When Twilight was released, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson were propelled into the international spotlight. Both actors were criticized for their performances and maligned by audiences. In the years since, they have continued to book roles and moved beyond the franchise that threatened their careers. This year, they delivered career best performances.
In Personal Shopper, Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, a medium struggling to come to terms with the death of her brother. The film is a fascinating portrayal of grief that blends elements of the supernatural with hyper-realism. Stewart carries the film and delivers her most impressive performance yet.
In Good Time, a crime-thriller set in New York, Robert Pattinson shows off a side audiences haven’t seen before. He plays vulgar, law-breaking Connie, set on getting his brother out of jail.
In light of their incredible performances in these films, let’s take a look back at Twilight and see at how their performances in the film highlight their strengths and weaknesses as actors.
Dinner in Port Angeles
For much of the film, Stewart and Pattinson are forced to play apart from one another — side eyeing one another from across the parking lot, glaring at each other in the high school lunchroom, etc. When the film finally puts them together in an intimate space and sheds some of the pretenses that keep them separate, we can start to see their talents shine.
As Bella, Kristen Stewart exhibits a really identifiable discomfort, not just with her intimacy with Edward, but with herself and her general surroundings. This discomfort easily extends to the audience in a way that feels really palpable; audience’s are accustomed to their movie stars being self-assured and confident in a way that Stewart is not.
This display discomfort is a form of vulnerability – the kind that Stewart’s performance in Personal Shopper relies on heavily. Extended sequences of Personal Shopper follow Stewart alone, interacting with nothing or no one but her iPhone. Yet despite what little Stewart has to act against, she is still able to develop and express a strong vulnerability that comes to define her performance.
Pattinson demonstrates a similar vulnerability, but what stands out is how the scene captures his penchant for subtle charm. When the script gives him the freedom to unfurrow his brow, Pattinson shows a winning charm, the kind that helps the audience understand why Bella would be drawn to him.
This same charm is seen throughout Pattinson’s other roles, particularly Good Time. Much of Pattinson’s role in Good Time relies on his ability to convince strangers around him to do what he wants. Despite not being styled as attractively as he was in Twilight, Pattinson’s role in Good Time still showcases the actor’s charm.
Of all the cringe-worthy scenes in the film, Edward’s reveal is perhaps the worst. It’s painfully staged, poorly written, and forces its two leads into a situation that plays against their strengths. This is primarily the fault of the script; the movie writes the characters into a situation that is highly artificial, making it a tough scene to act.
Bella is written to be strange mix of fearful and confident — Kristen’s performance cannot escape the phoniness of this combination. Meanwhile, Rob comes off as threatening, which doesn’t track with the charm we’ve come to expect from these characters. Any compatibility Kristen and Rob share is not on display here.
Stewart’s talent shines most brightly when she’s given the time to develop interiority within her character and with others. Her work in Personal Shopper epitomizes this; her character feels lived in, making her interactions with others more genuine. The pacing and writing in Twilight works against any authentic character development. This scene in particular pushes her into a scene that feels unnatural.
Despite what his performance in this scene might show, Pattinson is not incapable of playing a menacing or threatening character. In fact, his role in Good Time pushes the actor to the play with those emotions and he does so with ease. But unlike Twilight, Good Time is able to achieve these behaviors naturally. In this scene, Edward’s threatening behavior makes no sense — why would he threaten the girl he loves?
It’s not hard to see how Twilight set its two leads up for failure by putting them in scenes that have so little emotional truth or sincerity.
Bella visits Edward’s room
As actors, Kristen and Rob flourish as introverts. They are not particularly bombastic or grandiose actors, so when they’re given the opportunity to act in scenes that don’t explicitly exist to move the plot forward, the audience is then given the chance to see them really deliver.
For a film that depends so heavily on dialogue, it’s nice to see the actors communicate non-verbally; Bella flipping through Edward’s records, Edward nervously watching Bella as she learns more about him. It’s one of the only scenes in the film where Stewart and Pattinson aren’t forced to carry unnecessary exposition in the dialogue, so we’re able to watch them exchange vulnerabilities.
This is a trademark of both Rob and Kristen’s best performances. In Good Time, Rob’s character Connie uses his relationships with others in order to get what he wants. He does so by either sharing his vulnerabilities or feigning them.
In Personal Shopper, Stewart finds herself interacting throughout much of the film with someone only seen through the texts on her phone. Stewart’s character Maureen exhibits a vulnerability that is relatable for many, the kind of vulnerability only achieved through digital communication. Stewart allows the audience to see her side of this relationship and the honesty of that depiction is stirring.
In their time since Twilight, both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson have made impressive careers for themselves by choosing projects they are more suited to. Stewart has stuck to indie dramas and auteur projects from directors like Olivier Assayas and Kelly Reichardt. These roles have earned her serious critical acclaim. Pattinson has followed a similar path, though notably less successful.
Ultimately, however, both actors have rebounded from the Twilight era of their careers, a time during which they were often used as punchlines, rather than seen as serious actors. Revisiting Twilight today, it’s easy to see how their skills and quirks as actors were simply not right for the project they were cast in.
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