An old Vanity Show Hollywood Issue interview with the irresistibly charming Julia robert and George clooney has been circulating online for a few weeks. “The stars,” the general commentary said, “they don’t make them like that anymore! And in many ways, it’s true: the wit, glamor, and sense of ease projected by Hollywood A-Listers seem to have largely ended in the mid-years. Fame now means a mix of Instagram influencers turned actors, celebrity children turned stars, Disney Channel converts and British comedians in a dramatic miniseries. Where is the playful fun and beauty of Clooney and Roberts, Denzels and Angelinas, Hugh Grants and Emma Thompsons? Has an industry so attached to exclusion somehow carved its own grave when it came to the true power of the stars?
Enter actor Rose Matafeo, the 29-year-old star and creator of Starstruck– a show that both examines the spiritlessness in big-budget Hollywood and makes a compelling case for the elusive, ineffable charm that dazzles onscreen. Matafeo plays Jessie, a tall, irreverent and stubborn Kiwi expatriate who works two boring jobs, in a cinema and as a nanny, in London. On New Years Eve, she returns home with a very twisted and attractive young Englishman, who turns out to be the terribly famous – and professionally unsatisfied – actor Tom Kapoor (Nikesh patel). A riff on the beloved movie Notting hill, the show, which premiered in the US on HBO Max on June 10 (and has already been renewed for a second season), emphasizes the power of a shared sense of humor to transport romantic comedy into new emotional territory.
As Jessie, Matafeo is both hilarious and unknowable. Rather than adopting the extremely confessional mode of recent prestige comedy series such as Chip bag Where Ramy, StarstruckThe first season leaves a lot of unsaid. As a viewer, you are courted, wanting to learn more about the characters while simultaneously developing a strong allegiance to them. Jessie’s outrageously emphatic best friend and roommate Kate (Emma Sidi) provides endless high-energy entertainment, unable to contain his enthusiasm for Tom’s presence (albeit indirectly) in his life. She gives what Jessie – who leads a somewhat aimless existence in a country where she is not from – holds back. Minnie Pilot makes an exciting appearance as Tom’s money-hungry agent, who warns him against dating a “civilian” – not because he’s too good for it, but because the celebrity life is unbearable for, um, normal people. A series of missed connections between Jessie and Tom ensue, punctuated by indefatigable dizziness and a sense of longing. Are they going or not?
Starstruck shows us that the kind of glamor we expect from Hollywood doesn’t have to come in familiar fashions, nor does it need to intelligently break all the rules of the book. Matafeo mocks its banality as well as its particularity. Even before meeting Tom, we understand why someone “like him” (chiseled, rich) would be interested in someone “like her” (eats bread, broke). Jessie has the kind of magnetism that doesn’t need to be explained by an exciting person; it is fully present in his body and revolves around his own mind. Tom is drawn to someone who is not made out of movies, but more compelling and immediate, out of life. In fact, the biggest question of Starstruck is this: why would Jessie date this absurdly famous actor?
She doesn’t seem totally convinced by the appeal of his lifestyle, although their chemistry is undeniable. Jessie has a habit of sleeping with men who aren’t funny or servile, when she isn’t at all. Tom has a quiet and, by definition, independent sense of humor. To come to terms with this love affair, Jessie would have to believe that she is worthy of not only attention, but reciprocity. It’s a question that permeates her life: How long can she stay somewhat ironic away from everything and everyone? When should she start to show herself fully?
It’s the kind of high-flying act that we demand from popular actors, who need to act out a fantasy while embodying authenticity. Starstruck shows us how the workings of the cinema can deprive an active actor of real intimacy, while a sense of whimsy or illogicality might reward those of us who think we know how each story is going to play out. It’s both the romantic comedy we’ve been asking for and the one we deserve.
Where to look Starstruck:
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