Gwyneth Paltrow is everything the internet loves to mock.
She’s a nepo baby, born to actor Blythe Danner and director Bruce Paltrow. She’s arguably an almond mom, having recently gone viral for sharing her “wellness routine,” in which she recounts a daily diet that includes one solid food (“lots of vegetables”) and two liquids (coffee and bone broth, which I refuse to concede is a “soup,” as she suggested).
As founder and CEO of lifestyle brand Goop, she’s a bit of a scamfluencer, too. Until this week, Goop was Paltrow’s most infamous gift to the world — an overpriced, under-researched catalog of assorted home goods and dubiously named wellness products. Chief among its controversies is its contribution to the granola influencer–to–anti-vaxxer pipeline; Goop has consistently come under fire for spreading misinformation, promoting unproven treatments and products as medically viable alternatives to scientifically supported health regimens.
But this week, Paltrow found a new way to stir up buzz: She’s involved in a lawsuit over her alleged “hit and run” ski accident from 2016.
The whole thing is blissfully ridiculous.
Quick recap: In 2019, Terry Sanderson, a retired optometrist, sued Paltrow for $3.1 million, later reduced to $300,000, over an incident in which he claims she “skied out of control” and crashed into him from behind, causing a “permanent traumatic brain injury” and “four broken ribs,” as well as “emotional distress and disfigurement.” The crash took place in February 2016 on a beginner’s run at the notoriously bougie Deer Valley ski resort in Park City, Utah, where a season pass costs $2,890. Paltrow has countersued for $1 plus legal fees, a handy little abbreviation that is still probably worth a lot of money, claiming that Sanderson actually hit her in the back, and as a result she lost “half a ski day.” Womp womp.
The whole thing is blissfully ridiculous. This trial exists in a privileged bubble, where grown adults can’t hash out their resort squabbles without getting litigious about it. As Paltrow’s legal team has alleged, this whole hubbub might be Sanderson’s “attempt to exploit her celebrity and wealth.” But there’s an even sillier spin on the situation: “Gwyneth Paltrow ski crash victim can’t enjoy wine tastings due to injuries, expert says.” It’s technically true — neuroradiology specialist Dr. Wendell Gibby testified that Sanderson used to be an “active person” with many hobbies, including wine tasting, but “after the accident, he deteriorated abruptly” and stopped enjoying them. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also not a great look! If Sanderson wanted to bolster his credibility as the average person trammeled by Paltrow’s celebrity, he might have suggested a hobby less emblematic of wealthy retirees.
As for Paltrow, she has spent her time in court looking both dressed up and fed up, pursing her lips irritably while jangling around in layered gold jewelry and luxurious textiles. One day, she showed up in Jeffrey Dahmer glasses. On other occasions, she’s brandished a $250 leather notebook and swigged from a giant green glass bottle of name-brand water.
Even Sanderson’s lawyer, Kristin VanOrman, seems starstruck in Paltrow’s presence: Last Friday, VanOrman sighed lustily over Paltrow’s 5’10” height, saying, “I’m so jealous.” Later, VanOrman asked if Paltrow got the idea to countersue for $1 from Taylor Swift, who had successfully countersued radio DJ David Mueller in 2019. Her interrogation got weirdly specific, culminating in the hilarious question, “You’ve never given Ms. Swift personal, intimate gifts for Christmas?”
But my personal favorite little tidbit came when VanOrman asked Paltrow to confirm how much her ski lessons cost. “I would have to check,” Paltrow demures. “Whatever the Deer Valley rate is, is what we paid.” Undeterred, Sanderson’s lawyer charges on. “From what I saw in your deposition, the total bill was around $8,980. Does that sound about right?” she asks. Paltrow, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, telegraphs total confusion. “I would honestly have to check,” she says again, piously. “But it was very expensive. Very.”
Sure, Gwyneth. It certainly sounds expensive, if you have no idea how much it costs. For Paltrow, $8,980 is an amount she doesn’t have to think about. It isn’t most of a year’s rent, or the price of an okay pre-owned car. It’s chump change; it’s a bill she charges to her card without a second glance. Not since Lucille Bluth has any person so thoroughly embodied the spirit of the question, “What could one banana cost? Ten dollars?” It’s spectacular.
Recent celebrity trials, involving Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, or Megan Thee Stallion and Tory Lanez, have revolved around the serious issues of domestic abuse. But with Paltrow, viewers can indulge in an unabashed delight, a serenely sanctimonious schadenfreude.
Here is the white woman to end all white women, born and bred into unimaginable privilege, who has used her considerable platform primarily to spread her vision of inaccessible wealth and thinness. She left her little California coastal enclave to spend a weekend swanning around the mountains, in a town overrun by rich and famous Angelenos seeking second homes. She bought her kids ski lessons that cost $9,000 and didn’t bat an eye. She managed to crash on a beginner’s ski run, a place where 3-year-old children regularly follow their instructors in single file without breaking anyone else’s ribs. Whether she hit someone or she didn’t, he’s injured, and she’s unscathed, and on top of all of that, she seems basically disdainful of the whole affair.
Given all this, it’s a perfect storm for pop culture lovers. It’s so rare to be able to claim the moral high ground so easily, to point and laugh at a rich person on trial for doing rich person things. There is no reflexive self-interrogation, no, “Am I a bad person for laughing at this?” If anything, Paltrow’s aura of utter untouchability has swung back around into a good thing. As writer Louis Staples tweeted, “Only Gwyneth Paltrow could … somehow come out of [this] looking iconic.” However entitled she seems to be, she’s delivering a goofy, guilt-free spectacle. It’s a master class in performing celebrity. ●