More than a decade has passed since Gwyneth Paltrow founded her lifestyle brand Goop, which began as a newsletter but expanded into a wellness empire — an oft-mocked one.
She worked steadily in Hollywood throughout those years, but a recent turn on Ryan Murphy’s latest project, “The Politician,” reminds us why anyone paid attention to Goop in the first place: Paltrow is a star.
She rises to the top of a television show that relies heavily on the screen presence of Ben Platt, an effective actor but one perhaps better suited for a stage. He plays Payton Hobart, an ambitious high schooler running an aggressive campaign for class president, and Paltrow plays Georgina, his mother and the best character on a show that has more than it knows what to do with.
“The Politician,” a political satire with themes reminiscent of Alexander Payne’s 1999 film “Election,” plays off established archetypes. Georgina is a clever reflection of Paltrow’s public persona, as a character who outwardly seems shallow but whose behavior suggests that there’s more to her than immaculate jewel-toned dresses and a firm belief in the healing power of crystals. (This benevolence makes sense, given that Paltrow’s husband, Brad Falchuk, an executive producer on the show and a frequent Murphy collaborator, wrote the role with his Oscar-winner wife in mind.)
When we first encounter Georgina, she’s sitting on a stool in the Hobart family’s luxurious backyard, painting a watercolor of a Syrian child killed in an airstrike. “It’s for a series I’m doing to raise awareness and money for the Syrian war debt,” she says softly to her boarish twin sons, sighing but maintaining an even-keeled tone. They walk away, picking a fight with their adopted younger brother in the process, after which Georgina comforts Payton.
“You can’t teach kindness. You know? I tried for a long time,” she whispers. “Can’t do much with small hearts. Hard hearts, maybe, but not small ones. I love them, don’t get me wrong, I just — the love has edges. It doesn’t go on and on the way my love for you does.”
There’s a lot to unpack about the Goopiness of Georgina’s words — in addition to her questionable painting subjects — and thankfully, Murphy spends time doing so. Whereas some other supporting characters get the short end of the stick, Georgina’s motivations and sacrifices are laid out for all to see. Early in the season, for instance, we discover that she has fallen in love with a woman who works at the stables (Martina Navratilova) but chooses to remain in her loveless marriage for the sake of Payton’s financial security. In another particularly moving scene, she tells Payton that she is scared by how far she is willing to go to ensure that he, her favorite son, achieves what he wants.
It’s plot twists galore from there on, but Paltrow’s ability to project Georgina’s measured resolve as well as her ethereal quality remains constant. Critics have drawn parallels between the creative styles of “The Politician” and Wes Anderson’s 2001 film “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and Paltrow seems to borrow a bit of her character Margot Tenenbaum’s weariness with the world.
In “The Politician,” Paltrow is as captivating as she’s ever been — such that it’s entirely believable when her character, after telling her husband that she’d like a divorce, wearily observes that “this is the fourth time somebody’s jumped out of a window when I’ve tried to break up with them.”