About Me

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Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Kristen Stewart Conundrum



"She is a real force with terrific instincts." 
-Sean Penn on Kristen Stewart

"Kristen isn't interested in blurting out her emotions all in front of her, and that results in really intelligent and interesting performances."
 -Jodie Foster on Kristen Stewart

"She is unique, and I don't see-outside of maybe two or three people much older than she is- a uniqueness in actresses today. She is a one-of-a-kinder".
-Bruce Dern on Kristen Stewart

"This is a gutsy woman....young, bright, wonderful, talented, observant…"
-William Hurt on Kristen Stewart

“Stewart is, quite simply, a wonderful actress."
-Roger Ebert on Kristen Stewart


There are no doubt a great many people who just had a major WTF moment while reading the above quotes. Are these people talking about the same Kristen Stewart? The really bad actor in those awful Twilight movies? The same one that is now, quite unjustifiably, the highest paid actress ever? 

What in the hell are these otherwise respectable people on about?  I mean, c'mon, there are Facebook pages, memes and YouTube montages that are dedicated solely to confirming that which everybody already knows: that Kristen Stewart simply can not act. 

What if, though, just for a moment, we consider the notion that maybe Penn, Foster, Dern, Hurt and Ebert are not just talking out of their asses (though I would pay good money to see that)?

For instance, let's take a look at this scene:




No, Kristen Stewart did not guest star on The Sopranos.

That is a scene from the 2010 film, Welcome to the Rileys starring Stewart, James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo and directed by Jake Scott (son of director Ridley Scot). The movie is about a middle aged man (Gandolfini) who, after the death of his own teenage daughter, attempts to become a father figure to a 16 year old drug addict runaway turned sex worker (Stewart).  I see a many things in Stewart's performance in this clip but I do not see anything that suggests that she "can't act". 


Welcome to the Rileys premiered in January 2010 at the Sundance Film Festival to an unusually positive critical reaction to her performance:


"The discovery once again is Kristen Stewart. Who knew she had these notes? I'm discovering an important new actress."
Roger Ebert's Sundance Journal 

"But the film belongs to Kristen Stewart, raw, uncompromising, magnificent at every turn, delivering a ferocious and emotionally-charged performance." 
Moviehole.com

"She comes off like a rabid dog, completely unpredictable...See it for Stewart’s electric performance."
Laremy Legel Film.com

"Stewart's strung-out, frowzy performance is a timely reminder that the girl can act."
Robbie Collin, The Telegraph U.K.



It turns out that Stewart has got a surprisingly long list of performances in smaller independent films for which she has received an impressive number of glowing reviews from both critics and the public alike. Speak (2004), The Cake Eaters (2007), Into The Wild (2007),  The Yellow Handkerchief (2008), The Runaways (2010) and Welcome to the Rileys are amongst the films where Stewart is arguably doing her very best work. Virtually nobody has seen or even heard of these movies. On the other hand, everyone does seem to know about the Twilight movies which comprise what are arguably the weakest performances of  Stewart's career (which, BTW, comprises 31 IMDB credits since she began acting at the age of  9).


That is where the conundrum comes in. 


I remember seeing Welcome to the Rileys not too long ago. I was familiar with some of Stewart's other work, both Twilight and non-Twilight, and already thought she was a pretty solid actor. I was even more impressed with her performance in the film. What I took away from it, more than anything else, is that I barely recognized Kristen Stewart in Welcome to the Rilys as the same person from the Twilight movies.

It was around this time that the reviews for Stewart's latest film, Snow White and the Huntsman, began appearing. I was stunned when I read some of them:


"The elephant in the room, however, is Stewart...she’s dreadful."

-Tom Clift, Moviedex.com

"It doesn't help that Snow White is Kristen Stewart, an actress who seems to have just the one expression at her command..."
-Andrea Chase, killermoviereviews.com

"I believe it proves my theory that Kristen Stewart is the Keanu Reeves of her generation." 
-Annalee Newitz, i09.com

Woah! Quite the critical turnaround, huh?

I found that last one particularly surreal. I remember thinking, "Seriously? You're putting her in the same sentence with the go-to 'insert bad actor here'  punchline of the last 20 years?". Things got even more surreal when I started seeing that line turning up all over the internet and racking up the "like"'s on Facebook.



"Magnificent at Every Turn" vs "She's Dreadful"

Snow White and The Huntsman and Welcome to the Rileys are very different roles in very different movies. Nonetheless, I still found it truly bizarre that two vastly divergent opinions about the same actor of equal yet opposite force can co-exist in the same universe. When you read some of the glowing praise back to back with some of the brutal reviews, it's hard to believe that are even talking about the same person. I found the whole thing perplexing enough to motivate me to do some research and watch some more movies so I could finally get the bottom of what I call The Kristen Stewart Conundrum.

For the record,  I don't care about how much money Stewart makes, her personal life, her relationships, how she deals with the press, her looks, her weight (though, God, that whole issue in show biz could be series of posts unto themselves) or any of the other media obsessions surrounding her and celebrities in general. 

All I care about is her acting and what people think about it. 

Acting is craft that a relatively small of amount of people know the in and outs of but that everybody has an opinion about. Whether it be critics, the average movie goer or even actors, what constitutes a good performance is a highly subjective matter. 

What fascinates me about the wildly differing opinions on Stewart's work are the questions it raises about what constitutes good or bad performances in the eyes of critics and the public and how major mainstream success can influence and shape an actor's image and credibility. 

"The Twilight Nonsense"

In November 2008, the first movie of the the Twilight series was released. It and the films that followed were, and still are, by far Kristen Stewart's biggest movies ever. The films were based on the best selling books written by Stephanie Meyer.

