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Tweenies and 'Krisbians' are sold, while the rest of us still decide what to make of our new starlet
Unlikely Queen of Young Hollywood
The problem with the public's perception, or perhaps misperception, of the unofficial queen of Young Hollywood is that, despite her global exposure in the last four years, no one really knows who she is.
You can't walk past a newsstand without seeing Kristen Stewart's face splayed on half of the magazine covers. This year alone, she's playing a fanged matriarch, a classic Disney princess (vis-?-vis Joan of Arc), and the drug-addled, promiscuous wife of Neal Cassady. 2012 belongs to Kristen Stewart. That's a bold statement for a lot of people. Say it enough, and you'll even find it pisses them off too.
What piqued my interest in Kristen Stewart (other than a 2010 Jay Leno appearance, which I'll get to later) is the fact that so many people are quick to cringe, quick to scoff, quick to recoil at the mention of her name. It's just about the same reaction I noticed from a lot of people over Lady Gaga just a few years ago. So, I gave Stewart the benefit of the doubt. And I will put it out there, as a side note, that I've grown fairly keen when it comes to sniffing out bullshit talent. I wasn't taken in by the vapid banality of Carlos Mencia. I wasn't fooled by the contrived edginess of Ke$ha. And I wasn't at all suckered by the overpaid broken heart of Stewart's co-star Taylor Lautner (sorry Twilight fans).
It's a little harder to argue that Kristen Stewart isn't a different beast altogether. I'd be fine and well with shucking her off as just another kid actor desperately dragging her career into adulthood with her. But when landmark talent like Jodie Foster, Sean Penn, Joan Jett, and Charlize Theron are singing her praises, it would be wise to pull back and try another angle; one that needn't lean any longer on the shaky artistic integrity of Twilight's last leg.
A closer look reveals that Kristen Stewart has been shrewdly crafting a quiet career in last decade, a career that far preceded the loathsome reputation bequeathed to her by critics in the wake of Bella Swan. I probed Stewart's career with a more macro lens and she suddenly had an added depth to her. I had developed a similar fondness for Lady Gaga. Though I don't necessarily enjoy everything she puts out, I liked the splash she made. They both seem to just piss people off in all the right ways. Or rather, they piss people off in the ways that I find entertaining. People probably expected it a bit more from Gaga, given her New Yorker sentiments, eccentric outer shell, and raunchy barfly past. But, as Youtube interviews show, Kristen Stewart is just another hep chick from the Valley. She wears jeans and old band shirts, she smokes, she swears, she's picky about who she opens up to, and she's unapologetic. It's a different kind of Hollywood feminine, and not one the public feels it's ready for. Tweenies and 'Krisbians' are sold, while the rest of us still decide what to make of our new starlet.
I really didn't realize that the American public had a complicated relationship with Kristen Stewart until I started admitting my fondness for her. That is, my fondness for her indie-flick talent, natural androgyny, clumsiness, dark mane of hair, knack for unintentionally pissing off interviewers, and killer green eyes. Still, the usual groans and curled lips and furrowed brows continue to surface at her mention like clockwork nonetheless. I bring her up just to see if most of my friends would react the same way, and they do.
I'm trying to understand it. I get that people might be bitter about her being named the highest paid actress in 2012 by Forbes, thanks to a teenage-vampire-werewolf love triangle story that wreaks box office havoc across the globe (even though everybody claims to hate it). Okay, I get that. But after watching The Runaways, Welcome to the Riley's, and even that painfully believable performance as a girl with a neurological disorder trying to lose her virginity in Mary Stuart Masterson's Cake Eaters (a film the studio wasn't interested in releasing until Twilight made box office history), I became quickly skeptical of the rolling eyes of compulsive haters.
It was in October of 2010 that Kristen Stewart first grabbed me. I remember exactly when because I was attending a conference somewhere in Orange County. It was late at night and I was in my hotel room flipping through local channels. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno was as good as it was going to get. Kristen Stewart just so happened to be the guest on that night, and it was clear she was in the middle of a press junket for her most recent film at the time, Welcome to the Riley's. I hadn't seen her give any interviews before, and I had seen the first Twilight a few years before and wasn't impressed. Her hair was strawberry blonde and her dark, smoky eye makeup was making her green eyes pop. She was not at all the girl I expected to star as Bella Swan. In fact, she seemed nothing like Bella, other than her capricious, almost spastic cadence. But she wasn't the mumbling, stink-eyed ingrate that I had fleetingly heard about in online gossip; at least not in what I was watching. She came off as demure, reserved, and she chose her words carefully, thoughtfully. She seemed intelligent and introspective. Under her overt nervousness, she was poised and articulate. It was something of a shock. I could see why her fans strongly insisted on her genuineness despite the claims of critics and so-called journalists.
