Will Anne Hathaway Ever Win?

The world has a problem with Anne Hathaway. That’s not new, and that’s not news. For years now Hathaway’s public personae has rubbed people the wrong way, so much so that her legion of enemies has its own name. “I think they’re called Hathahaters,” James Franco told Howard Stern back in 2013. He was right. The hate spread like brush fire, and before long the ire was everywhere. “What Is Anne Hathaway Doing Wrong?” pondered the New York Times. “Why Do People Hate Anne Hathaway?” asked BuzzFeed.

While the Hathahate is nothing new, what is new is the somewhat meta commentary her choice of movie roles seems to be making. Since that public hatred first boiled and then bubbled over, the parts she plays feel almost like her very own empathy experiment. She’s playing characters whose every move is scrutinized, much like hers is in real life. The question she seems to be asking is: Is she more likable playing a part like Jules in The Intern — a beautiful, successful, how-does-she-do-it-all woman who is actually fraying at the seams? Or is it parts like the one she plays in the upcoming Colossal — an alcoholic, a party girl, a mess — that will win the public back? It’s hard to recover from the wide-scale lambasting Hathaway underwent, and while it’s clear she can’t return to the princess roles she was first known for, she seems to be toying with which direction to take this new her. Considering the public scorn she’s endured, hats off to Hathaway for being resilient enough to try.

Anne Hathaway was not always the object of fan fury. Remember Andy Sachs in The Devil Wears Prada? Remember Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries? Those were characters almost universally adored, and she played them. Hathaway also took on roles that won her immense critical praise; her part in Brokeback Mountain for one, or her Oscar nomination for Rachel Getting Married.

But in between then and now something happened. Perhaps it started when Hathaway very earnestly co-hosted the Oscars with James Franco in 2011, perhaps it was the manipulative tearjerker she starred in One Day (which certainly pushed me over the edge), perhaps it was the effort she put into playing Fantine — whatever it was, by the time she was picking up her Oscar for Les Miserables clutching the golden statue to her light pink Prada dress and uttering the universally hated words “it came true,” Hathahaters couldn’t roll their eyes hard enough.

So what exactly is people’s issue with her? “She represents the archetype of the happy girl, which is one that many people resist,” Sasha Weiss wrote in The New Yorker. “It’s not really Anne Hathaway I ‘hate.’ It’s all the lesser, real-life Anne Hathaways I have known — princessy, theater-schooled girls who have no game and no sex appeal and eat raisins for dessert,” writer Sarah Nicole Prickett told the New York Times.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder she took time out of the spotlight. Wouldn’t you? Her first post-Oscar-win role was in Interstellar and that was almost two years after she won the coveted award. “I had directors say to me, ‘I think you’re great. You’re perfect for this role, but I don’t know how audiences will accept you because of all this stuff, this baggage,” Hathaway told Harper’s Bazaar of the Hathahate. She also spoke on the moment she realized she was the object of such public vitriol, saying she felt, “punched in the gut. Shocked and slapped and embarrassed. Even now I can feel the shame.”

And then suddenly she was back, taking on roles that required her to play the chameleon — starring along Kristen Stewart in the Jenny Lewis video for “One of the Guys,” doing a wild Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball” rendition on Lip Sync Battle.

With her film The Intern came a feature-length attempt at winning back audiences, in this iteration as a sympathetic character somewhat similar to Hathaway’s public persona: a do-gooder, an over-achiever, a success with beauty and brains and good humor — a woman who is essentially disliked for doing her job and life too well. Within the confines of the film it’s easy to see how unfairly we treat that character, and it makes sense that Hathaway would perhaps choose that role as a way for viewers to better understand how misplaced their hatred was. Did it work? Ish.

With her new film, Colossal, Hathaway is trying an entirely different role (and perhaps empathy) tactic. In this movie, co-starring Jason Sudeikis and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, Hathaway plays Gloria, a super down-on-her-luck alcoholic, who moves back to her hometown, jobless and broke. (It should also be noted that Gloria is an internet writer, one who could very well be writing those Hathahate pieces.) She also happens to find out that her own mental unraveling is being mirrored on a global scale, a plot point which turns this seemingly simple film about picking up the pieces, into a weird and trippy monster movie (to avoid spoilers, I’ll just leave it there). The point is, this is a very different character for her. One with whom, again, we as the audience ultimately sympathize. In this month’s issue of Elle, Hathaway calls the part, “the most ‘me’ film I’ve ever made.” The question raised, and perhaps the question Hathaway is asking, is if people don’t like her anymore when she plays perfect, will a messy badass make it click? When the film comes out on April 7, it’ll be interesting to track the answer.

“What are we supposed to do — pretend like it didn’t happen?” Hathaway asked in the Harper’s Bazaar interview, referring to the public bullying she endured. The answer to that is no. As Hathaway navigates the next phase of her career it’s clear that there’s no going back, it’s also clear that she’s experimenting with how to move forward. The scrutiny she faced, the standards she’s being held to, are not fair — but things seldom are. Colossal seems to be Hathaway’s reaction to that — if audiences no longer want to see her play Type-A, well then, she won’t. “I’m not going to run away from a no-brainer,” Hathaway says in Elle of her strategy for picking projects. “But right now, I’m much more into doing things that I find personally fulfilling.”

Anne Hathaway is not like us, she’s a movie star; but we’re living in an era in which that otherness is not prized. As Us Weekly says, we like our stars to be “just like us.” In the public eyes Anne Hathaway’s greatest fault is that she’s not like us, but in our opinion her greatest strength is that she’s not running scared from the hate. She’s trying on new roles, taking chances, and in doing so is somehow asking us to reflect on who we like and why. We don’t like Anne Hathaway when she’s too successful; but what if — like in Colossal — she’s not a success? What if she’s a complete failure? Will we like her then and, if so, what does that say about us?

Colossal hits theaters on April 7