Stewart played the female lead, Bella Swan, an "average" teenage girl who gets caught up in what can best be described as a Gothic tween soap opera involving a love triangle of vampires and werewolves. The role was both the best and the worst thing that ever happened to Kristen Stewart.

"Too bad Stewart's talents are being wasted on the Twilight nonsense"
-Rotten Tomatoes Audience Review of Speak (2004) 

The major difference between the Stewart fans and "haters" is that, basically, they are watching her in different movies. The fans know (but often don't like) Twilight. From what I've seen, though, the "haters" don't know and don't want to know anything about any performances in obscure movies that might change their opinion of her. Of course, there is also a small but vocal contingent that dislike her in any role, no matter what.

It reminds a bit of when Jessica Lange made her film debut in the 1976 version of King Kong. Knowing nothing about her other than that she was a model turned actress whose big screen debut was in one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, the critics were brutal. "Worst performance of the year" and "She'll never work again" were typical reviews. Six years later, Lange won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Francis. I knew people who were still incredulous about her win even then.

Reviews, good or bad, can be like political talking points. Truth, lies or distortion, it makes no difference. Once they are repeated often enough, for many people, they become true (though aside from producer Harvey Weinstein's Oscar voting campaigns, there are rarely agendas driving movie reviews). I have come across people who have not even seen a single movie of Stewart's yet are still are under the impression that she can't act.  She's not by any means in the same league as Lange but I do think that Twilight is Kristen Stewart's King Kong.

I first saw Kristen Stewart in Twilight. Yes, I have seen every Twilight movie to date. I'm a geek. That's my job.

She did not make much of an impression on me at the time, good or bad.  It was not until I started seeing Stewart in other roles like Adventureland (2009) and The Runaways that I really got a sense that there was way more to her than the role of Bella Swan might suggest. From there on in, I watched her in the Twilight movies with different eyes. 

The first thing I got a sense for with those new eyes is that Stewart seemed to be holding back. It occurred to me fairly quickly into watching the second film, Twilight: New Moon, that she seemed to be directed away from playing anything that was too strong in any direction (and I can tell you from experience that directors can indeed make a big difference in actor's performance). 


"...a series of movies that clearly constrain her acting ability and makes her seem as boring as her character, Bella Swan."
David Blaustein, ABC News


"What surprised me was how much I admired Kristen Stewart, who in Twilight was playing below her grade level."
-Roger Ebert on Adventureland


In the Twilight movies, I got the impression that Stewart was directed to play a blank slate that the target audience of tween girls could project themselves onto. I have not read any of the Twilight books (my dedication to this blog only goes so far) but I'm told this is very much what the character of Bella Swan is like in the books as well.

Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), is indeed passive and blank, a transparent proxy for the audience.
-Dana Stevens, slate.com 

In that sense, Stewart was doing her job. She was giving the franchise what it needed by not alienating as much of the target audience as possible. It's an accomplishment that did her no favours.

 



"...her plain, expressionless face and deadpan voice was almost painful to watch."
-IMDB User Review of Twilight


"Miss Stewart - however cute she may be - seemed to be only given one direction, and that was to 'stare longingly into his face with your lips slightly open'."
-IMDB user review of Twilight


Watching Stewart in the Twilight movies quickly became frustrating as hell. It felt like she was working at about 10% of her true potential. It's no coincidence that both Stewart and co-star Robert Pattinson were often criticized for their work in Twilight but then got much better responses to their roles in other films. 

The great irony of Stewart's now extremely successful career is that the one role for which she is best known is her most atypical and one that is not truly indicative of her talents.  


"A Flawless Performance" vs "Cannot Handle the Drama"

In 2004, Stewart starred in Speak, a low budget indie film originally made for the Showtime/Lifetime cable networks. The film is about a 14 year old rape victim and her struggle to tell someone, anyone, about her ordeal (and I gotta add here that I find it very troubling that it has become necessary to make movies about such an issue for so young an audience).

Just 13 when the movie was shot, Stewart's performance was well received.


 "Kristen Stewart doesn't just shine, she burns...a flawless performance."
-Chris Parry, efilmcritic. com

 "Wow! Kristen Stewart. An impressive performance."
- IMDB User Review of Speak 

"She does things with her face that actors twice her age with twice her experience only wish they could do"
-IMDB User Review of Speak

"Kristen Stewart played the full range of emotions from debilitating despair to righteous anger and made the character completely believable."
-IMDB User Review of Speak 

 "Kristen Stewart's performance and expressions--incredible"
-IMDB User Review of Speak 

Granted Stewart is playing a character that doesn't talk all that much but it is still fascinating that, even so early in her career, the first thing many of the reviews mention is her "expressions". In this case it is as a positive, not the negative "inexpressive" and "one expression" type comments that will come up time and again later on. It is again something of a conundrum that throughout her career Stewart has been alternately praised and condemned for the exact same thing: her "expressions" or alleged lack thereof.

What I see in her performance in Speak is this 13 year old kid reacting to events going on around her with incredible instincts that are beyond her years as well as an uncanny ability to communicate those feelings to an audience. Stewart and the character she plays become one in the same. 

Meanwhile, on Rotten Tomatoes, we start to see the first evidence of the impact Twilight would have on Stewart's image and credibility as an actor. In reviews dated around late 2008 and early 2009, just after the release of the first Twilight movie, the first truly negative reviews of her work in Speak start rearing their heads on the popular movie site.


"Stewart cannot handle the drama the role brings"
-Rotten Tomatoes Audience Review of Speak

"I see nothing in her face or movements that betrays anything worth looking at. "
-Rotten Tomatoes Audience Review of Speak

"Perfect role for Kristen Stewart's expressionless face."
-Rotten Tomatoes Audience Review of Speak

Amazingly, Stewart is now suddenly getting criticized for having an "expressionless face" for the exact same role for which she was previously praised for her "incredible" expressions (to be fair, there were still good reviews of Speak post-Twilight). It is evident that audiences, and later critics, seeing her for the first time in Twilight were beginning to make those weaker performances their baseline opinion of Stewart's talents in general.


