Two stunning lead performances from previously maligned actors make this week’s picks can’t-miss.
I was recently held hostage* by a group of vicious criminals** and forced*** to watch the first “Twilight” movie, as it was discovered I had never seen any films in the series. I tried telling them I downloaded and read a third of the first book to impress a girl in high school, but they insisted that did not count.
While the experience was harrowing, it did allow me to discover some truths about the film. First, just as I suspected, it is terrible. I mostly blame this on the laughable script and direction, because the second thing I discovered (or realized, to be more accurate) is that Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, the film’s leads, got indescribably better as actors once they left the series. I don’t blame them. Getting to read good dialogue instead of a script more riddled with clumsy cliches than the fan fiction it inspired must be liberating for the soul.
But! Not everyone thinks Stewart and Pattinson are good actors. The stink of “Twilight” has followed them their whole careers, at least in terms of big-time studio hits. (Taylor Lautner’s, too, but he deserves it. Sorry.) They are, though. They are great, and I’m going to prove it to you by recommending a top-tier performance from each.
*asked to come over
“Personal Shopper” (2016)
Netflix, R, 106 minutes
It is easy to say “Personal Shopper” is a ghost story for the digital age. Maybe not inaccurate, but easy. Simple. It is far more interesting to look at the film as a means of breaking down how the digital age has affected the grief process. How the memories of those you lose come back to life in unexpected ways.
Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, the titular personal shopper for a model named Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten) in Paris. Aside from hating her job — Kyra is preoccupied with her own celebrity more than the people around her — Maureen is dealing with the death of her twin brother, Lewis, with whom she was close. Lewis died of a heart condition, which Maureen also has. They were also both mediums and believed they could communicate with the dead.
It makes sense, then, that Maureen would expect to reach Lewis in the afterlife. To talk with him about his death and how much she misses him and what it is like on the other side. They even made a promise to each other to leave the other a sign when one of them died, letting them know they reached the other side safely. But when she reaches out, Lewis doesn’t answer, and there’s no sign of him to speak of.
As Maureen is grieving, she receives a series of aggressive text messages from an unknown number. She believes this might be the sign from Lewis she was waiting for, but is it? Or is it someone much more sinister?
Stewart sells the complex emotions of the film well. She’s aptly shattered at the sight of the text messages while remaining hopeful. She becomes more frantic as once-stable situations around her crumble.
“Personal Shopper” writer/director Olivier Assayas often lingers on Stewart’s face — and fingers, during a few crucial sequences — for what seems like too long, but it captures the nuances of her reactions that would be missed otherwise. Maureen is lost. She slinks from store to store, from Kyra’s lavish apartment to her own disheveled digs. She is grieving a brother, but might as well be grieving a part of herself.
The film ends with a wallop, making audiences think about the true identity of the ghosts, both literal and not, Maureen was chasing all along. You might have questions about it. You won’t have questions about Stewart’s performance. She’s a star, and it’s time we call her such.
“Good Time” (2017)
Amazon Prime Video, R, 101 minutes
It may seem strange, but the closest comparison I can give Robert Pattinson’s “Good Time” character, Connie Nikas, is “Game of Thrones” villainess Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey).
Both are personifications of ego — not in the humble/big-headed sense typically used, but the Freudian one. They desire only their own satisfaction, their own happy ending, and will do and say anything to get it, other people be damned. They let the id run wild, but they do it in cunning, ingenious ways, making them people to be feared.
They also love their family. For Cersei, it is her kids. For Connie, it is his brother, Nick, who has a developmental disability. But even those familial ties could never force our villains — and make no mistake, Connie is a villain — to put their beloveds before themselves. When Connie convinces Nick to join him on a bank heist, it goes wrong, and Nick is arrested. This kicks off a string of events that occur over the course of one night, as Connie tries to simultaneously get Nick out of jail and save his own skin.
Connie, for all his faults, is incredibly smart. Watching him get out of jam after jam is riveting, even if most of the tactics he uses are slimy at best. At worst? Well, Connie uses his whiteness to deflect blame and put the spotlight on others, sometimes subtly, sometimes not.
“Good Time” will make you uncomfortable. That is the point, in a lot of ways. This Letterboxd review can speak to that more eloquently than I. But it is also a showcase for Pattinson, a vessel for him to unleash his talent and become a walking, talking tornado of fiendishness. He sells the shit out of it.
(I focused on Pattinson here, but the score for “Good Time,” created by Oneohtrix Point Never, is nerve-shattering and worthy of a viewing in its own right.)
So, what's next for the "Twilight" duo? Stewart has three movies on the docket for 2019, including an undisclosed part in the "Charlie's Angels" reboot. She will also portray iconic '60s actress Jean Seberg in "Against All Enemies," which follows what happened to Seberg after her public support of the Black Panther Party in California. Pattinson will star in Claire Denis' critical darling space film "High Life," out April 5, and one of my most anticipated films of the year, "The Lighthouse," from horror director Robert Eggers ("The Witch").
In other words, they're doing exactly what they want to do: Push the boundaries of indie cinema with razor-sharp performances of thought-provoking scripts. It's a far cry from the sparkling vampires they used to be, and I for one could not be happier.