When I first wrote about Adventureland back in the spring of 2009 I compared Kristen Stewart's remarkable performance in it to Jennifer Jason Leigh's work in Fast Times in Ridgemont High (1982). Like Leigh, Stewart managed to capture both the fragility and exuberance of youth in a performance of startling depth and emotion, two qualities that Stewart's many critics claim that are lacking from her work...a fact that makes me think that I have been watching someone else's filmography play out in front of me.
There probably isn't a more polarizing young American actress in cinema today than Kristen Stewart. For those, like myself, who have followed and greatly admired her work since seeing Panic Room a decade ago we see an incredibly original and distinct young talent who has been able to slip into roles as varied as Bella Swan, Joan Jett and even Snow White. Whether the film has called for romantic yearning, gritty realism or ferocious physicality, Stewart has been able to essay each with a sharp sense of authority and purpose. To her many critics though, who can't seem to step away from their hatred of Twilight and the media's unbelievably sexist view of her personal life, she is a vacuum and an emotionless void without a ounce of talent...again have we been watching a different filmography play out this past decade?
While Bella Swan remains the chief role that 22 year old Kristen Stewart is known for it is Adventureland's Em Lewin than has the biggest emotional pull for me. Perhaps because in some ways it tells my own story, I remain totally perplexed by anyone who isn't at least the slightest bit moved by Greg Mottola's heartfelt coming of age story and specifically Stewart's work as Em. As Jesse Eisenberg's character's first true-love, Stewart is unbelievably captivating, moving and unforgettable...like the well-worn grooves of the Big Star, Replacements and Velvet Underground albums that Em keeps in her room.
I originally wasn't going to feature any performances from the past several years on this list (which mostly covers roughly the late sixties up to the late nineties) but when I recently read Erich Kuersten's incredibly eloquent and passionate defense of Kristen Stewart (linked below) at his Acidemic I knew that I had to make an exception and include a more recent performance. Recognizing that Erich and I shared the same admiration for Stewart, and the same perplexed attitude towards her harshest critics, I invited him to submit a few thoughts for this series. Erich kindly put together this incredibly spot-on and moving section from his recent piece on Stewart for Moon in the Gutter and I am very excited to present it here. Do yourself a favor and be sure to visit Acidemic and read his original complete piece on Kristen Stewart, which is one of the most insightful, thoughtful and necessary cinema articles I have read in quite some time.
-Jeremy Richey, 2012-
Erich Kuersten on Kristen Stewart, edited for Moon in the Gutter from his incredible piece "Kristen Stewart in the Snow With Poison", which can be read here at Acidemic.
"In playing young, vulnerable, awkwardly beautiful women, Kristen Stewart draws continual fire from critics and Twilight fans alike. It's not her looks they object to, but the direction in which she herself looks outward from the screen and weighs and judges and forgives the hearts of those watching, and those who think themselves impure, beyond saving, recoil from her absolving gaze. They are expecting perhaps a girl who will wince and smooth her hair back when they leer at her, a shy dove on display. Instead she's disheveled and pale and her body is never put on display for the camera, at least not the leering way the shirtless bodies of her male co-stars are. It's the reverse of the usual dichotomy.
But that forgiving tenderness in her eyes for even the ugly toads is a rare thing, it's what Stewart shares with Marilyn Monroe. Both of them love, or at least 'feel sorry for' the creatures most of us have cast off. MM felt compassion for the Creature from the Black Lagoon in Seven Year Itch, and didn't even mind flirting with Tom Ewell if it got her some air conditioning. Hey, princesses have kissed worse frogs for far less, and that's what Stewart as Bella provides, she is the princess who sees the beauty in the beast a priori to getting to know him. She's Julia Adams choosing the creature over Richard Carlson. Our pitchfork and torch hands tremble with the instinctual desire to burn her at the stake for this transgression. When her lip trembles and her eyes cross looking up at her current love object, waiting for that slow kiss, it becomes a delirious swooning moment perfect for a Rohmer film, but in the US, this kind of liberated outward gazer--the woman daring to see instead of just being seen --is an unforgivable offense."