"Expressionless Face" vs "Incredible Expressions"

The issue of Stewart's "expressions", "face" and "look" come up negatively again and again in many reviews. To one degree or another, these types of criticisms haunt her in every role.

"Fear, uncertainty, determination and love; they all look the same on Stewart’s inexpressive face."
-Tom Clift, Moviedex.com review of Snow White and The Huntsman


"This young actress can convey more with one look than most veterans can with an entire monologue."
-IMDB User Review of Speak


So what is it about this aspect of her performance that so polarizes critical reaction?

Well, for one thing, she will often play scenes muted, at times with a seemingly neutral gaze, allowing only glimpses of emotion sparingly.

In this scene from Speak, she has just snuck into a hospital room to escape the world as she reflects on what is still her completely solitary emotional trauma:




The emotions of this scene are powerful yet understated. In t
his case, as in much of the movie, she is being helped out by her own voice over. Still, though, it showcases a common thread in her performances. The text provides the context of the story and she, with various degrees of subtly,  fills in the emotions.

In this scene from Welcome to the Rileys, Mallory's (Stewart) would be father figure  Doug (Gandolfini) is paying her $100 a day in rent to live in her home. In the process, he is fixing up her run down dwelling and attempting to instill some sense of structure and discipline into her life (in what presumably is a part of long term plan to get her off drugs and away from sex work ).

Take a look:

   


The way she looks at him towards the end of the scene is great. She says almost nothing in reaction to his lecturing. She doesn't have to. The look is very much alive: she is at once angry, frightened, conflicted and vulnerable. She both needs yet rebels against his guidance, authority and caring. Once again, the script creates the context, she subtly supplies the emotions.

But what about the multitude of people that seem to see nothing in her face, those who frequently use words like "inexpressive", "one expression" and "expressionless"?  Do they just not "get it"? For some, this may be the case but I don't think it's quite that easy.

Stewart's "look" or "expressions" can be very understated and subtle. So much so that people could either miss them completely or, more likely, are just plain frustrated by the lack of forthright emotion.

"Kristen Stewart is always on the verge of emoting but never quite gets there."
-Netflix User Review of Adventureland

In the case of Twilight, where the text is not providing not enough context or weak context, these "looks" and "expressions" exist in a vacuum and come off as "blank" or "inexpressive".

Snow White and the Huntsman is another case where Stewart's understated expressions were poorly received. Take a look at this scene:

     



That incredibly subtle look is just so very Kristen Stewart. It's a  boldly small way to play off of something so big.  Knowing her other work, I can appreciate what she is trying to do in that scene. Without that knowledge, though, it's a moment that could easily be subject to other interpretations.


"Touching Her Hair Non-Stop"

The "hair touching" criticism is right up there with "inexpressive". And it's not just that Stewart is apparently touching her hair "non-stop" in "every scene", there are also complaints about lip biting, stuttering, exhaling, and just about any other twitch or tic (or whatever you want to call them) that anyone has ever seen her have.

One movie where that where these types of comments come up a lot is Adventureland (2009). Directed by Greg Mottola (Superbad) and co-starring Jesse Eisenberg and Ryan Reynolds, the  movie is probably Stewart's most critically divisive role. From what I've seen, it is also the one with the most complaints about her contentious tics and twitches, for lack of a better term (calling them tics and twitches is a bit unfair as that implies involuntary or sub-conscious physical actions and I'm quite certain that they are deliberate acting choices on Stewart's part).

In Adventureland, Stewart plays a teen who is emotionally damaged by her father's quick remarriage after the death of her mother. She enters into an increasingly problematic relationship with Eiesnberg, who is working at the same amusement park as Stewart in his first post graduate yet minimum wage job. 

Predominately aimed at a youth audience, the film very much lives under the shadow of Twilight. For Stewart, that is not a good thing.











"Oh, and Kristen Stewart is, as always awful."
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Review of Adventureland


"Kristen Stewart gets too much criticism for her acting....don't judge her off of the Twilight series."
-Netflix User Review of Adventureland


"Kristen Stewart does her trade marked emotionally crippled teenager bit and despite myself I still cared about her."
Netflix User Review of Adventureland


"Kristen Stewart harbors too much teenage angst while touching her hair in what appears to be every scene"
-Netflix User Review of Adventureland

"I was getting annoyed seeing Kristen Stewart touching her hair nonstop and chewing on her lip."
Netflix User Review of Adventureland


Initially, I was perplexed that so many people were so hung up on such small details of her performances. Isn't this just her version of Jack Nicolson's smirks, Al Pacino's yelling and  Christopher Walken's quirky offbeat line readings? In terms of audience tolerance, not in the least, apparently.

I think understand where the annoyance is coming from. 

In Twilight, for instance, the character of Bella is so blank that any time she does anything remotely distinctive, like the hair touching, for instance, it stands out like a sore thumb. Nobody likes sore thumbs.

Once her tics and twitches are noticed, they can create a vicious circle: the more they are talked about, the more it creates a hyper awareness of them. And, on the internet, almost everything gets talked about a lot. 

When I went back and watched her performances, I even found myself constantly watching for them at the expense of everything else. It becomes like Bob Dylan's nasally high pitched singing or William Shatner's staggered delivery. Issues of artistic merit aside, those aspects of their performance have been commented on and joked about so much that it reaches the point that audiences fixate on them and thus can see little else. It's a byproduct of overexposure.

