June 19, 2021

Laura Dern wins her Oscar, cementing the Dernaissance

Laura Dern won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar on Sunday night for her turn as the man-eating lawyer Nora in Marriage Story. And with that, Dern has officially achieved the crowning glory that anoints the age in which we now live: the Dernaissance.

The Dernaissance arguably began with the premiere of HBO’s Big Little Lies in 2017. Back then, Dern was one of the smaller names in a star-studded cast. Co-producers Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon were the headliners, Shailene Woodley represented the rising wave of young Hollywood stars, and Dern was playing the role of beloved character actress filling out the supporting cast.

But within a few weeks of the premiere, Dern’s Renata Klein was the breakout character of Big Little Lies. Gifs of Dern screaming, “I SAID THANK YOOUUUUUUU!!!!” swam wildly into comment threads everywhere. Big Little Lies was a water cooler show in its first season, and Laura Dern was the queen of the show.

I don’t want to pretend Laura Dern was an unknown before 2017. She had two Oscar nominations under her belt by then — one for 1991’s Rambling Rose and one for 2014’s Wild — along with two Golden Globes. She was known, and she was loved. But she wasn’t at quite the point where saying “I love Laura Dern!” had become a status symbol of sorts.

After 2017, professing your love for Laura Dern showed that a person was knowledgeable enough to be on the cutting edge of the cultural conversation, and had taste good and specific enough that they would never settle for an easy fave like Jennifer Lawrence. Laura Dern has become the celebrity crush-equivalent of claiming an obscure Radiohead B-track bootleg as your favorite song.

The Dernaissance developed rapidly: later in 2017, Dern won an Emmy for Big Little Lies. She reunited with director David Lynch (who cast her in her first major film role in Blue Velvet) for Twin Peaks’s enigmatic third season. She had a major role in The Last Jedi in which, endearingly, she can be seen to mouth, “Pew! Pew!” as she shoots her blaster.

By the end of 2019, the Dernaissance appeared to reach its apex. Dern was in Marriage Story and Little Women, making her central to two of the biggest movies of the year. At the Independent Spirit Awards Saturday night, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles serenaded her in front of half of Hollywood in a thoughtful endorsement of “just all of Laura Dern.” And the following evening, she won her first Oscar.

But right now is the danger point for Laura Dern. She has just now arrived at the point of saturation, the moment at which it is possible for the statement “I love Laura Dern!” to stop sounding cool and fresh and insightful, and to start sounding a bit basic, a bit tired, even. And if that happens — if people start to turn against her  Dern will have no choice but to, in the words of Anne Hathaway, give everyone a break from herself.

For all our sakes, let’s agree to not let that happen. Let’s not force Laura Dern to pull an Anne Hathaway/Jennifer Lawrence/any other woman who has ever been wildly celebrated in entertainment. Let’s not make her disappear from public view for a few years.

Can’t we keep Laura Dern around for as long as possible? It’s just … I love Laura Dern!

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