Tag Archives: Bill Engvall

Here’s hoping ‘Hunger Games’ star gets opportunity from her superstardom

Here’s a column by yours truly that’ll appear in the March 23 print edition of Kitsap A&E:

I’ve got mixed emotions about this week’s opening of “The Hunger Games,” which will place Suzanne Collins’ series of novels alongside “Twilight,” and “Harry Potter,” and “Lord of the Rings” as a mammoth page-to-screen franchise, and elevate the actress portraying its iconic heroine, Jennifer Lawrence, to film superstardom.
Years ago, I predicted big things for Lawrence. And now that she’s achieving them, I can’t even gloat; in fact, I feel a little bluesy.
She’s been an X-Woman. She’s been nominated for an Academy Award (for the indie film “Winter’s Bone”). And now, at 21, she’s Katniss Everdeen, in the first of three (at least) “Hunger Games” movies that will make, conservatively, a buhzillion dollars. And she’s not my little secret any more.
Before I became a Food Network junkie, and during those months of the year when the Mariners aren’t playing, I used to do a little channel surfing in the evenings, after I put my daughter to bed. One night I happened across “The Bill Engvall Show,” a sitcom featuring yet another stand-up comedian as the head of a dysfunctional household, where the humor came mostly from Dad being the cause of the bulk of the dysfunctionality, while the long-suffering wife and kids coped as best they could. I’d seen some of Engvall’s stand-up, and thought he was pretty funny, so I watched an episode.
It was terrible. Despite a pretty decent cast, which included Nancy Travis and “Saturday Night Live” veteran Tim Meadows, it was a mess, cable TV-level writers trying to adapt Engvall’s comedy routines into half-hour episodes of hilarious family foibles.
But Lawrence, playing the eldest of Engvall and Travis’ three offspring, impressed me. In the midst of all the banality, she stood out like a tulip in a mulch pile. She seemed to have the ability to elevate even the most imbecilic comedy, and at the same time there was a warmth and a naturalness to the way she played her more dramatic scenes — often negotiating with Engvall as her overprotective father.
Since then, Lawrence has done all the right things, taking a variety of movie roles after Engvall’s show got the plug pulled on it, and scoring a plum with the indie gem “Winter’s Bone.” The buzz around her started then, resulting not only in the Oscar nomination, but in opportunities to do big blockbuster films like “X-Men: First Class” and, ultimately, “The Hunger Games.”
Now Lawrence is known not only as a great actress, but as great box office. She’ll have the chance to be in blockbuster after blockbuster, and the big studios will throw millions at her because they know, with her name on the marquee, they’ll make millions upon millions in return.
It makes me remember my college radio days, when I did some of the programming for the fledgling KGRG-FM at Green River College in Auburn. A new student volunteer arrived from New Jersey, raving about this guy Springsteen, who was going to be huge, and telling us we should be playing at least one Springteen record (that was back when we played records) every hour.
I don’t remember the guy’s name, but he was right. Bruce Springstreen, with the 1975 release of “Born to Run,” went from being a Jersey phenom to one of the biggest stars in the world, selling out huge stadiums, going insta-platinum with every new release, and standing at the elbows of presidents and kings. He was, at once, as “important” as Dylan, but with a lot more show-biz appeal.
I bring up Springsteen not to show that I still remember any of what went on in college, but because of what he did with the power and freedom that superstardom brought him. Yes, he played to 60,000 a night in concerts that were sold out minutes after they went on sale.
But he always found time for smaller projects and causes that were meaningful to him, and to others. He stayed grounded, based, and he never stopped growing and learning, finding time and inspiration to go back to his musical roots, taking his fans along with him.
I hope Jennifer Lawrence can do the same thing. For every “Hunger Games” she’s going to have a chance to do in her career, I hope she finds — or creates, with her Katniss-generated power and Oscar buzz-induced clout — opportunities to do more “Winter’s Bone” type films — story-driven, small films that depend more on acting than on special effects — and take her fans along with her.
If she could could make me sit through “The Bill Engvall Show,” she can do anything.