Yet the problem does not begin and end with Stewart's Twilight overexposure. The powerful  negative reactions to her tics and twitches are very real for a lot of people. They seem to me to have a disproportionally emotional element to them.  It is like these tics and twitches become the focal point for other less easily articulated aspects of her acting that just plain rub some people the wrong way. 

There's kind of an emotional rawness and realness to some of Stewart's performance that can, at times, be a bit unsettling to watch. One of the ways these elements manifest themselves in her performances is via the tics and twitches.

Take a look at this scene from Adventureland in which Eisenberg has just caught Stewart cheating on him with a married man, played by Ryan Reynolds.



 "Stuttering + twitching = great acting"
-YouTube comment on the above clip

I would got along with the above quote if that was the only thing she was doing in that scene. It's not. 

She is living the emotional reality of the scene. The way she is working off of Eisenberg is very real. At one point, she echoes back his "fucking idiot" line, but now directed inwards at herself with a whole new and much sharper intensity. 

The "stuttering" and the "twitching" become the physical manifestations of her emotions. She is in pain in a way that you can just feel. That kind of emotion may put some people off, quite possibly even subconsciously.


"...there's a quality about her that I find affecting, a sort of contradictory flinty fragility, like she's easily broken but also quick to temper.  And she's guarded, making those few moments where she relaxes and lights up something special."
Drew McWeeny, Hitfix.com review of Adventureland



That sense of authenticity is the key to the reason behind the twitches and tics. For me, in Twilight, for instance, when I see Stewart touch her hair in an emotional moment, it's the only time I feel like I'm watching a real person. 

"She’s been criticized for being very twitchy and there’s some negative things said about her in regards to her acting affectations, but they’re not affectations, they’re who she is and that’s how she is. And she’s very open and honest and authentic in herself and it really comes down to authenticity. "
-Jake Scott, director of Welcome to the Rileys

Take, for instance, this scene from the 2008 film The Yellow Handkerchief, starring William Hurt, Eddie Redmayne and Stewart. In the film, ex-con Hurt and troubled teens Redmayne and Stewart are thrown together into one car by circumstance in what is essentially your basic emotional road trip movie . In this scene, the three complete strangers are forced to share  a motel room for the nightTake a look at the scene from The Yellow Handkerchief by clicking here (it's a lengthy clip, you can stop watching around 6:20 or so)

Again in this scene, the often dreaded hair touching is, to me, very real. It's the way Stewart is living through the scene, rather than just acting in it. It's the kind of behavior I've seen from real people in real life. I think, though, that you need to get be able to get get past the fixation on the twitches and tics to see it. 


"Stewart largely disavows the tics and tells her best-known role entailed—the gnawed-on lip, the downcast eyes—in favor of a more forthright relationship with the camera." 
Christopher Orr, The Atlantic  review of Snow White  and the Hunstman







"An Amazingly Real Sad Girl"

"I am now really convinced that Kristen Stewart does not have a happy bone in her body."
Netflix User Review of Adventureland

If I were playing Stewart's part in Adventureland and somebody wrote that about my performance I would consider that the highest compliment anyone could ever pay me. That is very much what her character is: she really is that fucked up.

"Kristen Stewart plays an amazingly real sad girl."
-Rotten Tomatoes Audience Review of Speak


That is another description that comes up a lot when discussing Stewart's work, "real". In the 2010 movie, The Runaways, she got a new and different opportunity to play more of that "realness".



Music video director Floria Sigismondi had, for some time, been planning a film about the first major all girl punk band, The Runaways. Breaking onto the scene in the mid to late 70's,  The Runaways would be become an underground sensation that would ultimately launch the career of rock legend Joan Jett. 

Kristen Stewart was cast in the role of Joan Jett. Dakota Fanning was cast as The Runaways lead singer, Cherry Currie. Fanning was also trying to break the mold of public perception by distancing herself from her career as a child actor.

Stewart immersed herself in the character. She changed her look, her hair and took on the attitude and mannerisms of a young Jett. She added to her musical talents (see Into The Wild) by singing and playing guitar just like Jett, coached by Joan herself.

"Stewart's vocal impersonation of Jett is uncanny. She can be a compelling performer when allowed to do something other than mope around a Twilight movie. Stewart is something of a revelation, full of fire and attitude..."
Grek Maki- Maki at the Movies




"Stewart just plain nails the role -- she's tough, she's hungry and she loves playing rock star as much as she loves playing guitar. Stewart makes you want to watch the movie."
Tom Long, The Detroit News

"Stewart is very spot on as Jett...The slouch, the snarl, the open-legged sitting position, and the raw, powerful voice..."
-Netflix User Review of The Runaways

"I now recognize Kristen Stewart as a serious actress."
-Netflix User Review of The Runaways

-"I am such an un-fan of Kristen Stewart that I was skeptical about her as Joan. I loved it though"
Netflix User Review of The Runaways

-"She actually managed a smile and a semi angry look for this film. There may yet be hope."
Netflix User Review of The Runaways

My respect for Stewart as an actor was upped a notch watching her in The Runaways. I also remember thinking "God, she must hate those Twilight movies more than anybody else does".

Kristen Stewart's performance as Joan Jett is the kind of role they like to hand out Oscar nominations for; the chameleon like portrayal of a real person or "pulling a Meryl Streep" as some call it. However, Jett is just a bit too obscure a figure for the Academy and The Runaways features underage girls in a great many sex, drugs and rock and roll scenes. Not to mention that Stewart was not yet on the industry's radar in that way and that practically nobody saw the movie in the first place. 

"Audiences tend to avoid Kristen Stewart's non-'Twilight' movies like vampires fleeing daylight. Believe me, it's their loss."
Lou Lemick, New York Post


Nonetheless, The Runaways does showcase one the cornerstones of Stewart's best performances: the understated realness of many of her roles.

