As has become popular opinion, “The Twilight Saga” seems to have been the biggest curse and the biggest blessing for Kristin Stewart’s career. The five-film franchise no doubt catapulted Stewart to an unimaginable level of global fame, but in the process it seems to have suggested the actress is nothing but an A-list Hollywood star. While that’s certainly true, Stewart has always been a presence on the indie scene, and she excitingly continues to be so to this day.
With the actress currently in the middle of an awards spree thanks to her work in “Clouds of Sils Maria,” plus her latest indie, “Anesthesia,” opening in select theaters this Friday, Indiewire has rounded up her five most unforgettable indie performances. Check them out below, and sound off on your own Stewart favorites in the comments section.
1. Valentine, “Clouds of Sils Maria”
Stewart’s role as personal assistant Valentine in Olivier Assayas’ delicate meditation on fame and aging has brought her the most illustrious reviews of her career, and for good reason, too. Valentine is the actress’ greatest achievement to date, and it makes sense she became the first American to win France’s prestigious Caesar Award earlier this year for playing the part with such subversive curiosity. Buried in glasses and tattoos, the actress fully inhabits her role as a credible young woman riddled with self-doubt. Stewart’s vulnerabilities on screen have always served her well, but in this role they powerfully complement the fears of aging that plague her employer (Juliette Binoche). Stewart has never been better, and we’re excited to see where her collaboration with Assayas goes next in “Personal Shopper.”
2. Emily “Em” Lewin, “Adventureland”
Set in 1987, “Adventureland” centers on a broke college graduate (Jesse Eisenberg) in need of a summer job to pay for grad school. Winding up at the eponymous theme park, he develops a fragile relationship with one of his troubled co-workers (Stewart). Conventional relationship issues eventually emerge, but director Greg Mottola refrains from overplaying the drama or hammering down on the formula, while Eisenberg and Stewart maintain a messy chemistry that is equal parts awkward and sensual. The actress has always had a knack for exposing the insecurities of her characters, but here she hides them underneath a sly coolness that absolutely speaks to the peak of her acting powers.
3. Lydia, “Still Alice”
Julianne Moore received nearly every Best Actress award on the planet for her devastating performance in Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s Alzheimer’s drama, but her work is supported greatly by Stewart, who is easily the standout of the film’s periphery characters. Playing Moore’s youngest daughter Lydia and ultimate lifeline, Stewart is all kinds of conflicted. She’s a moody young adult who wants to make it on her own. She’s a frustrated struggling actor who can’t nail down a good part. And she’s a compassionate daughter, one who bares witness to her mother’s gradual descent. With unassuming ease and power, Stewart only fuels the heartbreak even more.
4. Amy Cole, “Camp X-Ray”
Writer-director Peter Sattler’s screenplay — which finds Stewart’s Guantanamo Bay guard forming an unlikely bond with an uncooperative detainee (Peyman Moadi) — may be frustratingly on-the-nose, but it succeeds at emphasizing Stewart’s talent for playing lost and frustrated young women. Stewart’s Amy is a soft-spoken new arrival adjusting to the fratty clique of soldiers that run the camp, in addition to facing oppression from her misogynist overseer (Lane Garrison) and resisting commands to humiliate a prisoner in a scenario mildly reminiscent of the Abu Ghraib scandal. The actress’ distant gaze transfixes in a role where she cautiously walks the line between calculated guard and empathetic human. She singlehandedly gives the film a subversive quality that allows its force-fed themes to go down easier.
5. Allison/Mallory, “Welcome to the Rileys”
Most people remember Jake Scott’s Sundance drama as the “Kristen Stewart stripper film,” but that unfairly takes away from what really is a tremendous performance by the young star. More often than not, the “Twilight” movies downgraded her talent from credible understatement to a plastic vision of post-adolescent frustration. In “Welcome to the Rileys,” Stewart delivers the legitimate version of that archetype with a role that rejects commercial standards. Her baby-faced appearance is a storytelling device, as the disconnect between her adult sensuality and childish looks elicits the sympathies of Doug (James Gandolfini), a depressed businessman. Stewart can get angry and aggressive, sensitive and reflective, and all of these shades of her skills are on full display here.