Kristen Stewart’s new film Personal Shopper (directed by Olivier Assayas), has been in the news this week for getting booed at the Cannes Film Festival, only to receive a standing ovation at its festival premiere. Obviously films are subjective — not to mention it’s not uncommon for Cannes attendees to be notoriously fickle — but it’s rare that such a stark dichotomy is drawn so early in a movie’s lifespan. Part of the skepticism seems to come from a common misconception of Stewart, who is too often best remembered for her turn as Bella in The Twilight Saga — movies that are not for everyone, but made an undeniable mountain of money nonetheless — instead of her frequently amazing performances that she gives in lesser-known films.
Stewart is underappreciated as a performer, despite her passion clearly being about acting rather than stardom; she chooses roles that challenge her far more often than she does a tentpole blockbuster. One glance at her IMDb should be enough to show that she’s got a pretty high pedigree as an actor, but let’s point out a few specific movies that you should definitely familiarize yourself with.
Café Society (2016)Though it’s not out in the US until July, Woody Allen’s latest is garnering favorable early reviews that praise Stewart — and the rest of the cast — as a primary draw of the movie. Here, she is a love interest for Jesse Eisneberg’s character, playing what looks like a rather sweet, energetic role that she doesn’t often get to play. Hopefully this is the start of some more comedic offerings for the actor, since the bulk of her really great roles thus far are in drama.
Camp X-Ray (2014)This Peter Sattler film casts Stewart in the role of an Army Private first-class assigned as a guard at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in the wake of 9/11 and the War on Terror. She finds herself befriending a suspected terrorist who is being held under ambiguous circumstances, leading her to question her commitment to her country and the things she believes in. It’s a powerful and affecting performance by Stewart, and arguably her best to date.
Still Alice (2014)Though Still Alice is all about Julianne Moore’s performance as a woman struggling with Alzheimer’s disease — for which she won an Academy Award — Stewart’s turn as one of Alice’s children suffering while watching her mother deteriorate deserves just as much praise. This is a heart-wrenching movie, but it could have just as easily felt more like an afterschool special if not for the stellar performances.
Clouds Of Sils Maria (2014)In Stewart’s first collaboration with Personal Shopper director Assayas, she stars as an assistant caught between the veteran actress she works for and the self-destructive up-and-comer set to take on the role that made the former famous in a stage revival. Much like Personal Shopper seems to be, it’s a very intense, dark tale seen through the eyes of someone with a deceptively mundane role in the life of the larger personalities around her.
The Runaways (2010)Floria Sigismondi’s film about the iconic rock group featured Stewart in the critical role of Joan Jett; a role that she absolutely nailed. The movie is a warts-and-all approach to the classic band formation/dissolution story, which Stewart is able to bring humanity and nuance to, in addition to the requisite snarling upper lip.
Adventureland (2009)Before Café Society, Greg Mottola’s Adventureland was Stewart’s only really memorable out-and-out comedic role, starring as a theme park employee — opposite her future Café Society co-star Jesse Eisenberg — in the late ’80s dealing with the aimlessness that comes with the summer before college. It’s almost like Wet Hot American Summer, but with far more insight into the human condition.
Into The Wild (2007)A smaller role than she’d go on to take post-Twilight, but an important one nonetheless. Into the Wild was a critical smash and everyone involved had their profile raised as a result. Stewart played an underage girl that Emile Hirsch’s character rejects amid his travels; it speaks volumes for her performance that her brief role sticks in your mind.
Panic Room (2002)When one of her earliest roles is alongside Jodie Foster and under the direction of David Fincher, it’s no wonder that Stewart grew up to respect the craft of acting. Stewart stars as Sarah, the daughter of Foster’s character, and adds a bulk of the film’s suspense due to her riveting — and believable — performance as a young kid who becomes the victim of a terrifying home invasion. This is a movie that preys on our worst fears, and Stewart is able to externalize the terror we fight so hard to suppress.