I have a question: What the fuck do we do with Kristen Stewart? Has anyone in the history of fancy movie stars ever been simultaneously so bland and so divisive? Whenever K-Stew is mentioned on a blog, comments devolve into an endless, shallow echo chamber of "I like her!" "I don't like her." "But I like her!" "I don't like her." "Feelings!" "Slightly different feelings!" Meanwhile, the critical reaction to her acting—you know, her actual job—skews toward the negative end of ambivalent. And meanwhile meanwhile, Stewart adamantly insists that she doesn't court publicity and never will, even though, technically speaking, she is a professional publicity-getter. So she's nothing special as an actress, she (supposedly) wants us to leave her alone, and yet we will not shut up about her. What the fuck is that, you guys?
In her Vanity Fair cover story next month, Stewart rips into her critics with a whiff of protest-too-much vigor:
"I have been criticized a lot for not looking perfect in every photograph," Kristen Stewart tells Vanity Fair contributing editor Ingrid Sischy. "I get some serious shit about it. I'm not embarrassed about it. I'm proud of it. If I took perfect pictures all the time, the people standing in the room with me, or on the carpet, would think, What an actress! What a faker! That thought embarrasses me so much that I look like shit in half my photos, and I don't give a fuck. What matters to me is that the people in the room leave and say, ‘She was cool. She had a good time. She was honest.' I don't care about the voracious, starving shit eaters who want to turn truth into shit."
Really? Is any of that even true? Because do you know what people don't do when they truly "don't care" what other people think about them? Issue 45 press releases about how much they don't care what other people think about them. They just get on with their shit, and they wind up either an untouchable Meryl Streep idol or a culty Crispin Glover weirdo (or nobody at all). Very few people get to be both a movie star and an iconoclast. And I guess my issue with Kristen Stewart is that she's trying to get credit for not playing the game by playing the fuck out of the game.
Don't get me wrong—I actually find Stewart really appealing. I probably like her more than most catty pop culture bloggers. I generally like her unbrushed hair and refusal to suck up and the fact that she's apparently allergic to good posture. Her acting has a super-subtle disheveled casualness to it, and that does make her seem like a normal person. Except that never for a second do I forget that she is not a normal person! She is a movie star. And she knows exactly what she's doing.
"Kristen Stewart Photographed Looking Surly at Awards Show" is an even more no-duh headline than "Ragamuffin Finds Magic Lamp, Wishes for More Wishes." Everything in Hollywood is intentional. Publicity is an industry. So even people who say, "Oh, I'm not playing that game!" are completely playing that game just by announcing that they're not playing that game. In the real world, nobody's like, "Oh, I accidentally started this business and became a millionaire!" No one becomes a movie star by accident, either, and no movie star's image is genuinely unmanaged.
Kristen Stewart doesn't do art films, she does blockbusters. She's from a showbiz family, and she started working in movies before she hit double digits (notable role, age 10: "ring toss girl" in The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas). Stewart knows how Hollywood works.
And I'm sure a part of her giving-no-fucks persona is genuine. She obviously doesn't want to be the kind of movie star who flops around for the cameras whoring for attention, so instead she opts for this kind of backwards, calculated anti-flop. Like, "Look at me!!! I'm totally not flopping for you! I came to this red carpet just to slouch around looking grumpy about red carpets! Look at meeeeee!" And it totally works, especially with Stewart's surly teen demographic. The best way to get people to look at you is to demand they don't look at you, so everyone is looking at K-Stew all the time.
Also from the Vanity Fair press release:
Stewart has gotten a bad rap because she won't play the usual movie-star game. "Kristen doesn't know how to be in a popularity contest," says Sean Penn, who in 2006 directed the then 16-year-old actress in Into the Wild. Penn has nothing but praise for Stewart, who did her best to promote the film. But as Penn explains, "You can see Kristen generously trying to join the popularity contest when a movie is being publicized. She'll try to get on board, but her body language has a whole different dynamic."
Okay, so...she's kind of a dick? She doesn't have to be a movie star, and she knows what being a movie star entails. Stewart is currently at that age—22—when the most important thing in the world, even for non-movie-star humans, is to seem like you don't care. Caring isn't cool. And when your struggle between caring and not-caring is blown up for international scrutiny, I can imagine that's a mindfuck. I'm sure that being famous is horrifying.
I guess that, for me, what's unsettling about Kristen Stewart is that you can see the scratches on the glass, which makes the glass impossible to ignore. She's young and angsty, which means that she's not secure enough to resist insisting that she's totally secure. All celebrities get to choose the character that they play in real life. Some of them choose this "don't give a shit" character, and we believe them, because they're good at it. Kristen Stewart isn't that good at it. She's a so-so actor in films, and she's a so-so actor in life.