Take a look at this scene where Jett is composing while taking a bath.





I really like this scene but it also makes me think that this kind of thing can easily register to some audiences as "nothing".

Jett's unique blend of allure and threat, apathy and determination, gets a mumbling hyper-naturalized take from Stewart—more Brando than Bella Swan. Her performance is largely internal."
-Karina Longworth, The Village Voice


Wow. Kristen Stewart has now been compared to both Marlon Brando and Keanu Reeves. That is one divisive actor!

There are times when Stewart has emotional explosions and then there times that she just lets little bits of her inner turmoil out in more low key scenes. Take, for instance, this scene in Welcome to the Rileys where Mallory has just met Doug''s wife Lois (played by Melissa Leo) for the first time.



This is scene is where, as Jodie Foster points out, Stewart is not "blurting out her emotions all in front of her". There is a lot of pain beneath the surface. She plays it close to the bone, remaining guarded yet not completely invulnerable. That, and she's holding her own in a scene with Melissa freakin' Leo.


"Some accuse her of being flat and emotionless in her films but the more I watch her work, I see that what makes her work stand out is that she is real. Never overacting or trying to play the heavily emotional scenes...it's like your viewing a real person in life"
IMDB User Review of Welcome to the Rileys


"It Doesn't Help That Snow White is Played by Kristen Stewart"


However, "a real person in life" does not always work for her. Take, for instance some of the reviews for Snow White and The Huntsman, ie: "dreadful", "one expression at her command" and the infamous "Keanu Reeves of her generation". Stewart
 is again having same problem that she has always had with both the influence of Twilight and, perhaps more significantly,  the way that audiences sometimes react to and/or interpret Stewart's acting. 

"As Snow White, Kristen Stewart is terrific. I have not seen any of the Twilight films, but on the basis of Panic Room, Runaways, and now this, I have to say she’s among my very favourite younger actors."
-CJ Johnson, FilmMafia.com

I have not seen Snow White and The Hunstman but, going off of the short clips posted on YouTube,  what I see is that Stewart is approaching the material with her usual understated, internalized and naturalistic performance.  I think the reason why she keeps getting negatively singled out in reviews is that she's playing a different game than the other actors. It's almost as if  her co-stars, Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth, are playing Shakespeare and Stewart is in a documentary. It is certainly an esoteric and ballsy choice to make in a big mainstream blockbuster.

"Stewart, with her contemporary edge, seems to be acting in the wrong era."
Peter Rainer, The Christian Science Monitor


"Snow White is meant to be "the fairest of them all" when Kristin Stewart is one doggy lookin bitch."
-Rotten Tomatoes Audience Review 

That last comment is a bit harsh but it is an otherwise astute, insightful and completely reasonable critique of  Stewart's performance in the film.




"An Actress Who Isn't Horrible"


Once seen in the broader context of Stewart's career, the assertion that she "can't act", in my opinion, does not hold up to scrutiny. Other criticisms such as "one expression", "blank" and "touching her hair non-stop" are, at the very least, open to debate. 

Having learnt more about Stewart and her work than any 48 year-old man should, I find the divergent critical opinions of her work to be much less of a conundrum now.

"All in all, my all time favorite movie, starring an actress who isn't horrible, as most of the world apparently believes"
-Netflix User Review of Advdentureland


While not nearly as inept and untalented as some would have you believe, Kristen Stewart does have a certain raw and unrefined quality to her performances. That rawness can, depending on the role, work for or against her.  

"I can’t think about it as logic. I can’t put too much sense on to it like that. If I ever think about something too hard I will leave the scene after we are done shooting and it’s like: ‘I didn’t go through that. That’s not real. I didn’t just go through that and I faked it.’ I used like these tools that I learned over the years that I’ve been able to fake it. And that feels horrible." 
-Kristen Stewart on her own acting

Clearly, Stewart can rise to great heights in smaller indie movies where the writing and directing are there to back her up. She also has a special talent for quite effectively bringing to life some very emotionally damaged characters. Nonetheless, I think it's fair to say that her transition to mainstream blockbusters has been, well, somewhat problematic. 


“She’s very vulpine—very wolfish—and wily, kind of twitchy. Directing her is kind of like wrangling a herd of cats.”
-Jake Scott


As I said earlier, she's not in the same league, as say Jessica Lange (there is rarely any debate surrounding actors of that caliber), but Stewart certainly has the potential to get there.

Despite the major critical backlash, the box office success of the Twilight series, and now Snow White and The Hunstman as well, has put Stewart in a position where she can afford to play more interesting roles in smaller movies.

The early buzz on Stewart's role as Marylou in the upcoming film adaptation of Jack Kerouac's On The Road is predominantly good (shot right here in my hometown...though I am not in it...hmmm) .

"Kristen Stewart, fine and untwitchy"
 Manohla Dargis, The New York Times review of On The Road

The film got a reported 11 minute standing ovation at Cannes. Like Welcome to the Rileys, there is already Oscar buzz for Kristen Stewart.  Yes, I just put the words "Kristen Stewart" and "Oscar" in the same sentence for the second time.

Should such a thing as an Oscar for Kristen Stewart ever come to pass, given everything I've seen about her on the internet, I sure as hell want to be online when that envelope is ripped open.




45 comments:

  1. Thanks, Terence. In the middle of all this brouhaha about Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders, I wanted to blog about it (and how it's really none of our business, etc), while also highlighting Stewart's contributions to indie films. I searched for a reference and your blog entry above was the best and most comprehensive one I could find to link to. (Hope you don't mind). All the best, Jean

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    1. Not at all. Glad I could be of help. Thanks for reading!

