9.20.2011

I DON'T KNOW WHY SHE DOES IT


I'm in a small, gluten-free café in the hills of Los Angeles, waiting for my lunch dates to appear. Ever since the Weinsteins' record-setting deal on Jacob Clifton and Gwyneth Paltrow's co-production, I DON'T KNOW WHY SHE DOES IT, they've been impossible to track down.

Variety: "Jacob, you said you've been working on this script for a while?"
Clifton: "For a little while, yes. Of course, without Gwyneth onboard it never could have happened, so things actually ended up moving very quickly..."
Paltrow: "It's been a breeze, really. Jacob is a dream to work with."
Clifton: "Oh, Gwyneth. It is you who are the dream."
Paltrow: "You just 'get' me. Do you know what I mean?"
Clifton: "I 'get' what you mean..."

I have no idea what either of them means.

At this last, said with an arched eyebrow, they laugh -- desperately, honkingly -- clutching at one another like Dakota and Elle Fanning might, if they were children.

Variety: "Gwyneth, how would you describe your character?"
Paltrow: "Well, we said from the beginning that we wanted our characters to reflect us, and our process..."
Clifton: "But I mean, we're not playing ourselves. Any more than usual, that is!"

Again with the laughing. It's disconcerting. I wonder if either of them has ever had a friend before. I wonder if Claire Danes has any friends.

Paltrow: "I play an aspiring country musician who pays the bills by acting in blockbuster hits."
Clifton: "Same, but I pay the bills with intellectual fraud."
Paltrow: "Basically, the movie follows us through our lives as we make irritating choices."
Clifton: "I wanted to show what it's like for regular people, you know, succeeding in several different industries simultaneously. That power of delusion. Cookbooks. Lifestyle branding."
Paltrow: "I just wanted to take my top off. It's been a while since I did that in a movie."
Clifton: "A lot of it is just bare-assed excuses to have a lot of witty, self-aware dialogue. We're big fans of wit."
Paltrow: "And awareness."

One critic called the film "a more insecure version of Baumbach or Anderson, you know, taken to the next, even wankier level." I ask about the critical response so far, and am met with a wall of intense enthusiasm.

Clifton: "Am I a genius? I doubt it. Am I a saint? I try. Is this the best movie of all time? Who knows. Certainly the Cannes board doesn't get it. Could it herald a new genre in film? Probably."
Paltrow: "I call it Bumble & bumblecore."

They are forthright and forthcoming with all details: About the film, their eating habits, their families... I find it's hard to get a word in edgewise, to ask about the film, with the two of them up each other's sweaters the whole time. There is a discussion of kale that goes on longer than most features. It's worth noting that the two seem to have become inseparable.

Clifton: "We don't really like to have 'fun,' per se."
Paltrow: "Sometimes we prank-call Anne Hathaway."
Clifton: "True. True that."
Paltrow: "She's just asking for it, you know?"

When I ask Gwyneth and Jacob about their husbands -- mainstream rocker Chris Martin and CIA Director David Petraeus, respectively -- they just roll their eyes and laugh, once again.

Clifton: "It's kind of like being married to that computer that almost won Jeopardy!, but more intense."
Paltrow: "I don't understand a single word my husband says. I think that's what makes it work."
Clifton: "Really, we're married to the work. And each other. And Walter Van Beirendonck menswear."
Paltrow: "GET."
Clifton: "I'm paleo right now. You can almost see an ab."
Paltrow: "I subsist entirely on pages torn out of W magazine at the moment."
Clifton: "We talk about food a lot. That's one thing we do that is fun. And has no calories."

What follows is a dizzying ten-minute ramble in which labels and brands go whizzing by my head almost audibly:

Paltrow: "When it comes to organic herbals, I try to grow my own at home. But sometimes that's just not convenient, so I turn to the cold-packed, hand-picked herb mixes from my friend Elsie's line, Easy Being Green. Sometimes Chris makes me wear a mask of Thom Yorke."
Clifton: "The new Thom Browne is almost too much. I'm into trad right now. I want one of those leather helmets they used to play football in."
Paltrow: "I once made dinner for the Cleveland Browns. I told them I was using my grandmother's skillet, but the reality was vastly different. The skillet was from Lodge's Logic line -- I bought it at the Burkina Faso Williams-Sonoma. The truth is that I have no grandparents. I was made in a lab."
Clifton: "David and I are naming our next child Bristol-Myers Squibb. If it's a girl."
Paltrow: "If it's a girl we'll have to get her some Tom's shoes and an Apple iPad. Oh, and my friend makes the most wonderful artisanal bath salts for children. All-natural ingredients. You can only get the range at her small brick and mortar on Carnaby in London, but I'll have them mail over some for little Bristol-Myers Squibb. The line's called Precious/Precocious."
Clifton: "That's ironic."

I'm never sure if they're looking to use me for product placement or if they just talk in these terms all of the time, but just to be sure I am redacting that part of the interview. I ask them what their plans are, after the movie gets its wide release in a month. By the time you'll be reading this, of course, its success or failure will be a thing of the past, but in the meantime they seem somehow both jaded and hopeful.

Clifton: "Hitting the slopes. Wait, what? I don't ski. I guess that's just the person I was trying to be just now. How odd."
Paltrow: "How Drew Barrymore."
Clifton: "Ugh, right? No, for me it's more like, I want to meet Ryan Seacrest. Go to the Poconos, maybe. I want Andy Cohen and Brian Wilson to fight over me."
Paltrow: "I've already been to every country, with Anthony Bourdain."
Clifton: "Like, to the death."
Paltrow: "But travel's always been very important to me. Especially now that I keep having children and naming them things."
Clifton: "Travel. This junket is really taking it out of me, honestly. Do you know that we've had this exact same conversation we're having with you, literally forty... What is it, forty-two times?"
Paltrow: "Thirteen of those times were en français."

I try to imagine them having this conversation in French, thirteen times, and it so disturbs my equanimity that I squeeze my crystal water tumbler until it cracks with a high, near-imperceptible ting. Paltrow reaches out and takes my hand, while Clifton looks intently at my face, as if searching for something.

Clifton: "I mean, you seem like a nice lady..."
Variety: "-- Thank you."
Clifton: "...But not so nice that it offsets the boredom. Here, have a hazelnut."

Later, when I ask what he means, exactly, he goes into detail. I have never met two people more comfortable with being patronizing in my life. It's like being slowly smothered to death by a well-meaning gift basket full of organic beauty products.

Clifton: "It's not that you're boring, of course. It's that... Well, don't you get tired of asking movie stars such as ourselves the same questions over and over? Wouldn't you like to..."
Paltrow: "Something about authenticity. Say something with 'authenticity' in it."
Clifton: "Wouldn't it be more authentic to, I don't know, talk about anything other than the work?"

The entitlement of these two, for a moment, is nearly breathtaking. Of course, why should they earn anything?

Paltrow: "They're going to come see my movies no matter what, homeslice. Why overdo the whole publicity thing?"
Clifton: "See, that's authentic."
Paltrow: "My mother, Blythe Danner, beat Jacob in an arm-wrestling match."
Clifton: "Too authentic."
Paltrow: "I am new to this, sorry. To authenticity."
Clifton: "It's okay."

A fan approaches Clifton with a bouquet of hydrangeas. Paltrow sits back, deep into her chair, flashing a toothy grin of satisfaction, anticipating what will happen next.
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