The case can be made in Stewart's defense that she is a good actor because she does exactly what's expected of her, especially in watered-down, international audience-reaching blockbusters. An article in io9.com referred to her as the Keanu Reeves of her generation, with regards to her recent role in Snow White and the Huntsman. It went on to say that it's not necessarily a bad thing. "With few lines but a lot of convincingly heroic facial expressions, Kristen Stewart does a great job channeling Keanu Reeves in The Matrix (one of the dwarfs even calls her 'the one'!). Hate on KStew all you want, but she's perfect for roles like this."
I'm one of the first to admit it. I personally didn't like her in Twilight. For one thing, they cover up her emerald eyes (one of her more distinct traits) with brown contact lenses. But then again, I didn't like too much about the film, except the occasional cinematic panoramas of the pacific northwest. Still, I don't hold anything against it. I don't know what people were expecting. It's Stephanie Meyer, not Anne Rice. I think it does just fine for what it is: an adaptation of a young adult, supernatural love story (emphasis on "young adult"). Not only that, but it served as more of a career-launching platform for most of the cast, especially power couple Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. They jumped though the necessary hoops and now both actors are able to do whatever they want.
She's playing three roles this year, all of them completely different. Granted, two of them deal in the realm of fantasy; one of them is both a new mother and vampire who does whatever it takes to protect her family, and the other is a repressed, orphaned princess who radiates enchantment and boldly reclaims her father's throne (bearing armor and a sword). The third, and more peculiar, is her portrayal as Dean Moriarty's (aka Neal Cassady) plaything wife, Marylou, in On The Road, a long-time-coming adaptation of Jack Kerouac's experimental novel. Its debut at this year's Cannes left quite the impression on audiences. Regarding Marylou appearing naked in several scenes, as well as being sandwiched in a threesome, parents groups are already up in arms about the "irresponsible" nature of Stewart's role choice. In a press conference, Stewart defends her performance and what it did for her work. "I love pushing myself," she tells us. "I love scaring myself. To watch genuine experiences onscreen is just so much more interesting than when you can see the tape holding up the pasties...I always want to get as close to the experience as I can."
If she's pissing parents off she's got to be doing something right (and certainly scoring points with me). As an artist, anyway. Being a role model is much more slippery than being an actor, and it's fair to say that parents certainly have a say in who their children are idolizing. It wasn't that long ago that Kate Moss was caught photographed blowing lines of cocaine through a ?5 bill on a CD jewel box. One of her immediate reactions to the media's manic inquiries was "I'm a supermodel, not a role model." Not to say that KStew is out there sucking up nose candy alongside Lohan, but she may prove to be a curious breed of celebrity. With the recent tragic deaths of Heath Ledger, Brittany Murphy, and Amy Winehouse, a lot of the maverick talent has been taken away from Hollywood. I think we could all agree, if Tinseltown could use anything, it's talent that keeps it on its toes.
Though people try, Kristen Stewart is not easy to pigeon-hole. And with her crass disposition and tomboyish casual wear, she's not exactly traditionally sexual when looking back back at the pantheon of leading ladies. Then again, take a look at this July's spread in Vanity Fair and it becomes hard to deny she's shed her boyish teens and is emerging as a full-fledged beauty in her 20s. The fact remains, she is a leading lady, whether you love her or hate her, and her roles are getting ballsier.
Only time will tell whether we'll be hearing Kristen Stewart's name in five years time. Her colleagues don't seem worried. While some see her air of cynicism as unjustified, others see it as something fresh. In a recent Vogue interview, Snow White co-star Charlize Theron expressed, "There's this really lovely quality about her that just doesn't give a shit. A lot of people say they don't, but then they go home and cry and pop a Xanax. Kristen actually doesn't give a shit. That's what's so refreshing about her. I'm looking forward to killing her and taking her beauty. That's what happens, right?"
Brent Smith, Contributing Writer: Brent was born and raised in Los Angeles. He received an MFA in Prose from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado. He lives in West Hollywood. (more...)