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  3. That was fantastic. I really like her as an actress. :) Well done

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  4. Thank you so much for a great article. She is young and she is growing as an actor. I think she is dedicated to the craft so she will only get better. That is if Hollywood does not turn her off in some way. I think many people that are so ugly in their comments have their own agenda's.

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  5. Wow what a great analysis.
    Unfortunately my experience of Ms Stewart prior to today consisted of 3/4 of the first Twilight movie (as much as I could stand) and Snow White.
    I very nearly couldn't even muster the enthusiasm to read this post, however, having done so and having viewed the included clips my initial opinion has reversed.
    My only remaining criticism (and this may just be because I haven't seen the right movies), is that Kristen Stewart doesn't seem to be very good at playing happy. I mean sure she can do the tortured-teen-junkie-hooker-angst thing like a pro, but when it comes to loosening up and cracking a real smile... not so much. Interesting that she seems to struggle with this in real life also.

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    1. I'm curious how you know what she struggles with in real life? Are you a personal friend or family member? I'm sure you would not draw such a conclusion based on her interaction with papparazzi and entertainment "journalists" ?

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  6. Thanks for your comment. Actually, I more or less agree with you there. I'd be curious to see her in a comedy, for instance. That's part of what I mean when I say her full potential as an actor has not yet been fully realized.
    Like many good actors, she is definitely drawing on something real within herself to play these dark tortured characters so it doesn't surprise me that she may also seem that way in real life.
    I do believe that she can reach great heights, though, if she doesn't let the social media gossip mongers eat her alive first.

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    1. Have you ever seen Zathura: A Space Adventure? Although Kristen has a small part in it, her scenes are quite funny.

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    2. I have seen one or two clips of her in that role. I almost included one in the post actually. Her timing is pretty good, yes, but she still (and this is just from what I've seen)comes accross as an essentially angry and negative character, albeit used for humourous purposes.

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  7. I watched all of the clips and i still think she's a really bad actress. I get no emotion whatsoever.

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    1. If you watched all of the clips then your opinion on Ms.Stewart's talents is already a better informed one than that of many of the negative comments I have come across. Part of my intention in writing this post was to shed some light on certain aspects of Ms.Stewart's career and background that many out there speaking ill of her may not be aware of. What conclusions you draw from the information and insights I provide is, of course, entirely your prerogative.
      I welcome and encourage informed debate and discussion on all things.

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    2. You pretty much sound like a hater. Guess you never get any emotion watching her coz you are biased. She is a great actress. Watch "The Cake Eaters"!~

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    3. @Katerina If you don't like her and why you see her movie? POOR HATER

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  8. You have to bear in mind that some of those criticizer saying bad things are probably bias to begin with. They already have a preconceived idea about her and thats is all they will see. But if they open their mind they will see what you and I see. A wonderful and promising actress.

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  9. Loved this article. I think Kristen's a fantastic actress - if only people would watch her movies outside of Twilight! I completely agree with you on the point that Kristen was told to play Bella that way, not that she had much to work with anyway. Bella isn't the greatest character so Kristen did what she could with it. I hope more people are able to see her true acting ability in the future... Can we handcuff them all to seats and force them to watch a marathon of her best movies? Hmm.

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  10. Great anaysis..Enjoyed reading it.Thanks..

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  11. She is very much an understated talented actor whom people lose in the great scheme of celebrity gossips. I truly believe shes nearly their for that big gold one. I look forward to seeing what her next role will show us.

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  12. The thing is, whether they love her, or they hate her, she makes people talk about her. She provokes a response which is, I believe, part of the gig that goes with being a great performer. Note, I said "GREAT performer", not just "performer". I'd say that there are more people that love her than hate her, even now. And on that subject, thanks for sticking to her career and leaving her private life private.

    In case you hadn't guessed, I'm one of those that loves her, flaws and all. I love her partner the same way. Both of them have guts and talent to burn. Given time and good direction, they'll both stand among the greats.

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  13. I found this very interesting. Having watched the movies you referred to I found myself nodding my head while reading this.
    It is indeed her uniqueness that is off putting to a lot of people. The thing most people forget is that Twilight started out as a low budget indie movie, that soar to unbelievable hights. I tend to fully believe her when she says she never wanted the celebrity, she didn't want to be a movie star - she just wants to act. Outside of SWATH and Twilight (which was initially a small movie), she's always chosen indie movies. And it is precisley that attitude of not wanting the spotlight that many people take offense with (not suprising in a society where everyone seems to want their 5 minutes of fame). In her acting and her way of living life she doesn't conform to what people expect from people in her position. To me that is what makes her great, to the general public it's what largely puts them off.

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  14. You left out my all time favorite Kristen Stewart scene. The one in Adventureland where she is reacting to her father and new stepmother in their livingroom. My heart broke for that girl. Also not quite sure how "one doggy lookin bitch," "is astute, insightful and completely reasonable..." I think the problem with SWATH was it's length; it would benefit from some further editing. I agree that she will grow with her craft if she continues acting and think comparisons should be made to other current actresses her age. She is a stand out.

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    2. Thanks for your comment. For the record my comments on the "one doggy lookin bitch" line were meant to be sarcastic

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  15. one of the best respectful reads ever!!...she will prevail...i can feel it!

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  16. Thank you so much for this wonderful and thoughtful article on Kristen Stewart. I definitely think she has the potential to be one of the great actresses given the time to grow and spread her wings.

    I cannot wait for the Twilight movies to be over (and this is coming from a fan of them) so that Kristen (and Rob as well) can break free of the confines the series has put on their careers the past few years.

    I cannot wait to see what is next on her horizon. I will be there in the theater if it plays close enough, if not, I will be purchasing the DVD as soon as it's available.

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  17. *clapping* this article is so great i may shed a tear or two

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  18. You are so right ~> "The major difference between the Stewart fans and "haters" is that, basically, they are watching her in different movies. The fans know (but often don't like) Twilight. From what I've seen, though, the "haters" don't know and don't want to know anything about any performances in obscure movies that might change their opinion of her."

