Thursday, April 9, 2015

In Defense of Kristen Stewart

Kristen Stewart
It may seem ridiculous to say, but this is a big week for Kristen Stewart. General audiences are likely confused by these sentiments because honestly, what has she done? There's a popular stipulation that she cannot act due to her momentary time with the Twilight franchise. Yes, those films have become punching bags. However, today marks her 25th birthday and tomorrow is the limited release in America of her latest film The Clouds of Sils Maria. While it may be too late to win back those who consider her nothing but a lip biter, I want to suggest that she isn't the boring actress that you think she is. She is actually secretly interesting.

Let us get the annoying part out of the way first. Her career may have been jump started by Twilight, but it isn't the definition of her talents. Nobody does their best work in a franchise film and if one is to assess Stewart's work in big budgeted fare that also includes Snow White and the Huntsman, she is a little too terrible to ever be a big name in the way that Robert Downey Jr. or Tom Hanks can be in grand scale productions. However, there's a notion that she has no acting chops outside of this and that she stares pointlessly off into directions. The truth is that she has had a lousy rack record with scripts that don't give her much. She isn't as limited however as Cody Horn or Blake Lively. 

In order to understand why she's underrated, there is a need to understand where she came from. She was a child actor who made her way through films like The Cake Eaters and Into the Wild. She made a name for herself playing unexceptional girls who wouldn't seem interesting at a glance. However, she adds complexity to the characters and as she grew older, she began to master the craft a little better. In The Runaways, she showed her biggest range by playing singer Joan Jett; a performance that was even endorsed by the actual figure. In the film, she manages to embody the closeted yet strict figure that would define most of her characters. They were tough when they needed to be.

It was these general ideas that would define her roles. She wasn't conventional and it is what drove her roles. If her performance style seemed frustrating, it was because of her character and the increasing discomfort in the spotlight. It isn't likely that popular audiences are aware of the roles that she's done since 2012 despite them being among her most promising. Films like Camp X-Ray and Still Alice reflect two sides of a performer and one that is necessary. In the former, she is a tough yet sensitive prison guard at Guantanamo Bay who is called upon in the third act to express emotion through minimalist ways. In Still Alice, it is even more quiet and to watch as Julianne Moore's Oscar-winning performance deconstructs before our eyes is to raise interesting acting choices. What does she do to express her disappointment in Moore's memory loss or insecurities? There's an astounding quality to her silence and arguably one of many unappreciated gems in the movie.

Most importantly, it seems unfair to already call her an awful actress when she is only 25. Where others may spiral out of control, there are others who are late bloomers and eventually make a niche in their later years. Stewart has already done impressive work outside of the mainstream moniker she is known for. Much like recent Scarlett Johannson, she has helped to elevate the general quality of art house with her popular influence while playing against the stereotypes that we do know. Sure, films like Adventureland may seem like more conventional fare, but her chemistry with Jesse Eisenberg is exceptional and makes for one of the best coming of age films of that year. She knew how to play along and added to the comedy in between the more dramatic dysfunctional family moments.

Now to her most recent film, which has potential to be her most noteworthy film yet. While many people could lobby the praise of The Clouds of Sils Maria on co-star Juliette Binoche, Stewart has done something rather impressive. She is the first American actress to win the Caesar, which is the equivalent of the French Oscar. While I have yet to see the film, the honor is not lost on me and is actually quite stunning considering the amount of actresses that have existed prior to this film. There are many that would be considered great or even in another stratosphere. Yet, before the age of 25, she became the first for a foreign prestige award. While it is possible that this is simply that French don't have tastes (which is doubtful), it is something that will be a positive mark on her career, even if popular culture won't let her forget other movies first. 

Between this and Still Alice, it is arguable that she is at the top of her game, or possibly on the verge of becoming better. I don't know that Stewart is necessarily the most cutting edge of actresses, but she doesn't need to be. Even if she is one note, is there something bad to that? Performers like Gregory Peck or Harpo Marx had one specific style yet they remained revered performers. I don't think that we should be badmouthing Stewart at this point because even if she is a little "flat" as a performer to you, she actually makes enough interesting independent films to counterbalance everything. I can only hope that The Clouds of Sils Maria is as great as everyone says and that hopefully it will help to change the conversation that we have towards her.

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