The Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue is infamous for falling flat on its face when it comes to diversity. Typically, the idea is to predict the awards nominees — or at least contenders — and then sprinkle in other actors to flesh out the trifold, but it often ends up feeling stiff and crazy and as if they didn’t reach hard enough to find an interesting and varied array of stars. The good news here is, the issue does a mildly better job: There is a wider range of ages and stages, and it has dug a little deeper. Da’Vine Joy Randolph, from Dolemite Is My Name, is someone I feel like they’d typically have overlooked in the past, for example, and they also included Park So-dam from Parasite, and Taylor Russell from the lesser-seen Waves.
First, the cover itself: I can’t tell if they did a fold-out because the other shots are so expansive, it would have to have been, like, a seven-fold. So, putting just three people on the cover, and having them all be in their fifties, is new. Eddie Murphy is cracking me up on that thing, and I can’t tell if it’s on purpose. His motivation here seems to be, “You are in a parody James Bond movie.” J.Lo’s is, “Be J.Lo, but on a bike.” And then Renee is popping out to say cuckoo like a Von Trapp child.
The pitch for this was, per the website, “We open on a highway at sunset. V. F. asked 23 of the year’s most extraordinary actors—some of them legends, some of them embarking on their first major roles—to make a road movie with us,” which ties clumsily into the lede of the story about a career journey and bumps and bruises and whatnot. I applaud them at least for doing something different than the staid “stick groups of actors in a room and drape them all over each other and tell them to look bored.” I highly, highly recommend going to Vanity Fair’s website to look at the resulting photos, because they’re MUCH larger and clearer; you’ll scroll sideways across the whole thing stitched together into a continuous piece. If you get to the end and the scroll bar disappears, just refresh the page and it kicks you back to the beginning. You’re not going to be able to see enough detail down here. But in the name of discussion, here are some visual aids:
My notes on this road movie are, “Too many plots.” J.Lo is having an erotically charged experience with this payphone, as if putting spare change into a slot is the most sensual experience of her life. Eddie is delivering a monologue about who uses payphones in this day and age, because we all have cell phones, and Renee is back there vamping like the rent is due. Then — and this is where it helps to look on VF’s site, because it’s so tiny here — we have Florence Pugh and Taika Waititi hitchhiking, where she is dressed like she’s at Woodstock and he is unconvincingly promising that he’s not a murderer (in a very amusing, very Taika way). Daniel Kaluuya is driving his truck and looking out the window with great concern, as if he’s about to smell the air and say, “A storm is coming,” although given his eyeline he might actually just be slowing down to enjoy Jennifer Lopez caressing the phone booth. For inexplicable reasons, Margaret Qualley is crouched in the back dressed as a showgirl, looking for all the world like they shot her on a stool and then Photoshopped her into the flatbed. Why is Daniel hauling around a showgirl? Also, practically, Margaret, this is a terrible idea and if he drives the speed limit your feathered hat will blow off. Be reasonable. Oh, and then Awkwafina is an alien. She actually looks good in that shot, but it’s hella weird. Why is NOBODY looking at the alien? Margaret Qualley, THERE IS AN ALIEN OVER THERE. YOU ARE MISSING IT.
Aha, but Lily-Rose Depp is watching, and reporting on it for Vanity Fair, I guess. I have to say, this is the most expressive I have EVER seen her. Laura Dern, meanwhile, is calling Agent Dale Cooper about this. Willem Dafoe is fucking loaded as hell and drunk-driving his tractor and shouting, “Lookie there, Billy-Bob-Jack-Bob, one of them extra-territorials just landed!” Jennifer Hudson (bless VF for being optimistic about Cats) appears to be offering herself up to our new alien overlords as their ship’s lounge singer, and the boys — Roman Griffin Davis, Noah Jupe, and Oakes Fegley — look like they’re a cross between The Outsiders and Oliver, and have collectively ridden one small bike to the only gas station in America that has a jungle gym right next to one of the pumps. And then you have Alfre Woodard, who looks marvelous and deserves to be on a cover all her own — she should be on the cover — but here is relegated to the back looking like nobody told her what the setup for this shoot would be.
Da’Vine Joy Randolph looks great, but I hope she doesn’t try to pump any actual gas because it’s going to shoot out all over her car. Also, so far all the women in this thing either look aroused, mad, or scared. (Except for Awkwafina, who is, again, an alien.) Lili Reinhart looks unidentifiable back there, next to Park So-dam and Taylor Russell, all three of whom appear to think this is W magazine. Austin Butler and Beanie Feldstein are going full Flirty Dancing back there, and Antonio Banderas is a cop who’s REALLY fed up with investigating all the random evening gowns and dancers that have turned up in this godforsaken hellhole. What does it mean, where are they coming from, who’s behind it? Is time still a flat circle?
Mark Harris wrote the cover story — it’s the same link; you can’t get to it until you scroll across the whole panorama — and it’s more of an essay than anything, although there are some quotes and tidbits. Eddie Murphy paid for Redd Foxx’s funeral and has ten kids, “ranging in age from 1 to 30.” Jennifer Lopez was offered Unfaithful, which netted Diane Lane an Oscar nod, and passed. The thesis is, more or less, about how performers come into themselves and bring the richness of their lives into their roles in such a way that it’s crazy to put an expiration date on anyone. Maybe I’m overstating. There is something pandering about how people are treating the talent of older actors as a revelation lately, but at the same time, it does also feel like HOLLYWOOD is acting like that, too, so I understand where there’s a need to be like, “SEE?!? YES.”