    They are hypocrites, they don't wanna see what is in front of their noses, it's too much for them to know how an amazing actress Kristen is.They can't handle her success and her brilliant future as an actor.And who cares what haters have to say about her? I like to read what people who works with movie industry have to tell about her acting! And your opinion was amazing! Thanks (Sorry my English)

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  19. I love you already!!! i have been a fan since Panic Room. And at a young age, Kristen has already shown potential. I just hope that people will stop at their biased opinions about her. You are spot on with the "Speak" reviews before and after Twilight. I mean, before Twilight, Kristen was one of the most promising young stars Hollywood, the future of acting awards. Then, people who thinks that Twilight is trash, started hating on everything she's done.

    Haters are more vocal in letting the world know how much they hate Kristen and make it seem that majority of the world hates her but yet everything she touches had turned to gold. She's one of the highest earning actresses with box office movies and every single film who is trying to be made wants to attached her name on it.

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  20. People like to hate her for the Twilight movies, and people always want something to hate. But if the Haters actually took some time and watched her "indie" movies, they'll realize her great skills.

    Fans know that Twilight isn't the greatest movie franchise that is made and Kristen's fans knows that it isn't her best performance. But how would you play that character differently?? Kristen portraits the character to the limit and it's not easy to smile in a movie where the character doesn't smile.

    I think it's great that she doesn't smile in every movie, it makes me take her more seriously.

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  21. Thank you for this insight! There aren't many actors who provoke such polarized opinions - (although anonymous IMDB & RottenTomatoes posters & obscure snarky film bloggers should be ignored as much as possible). Without 'Twilight', she would have been a well-respected indie actress with a reputation similar to Catherine Keener, who does solid work (including 2 supporting actress Oscar nominations) but is largely unrecognized. Hopefully Kristen will continue to find solid indie material - she has already had a career's worth of interesting performances that you've cited above, plus 'The Cake Eaters' and 'Into the Wild'. Sure, her style is not for everyone & she may never be recognized by the Oscars - but her uniqueness & intelligent choice of films will keep me watching.

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  22. Alrighty, I'm gonna go ahead and be devil's advocate, if I may.

    I thought your article was interesting and, if we are talking about acting solely as I'm simply disgusted with her actions as a human being, then I'll admit quite freely that I think she has talent. There. I said it. It hasn't been an easy acceptance though since, as is the case with many others, the first movie I saw her in was Twilight.

    I get where you're coming from. Her indies are generally good (her acting didn't wow me in The Runaways, but it was kind of a blah movie all around for me, so I'm gonna give the benefit of the doubt there). The first clip you played from Welcome to the Riley's was particularly enlightening. I find it fascinating (and relieving) to see her face branch out into new emotions, as she did rather fantastically in said clip.

    Having said this, I find all the replies about hating anyone who won't watch her indies to be rather...well, kinda dumb, for lack of a better word. Considering most people who have seen her work have seen Twilight, and considering most who've seen Twilight agree the acting was garbage, what on earth is supposed to motivate them to watch ANOTHER full-length feature with her as the lead? Think of an actor you hate. Would you willingly put yourself through a movie with them as the lead? I sure as heck wouldn't.

    And to make matters worse (in my opinion, of course, as that's really all this is - everyone's opinion), she then did Snow White. I thought it had promise, but I found the whole thing incredibly disappointing (and my opinion of that WAS developped prior to any scandals). And it wasn't just her that let me down, it was the storyline, the weird non-build-up to a climax (I sat in the theatre wondering when the exciting part was gonna happen until the credits rolled. One of those weird movies, for me). So now you've got not one major film series in which she's mocked, ridiculed and insulted beyond fairness, but two. (The uproar in the cheating scandal didn't help matters either, of course, but as you said, that's besides the point).

    I've yet to actually meet a single person who enjoys her acting. Most can't or won't be bothered to give her a chance after watching Twilight - and some haven't even seen it, only heard the horrible things about it. I'm not saying that this is fair, but that's life. When there is so much more talent in the world, why waste time watching someone on screen who is so clearly despised among so many critics? (Again, I do think she's talented. Just voicing what the other half of my brain is thinking).

    I guess I'll never be a devoted fan (the day she wins an Oscar is the day I eat my hat, to be frank with you all) but she's clearly got a wide fanbase who love her dearly, and I think that's the best any actress could hope for.

    I hope everyone who loves her can look past my dislike of (some of) her movies and understand where I'm coming from. It's currently 2 AM where I'm sitting and I'm exhausted, so my ideas might be totally jumbled, but the article was inticing and refreshing. You didn't just argue one view point, you presented both in what I thought was a fair manner.

    Thank you for the insight! It made a lot of sense.

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    1. Well, it's nice to see that you has an open mind. I love Kristen. Not exclusively because of her work. I think she's an amazing person as well, for what I can see in interviews and reports. The first time I saw her was in "In the land of women" and I loved her mainly because I thought she was so good and so different. Yeah, I didn't like her in the first twilight movie, but in New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn 1 I think she was the perfect Bella. Everytime I could relate her expressions with what was in the books. And that is what I was hoping for, like a fan of the books. I am completely aware that the twilight books are not the best literature of the word and how much it is hated. But I'm not ashamed of saying that I'm a fan of the books.The films could be better, but I won't complain. I think the fault for the poor production is from Summit Entertainment. And coming back to Kristen's perfomances all I can say is that everytime I see a new work from her I love her much more. I think Welcome To the Rileys was heart breaking. And The runaways was exciting and I loved Adventureland. I don't like The Cake Eaters, but I think that Kristen's performance was very very good. When she sings in Into the wild is... wow. It is sweet and lovely. And OTR is sexy. OMG! She's sooo sexy in OTR. I was surprised, even being a long time fan, I was amazed by her flawless performance in On the Road. I know one guy who didn't like her for the twilight movies and after seeing On the Road he was like "I'm completely addicted. I want to see her other movies. I'd love If she hadn't dropped out Cali. Wow. I need to see more of that sexyness." The most important thing is being with your mind open. Kristen Stewart can surprise you. Sorry my english, I'm brazilian.

