By John H. Foote
I say, it is high time audiences and critics who have made a career beating up on Kristen Stewart backed the Hell off and watch her artistic growth as an actress. This poor girl, shy and sometimes awkward publicly, owes the general public nothing but a good performance and if anyone was paying attention, she has been doing that for years now. What she does in her private life is no one’s business, but people love to attack when they smell blood or worse, when their target seems oblivious to their merciless attacks. I wonder how much her haters really know about her artistry?
Do they know she won the prestigious New York Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress for her sublime performance in The Clouds of Sils Maria (2015)? Are they aware of the absolute rave reviews she received for her stunning performance as the haunted young woman in Personal Shopper (2017)? Are they at all aware that independent films have provided a showcase for her talents, something mainstream films could never do?
Stewart first came under my radar as the diabetic daughter in a Panic Room (2002) with Jodie Foster. She was outstanding as the resilient daughter struggling with her illness while trapped in a panic room. Five years later she was near luminous as the sexually eager young teenager in Into the Wild (2007), Sean Penn’s masterpiece, the true story of Christopher McCandless.
Then came Twilight (2011) which catapulted her into superstardom, exactly what she had hoped to avoid. Her off screen life became, unfairly, front and centre, her sexuality was front page news, and she emerged beaten but not broken, retreating to indies. The Twilight franchise made hundreds of millions, made her a major superstar, the highest paid actress in Hollywood for a time, and took away any chance of ever being left alone. Her moody performance in that film became unfairly her offscreen persona and she gave the press what they wanted, scandal, causing them to ignore her art.
I thought she was electrifying in On the Road (2015) as Mary Lou, the precociously sexual young woman who marries the enigmatic Dean. Stewart threw herself into the role with an abandon she had never before shown, giving a brash, confident performance that blew her male co-stars off the screen.
In the last few years she has given an array of brilliant performances in small films, the best of them Personal Shopper earning her the best reviews of her career and talk of an Oscar nomination that should have but did not come.
Her artistic redemption after Twilight, began with her fine performance as rocker Joan Jett in The Runaways (2010) which earned her some excellent reviews. The year previous she had given a soulful, sensitive performance in the teen angst film Adventureland (2009), opposite Jesse Eisenberg.
However, her true renaissance began with her subtle work as Julianne Moore’s daughter, struggling with her mother’s advancing Alzheimer’s, in Still Alice (2014) for which Moore won the Academy Award for Best Actress.
2015 proved unique for her, giving an award-winning performance in The Clouds of Sils Maria, earning the attention of the tough New York Film Critics, earning a coveted award from the group. It was a major step forward for the young actress, but still her offscreen life seemed more important. How sad when an artist is evolving right before their eyes, and they focus on the mundane.
Stewart was outstanding as the woman of two men’s desires in Woody Allens’s underrated Cafe Society (2016), and that same year shone in Certain Women (2016) as part of a tight ensemble. Once again critics celebrated her work, but the film was under seen.
Her performance as Maureen in Personal Shopper (2017) was nothing short of sublime, simply elegant, real and breathtaking. Nothing Stewart had done prepared me for her work in this film, as she gave herself over to both the character and film, never holding back. Frankly, she was robbed of a nomination for Best Actress though it was admittedly a very strong year for women.
This year Stewart takes on the role of controversial actress Jean Seberg in this falls’ Against All Enemies (2019) which is being prepared as an Oscar contender. Here is hoping her art is seen first, her work and not who she is offscreen. Such a shame to ignore obvious talent.
One of Canada’s best-known film critics, he spent 10 years on TV as co-host of Reel to Real, and another 10 in education (still writing as a critic) as Director of the Toronto Film School, where he created the curriculum for three programs and taught film history. Film has always been his passion. He has written for magazines such as Toronto Life, Fashion and Hollywood North, been quoted in the Los Angeles and New York Times, as well as the major Toronto dailies. Online he has written for such sites as The Wrap, In Contention, Awards Circuit and The Cinemaholic. His first book Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker, was published in 2010. His second Steven Spielberg: American Film Visionary, a massive volume, has just found a publisher and he’s working on American Film Renaissance – 1967-2018 with Nick Maylor. As a critic, he has had the good fortune to interview directors and stars such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Emma Stone, Jane Fonda, and countless others. As he quips, “Everyone but Jack Nicholson!”