Is Gwyneth Paltrow the Marmite of Hollywood?
Published 09/05/2013 | 05:00
Love her? Hate her? The star has become the world's most divisive woman
There are no fewer than 135,000 websites devoted to obnoxious quotes by Gwyneth Paltrow. "I am who I am; I can't pretend to be somebody who makes $25,000 a year" is one line her critics love to loathe.
"I would rather die than let my kid eat Cup-a-Soup" is another.
And her most mocked words to date: "When I pass a flowering zucchini plant in a garden, my heart skips a beat." Whatever you say, Gwynnie.
Paltrow is the celebrity equivalent of Marmite. In one week, she's gone from being Hollywood's most-hated celebrity (as voted by Star magazine) to the world's most beautiful woman (according to US People magazine).
Her latest recipe book, It's All Good, essentially an ode to spinach, is still topping bestseller lists, despite being labelled "quack science" by reviewers.
Her lifestyle website, Goop.com, has been branded patronising, yet pulls in more than 150,000 weekly subscribers.
And her portrayal of Pepper Potts in the Iron Man movies, the third of which is out now, has previously been slated; but film critic Robbie Collin lauded her latest efforts: "Paltrow has not been this likeable in 10 years."
The 40-year-old American actress is Hollywood's most divisive celebrity.
From her furious fitness regime to her crackpot cookery, every aspect of Paltrow's life draws critics and admirers – often in equal measure.
The latest slew of publicity cemented her position alongside other loved/loathed famous females, such as Keira Knightley and the late Baroness Thatcher. So what is it about Gwynnie that divides public opinion?
Let's start with her less redeeming features. Paltrow, daughter of the late director Bruce and the glamorous Blythe Danner, would like us to believe she's just a busy London mother of two, juggling family life with a demanding job.
In reality, she and her husband, Coldplay front man Chris Martin, have a net worth of €105m. Their house, a €8.2m, 33-room mansion, is reportedly managed by an army of staff, including a "manny" (male nanny) to look after eight-year-old Apple and seven-year-old Moses.
If you can forgive her for giving them such ridiculous names (though it's unlikely they will), Paltrow also subjects her children to a monastic dairy-free, sugar-free diet and only allows them to watch television in French or Spanish. Cartoons are banned. None of which fits with her description of herself as "any other regular mum".
Dr Jon Hackett, a lecturer in popular culture at St Mary's University College in London, says this unrealistic portrayal of her life is what makes Paltrow hard to like.
"People don't see her as credible; they don't believe that she's an ordinary domestic goddess," he explains. "It doesn't tally with her great physique and her good looks. She's trying too hard not to be perceived as aloof. If she wasn't trying to be so normal, people would probably like her more."
When she's not appearing in superhero films or ad campaigns for Estée Lauder, Paltrow runs her Goop website, where she doles out advice on everything from colonoscopies to quinoa.
In the same smug, preachy vein that runs throughout her latest cookery book, the site claims to be "your most trusted girlfriend on the web" – but is laughably out of touch with the real world, urging readers to spend €568 on studded iPad cases.
"Her Martha Stewart-like tendency to dispense advice with what some might perceive as a certain arrogant obliviousness doesn't help," says Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Centre for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York.
Paltrow's diet and fitness regime is so gruelling that most of us wouldn't have a hope of sticking to it – yet she says it's as easy as "brushing my teeth".
Her perfect abs ("better than Madonna's", apparently) are sculpted in sweaty 90-minute dance aerobics classes five days a week with trainer to the stars Tracy Anderson.
To follow Paltrow's strict macrobiotic diet (gluten-free flour, duck eggs and manuka honey) would cost €236 a day, an American food writer has calculated. No wonder she can boast of having "the butt of a 22-year-old stripper"; a claim that the Antonio Berardi see-through dress she wore to the Iron Man 3 premiere illustrated all too clearly.
Gwynnie lost yet more fans when she shared a list of her spring wardrobe essentials last month.
Her "basic attire" consisted of a Temperley skirt (€1,360), Valentino shorts (€627) and Miu Miu pumps (€438), and totalled nearly €355,000. This from a woman who claims to slouch around in "baggy shorts", "frizzy hair" and no make-up.
Yeah, right. We've seen you in those impossibly tight short-suits, with legs up to your barely there bottom, effortlessly gliding down the red carpet.
Paltrow may portray herself as "one of the girls", but her lifestyle is too glamorous even to aspire to. So that's the bad stuff; what about her good bits?
Once upon a time, Gwynnie was actually a pretty good actress. Remember Emma (1996), Sliding Doors (1998) and The Talented Mr Ripley (1999).
She won a Best Actress Oscar for the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love, which most of us will remember for her plummy – but convincing – English accent.
In general, Paltrow does Britishness rather well; so far, she's managed to avoid wearing tweeds and taking up shooting (take note, Madonna).
Home may be that Belsize Park mansion, but neighbours say she is remarkably low-key and is often seen at the local Starbucks or playing in the park with her children.
Her love life, too, endears us. Paltrow once dated Hollywood hotties Ben Affleck and Brad Pitt – but she ended up settling down with Martin, who, when he's not on stage singing to millions, is basically a scruffy bloke (albeit a posh one, educated at a boarding school) from Exeter.
Her choice of husband has undeniably helped her reputation; Gwynnie now goes to grubby gigs, smokes cigarettes (one American Spirit on a Saturday night) and comes across as almost normal; well, as normal as a multimillionaire can be.
Her Twitter feed, a stream of quips about being hungover and needing "something vaguely hallucinogenic" after taking her children to see a Glee concert, also suggests a human side.
In interviews, Paltrow is likeable, giving the impression of speaking candidly and veering off-script. On The Graham Norton Show she was self-deprecating and witty, making fun of her own films and joking about her son's birthday party, while slugging from a glass of white wine.
She also showed she is game for a laugh, at one point fondling comedian Lee Mack on camera.
She is modest (telling US chat show host Ellen DeGeneres that her appearance in the premiere's eyebrow-raising dress was actually "humiliating"); but not too modest – asked on The Tonight Show what she thought of the "world's most beautiful" accolade, she described it as "pretty ******* awesome".
The actress has also opened up about personal issues, including her father's death, a miscarriage and "terrible times" in her marriage.
Journalist Jane Gordon, who interviewed Paltrow, says she was pleasantly surprised by how down-to-earth the actress seemed.
"I turned up at her house and we sat talking in front of a huge roaring fire," she remembers.
"There were no PRs; no entourage. She was wearing no make-up. Afterwards, she went on the school run. She was a normal person."
Most Gwynnie-hating, it must be admitted, is down to envy. She is, as Gordon puts it, "faultless".
Aside from her stellar film career and her role as a lifestyle guru, Paltrow has no shortage of skills: she's clever (she studied anthropology at university), can sing (she's had a number one single in Australia) and is fluent in Spanish (her first Spanish-language film, 33 Dias, is out this year).
"She's good-looking, a great actor and singer, and she even has her own clothing line – what more could one dream of?" asks media and popular culture expert Dan Laughey.
"(Our) envy quickly turns into jealously and feelings of dissatisfaction and low self-esteem."
But as long as Paltrow keeps trying to pretend she's one of us, the love/hate debate will continue. We don't want you to be ordinary, Gwynnie. You're a mung bean-eating glamazon with the body of an aerobics instructor, a picture-perfect family and an annoying ability to be good at everything. Ordinary isn't even in your universe.