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    2. Not apologies necessary. Your English is better than my Portuguese:)

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  23. I loved this article. I was one of those people who thought that she was just Twilight but after watching her other movies I have had a change of heart. I adored her in Panic Room, Speak, WTTR, Runaways, Snow White. I truly think that she is of the greatest actresses around and I hope that she does well. I will always watch any movie she makes because she's in it. Her new movie On The Road is amazing. Her performance in the scene when her journey with the boys is coming to an end is amazing. She made the theater tear up during that scene. I hope to see much more from her. She will always have a fan in me. I really don't care about what others say about her. Personally, I feel that it's an image that has been promoted and people ran along with it. But lets leave that story for another day. Great article.

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    1. Thanks for you comment. I tend to agree with you. There's definitely an element of media/internet bandwagoning to the whole thing.

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  24. Sir,
    Thank you for writing such an insightful, well thought-out and well documented article! I would very much to get it seen by a great deal larger audience. Could I have your permission to reprint it on my blog? Or would you prefer for me to send people to you?
    Thank you!
    Sue justiceforkristen.wordpress.com

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    1. Thanks for your kind words. I would love for it to be seen by a wider audience but, yeah, I'd prefer it if you put up a link and sent people my way. Feel free to quote from the article, though.
      Thanks again!

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  25. Thanks for your kind words. I'd love to see this reach a larger audience but, yeah, I would prefer it if you could put up a link on your site and then send people to me. I don't mind if you quote from the article, though.
    Thanks again.

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    1. Is she going to be in that? I've heard the Pattinson rumours but nothing about her.

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  27. I wish robert pettinson would cast as christian... and am also excited to see this book on reel.
    Fifty Shades Of Grey Movie

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  28. Love the article! She is a fantastic actress - and yes, I agree, Twilight was NOT her best vehicle (although in Breaking Dawn Part 1, I thought she was amazing). Waiting to see how Camp X-Ray and Sils Maria turn out. Hollywood can be unforgiving, though, especially for those who do not spill their emotional guts after any scandal, and people hate her both for her supposed 'affair' with a director (how kisses and hugs supposedly equal a full-blown sexual affair remains a mystery to me), as much as the fact that they envy her relationship with Pattinson. I think that if she does enough supporting roles, it will get people to really see her as an actress, and then in a few years, they will become more accepting. I do see her eventually receiving an Oscar.

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  29. A really interesting essay, well done! I saw Kristen Stewart's other movies before really knowing who she is (in Twilight terms) and I agree that she has a lot of talent. She is definitely one of the most interesting actresses around, especially with regard to her choice of movies and she is a welcome alternative to the Hollywood bimbos - Mila Kunis, Jennifer Aniston, Katherine Heigl et al. This prompted me to rent the Twilight movies and I agree that her portrayal was exactly what was required - Bella Swan is a bland individual, a "victim" of an obsessive relationship - and Stewart did a good job of pitching the role at a level that entranced naive 12 year olds as well as their mothers! Factor in some really bad editing and a lesson to film producers that book authors should never write the screenplay as they are far too heavily invested in their story as opposed to good movie making. I thought that Stewart's portrayal of Joan Jett was spot on and her singing was surprisingly good. Moreover, she LOOKED the part. My favourite Stewart performances are Welcome to The Rileys and On the Road. The former was a very real performance, uncomfortable in parts, and she was never overshadowed by Gandolfini or Leo. OTR was over-edited (in my opinion) but I agree with Gandolfini's movie review that Stewart is captivating in it, drawing one's attention to her whenever she is on the screen. Thus far, she seems to have excelled in roles portraying teenage angst - a real life Girl, Interrupted - but as she matures I believe that she has many good performances to come.

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  30. Wow. Felt like I finally read a carefully thought through opinion based on her performances without trying to bring in opinions about her personal life (which no one can possibly know from tabloids and entertainment news). The one thing I felt stood out about her acting in movies from the very first time I saw her was her ability to convey strong or subtle emotions with the smallest changes in expression. Even in Twilight (which I agree the character of Bella was to be a bit of a blank slate for any teen viewer to see themselves as) I saw some incredible emotions conveyed with subtle changes in expression. I can think of New Moon when Edward the "love interest" of her main character has been missing from school and she just gets home to find him there. Her character's relief is clear ant over the next few seconds you see in just her expression that relief change through several emotions to uncertainty and apprehension as Edward tells her to take a walk with him toward that moment we learn he "dumps" her. There are so many examples of her ability to make you see and feel her character's emotion and you've provided great video support. I feel I still saw that talent come through "even in Twilight" despite her potentially directed subdued performance. Thanks again for a professional approach to reviewing this actor's body of work.

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  31. Thank you, I am such a big Kristen Stewart fan because I watched her growup from Panic Room. Her facial expressions could have come from the old non talkie movies where you had to use your expressions to get a point across. Kristen Stewart does this perfectly. I can't wait to see her in Camp X-ray, Sils Maria and Still Alice. You were talking about humor or the lack of humor in Kristen's acting, but during her interviews she has great humor and seems to have great relations with all of her cast members. It will be interesting to see her in American Ultra, a comedy. Thank you again, it is very nice to read something about this actress that's not a snide comment or an uneducated opinion.

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