rife with repeats, because it seems that magazine has the imagination of a 3×5 notecard, and this year’s main cover is no exception (though the trifold does get a bit better, and that’s encouraging). Amy Adams is present for the second time in three years; Lupita, for the THIRD time in FOUR years, including having been on it last year. I understand that very rarely does a brand new face break into the clutch of elite actresses, but maybe that’s a fundamental flaw in the annual conception of this issue: They are making it too narrow, and thus, too potentially repetitive. I’ve complained at length that “Hollywood” also does include TV and that it’s myopic not to pay attention to that, especially given the caliber of work being done in that medium. That complaint still holds.

I had forgotten Lupita had Queen of Katwe this year, but even if they’d planned this back when that came out, it feels weak to fall back on her as a cover subject this year rather than Taraji P. Henson of Hidden Figures, or trifold subjects Ruth Negga and Janelle Monae (on the trifold, coming up) from that and Moonlight. Or Naomie Harris (another repeat, but Moonlight will punctuate her legacy more strongly, I think, than Mandela did).

At least Lupita looks amused and comfortable to be there. Natalie Portman seems stiff, but as if she’s confident she will pull most of the focus. Amy seems tense and tired, and Emma is just staring up at us, all, “Can you believe this thing? I’m here for the free cheese plate.”

Now let’s unfold it:

Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue: Feb 2017

I’m sorry that I don’t have magnified versions of the other two pieces. Ruth Negga is gorgeous, but I don’t know why they couldn’t have had her standing up straight. The Fannings look fine, but also slightly like a brooding and creepy Westworld fantasy. Aja Naomi King is an interesting choice: She was in Birth of a Nation, which obviously never went anywhere for myriad reasons, but she’s best-known for How To Get Away With Murder – which makes her the lone current small-screen actress. And that’s something. I just wish her dress did not appear to be falling off. Dakota Johnson, in what appears to be Zoe Saldana’s Globes gown, is… a person who fills a space; I might have rather seen Kristen Stewart, who is picking more interesting projects than Fifty Shades of I Can’t Even. And somehow Janelle Monae, despite actually surprising people this year with her screen presence and talent, is stuck back there looking like she just finished holding Greta Gerwig’s hair while Gerwig vomited into the lav (which she then sat on to brood about her choices).

Visually, the colors of the gowns meld nicely. And, sure, I’m giving them props for trying — it got more fun once we examined the whole shebang. I just wish the main cover didn’t feel like the laziest possible version of itself, and/or amalgam of these participants. Baby steps, I suppose. At least Channing Tatum isn’t carrying any of them like he’s a caveman on the hunt.

[Cover by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair]

Tags: Vanity Fair