The Renaissance of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart

Art by Andrew Kendall

Good Time – starring Robert Pattinson – is out in NY and LA today, but I don’t live in either of those cities. There’s a poster at my local theater in the coming soon spot, but there is no date listed at the theater yet. It’s killing me. I’m salivating to watch Good Time. Just give it to me. So anyways, I write this not having yet seen Good Time, but I’m pumped for it. And that’s the point, I’m really amped for a Robert Pattinson film, in fact I’ve been stoked for any Robert Pattinson film these past 5 years, which feels really strange but exciting since the dude’s biggest credit was in a series of films about a vampire that didn’t want to bone. The same goes for Kristen Stewart – I’m pumped for any film with her – whose biggest credit was also in a series of films about a vampire that didn’t want to bone. I’m not going to hate on the Twilight franchise, those movies are a lot of fun and I saw them all in theaters, I have no shame. But let’s be real, there are more desirable breakthrough roles out there, and the post-Twilight world has not been kind to most of the cast of those films – those roles seem to be the most significant thing they will do. It’s just amazing that these two have gone from potentially career-damning roles in the Twilight franchise to becoming some of the most exciting and talented actors of their generation. At this point, they’ve joined the list of actors where all I need to know is that they’re in a film for me to not just go see it but to be excited to see it.

What these two have done since getting skyrocketed to fame is really quite unique. Usually when people hit the level of name recognition that they did, their first instinct is to keep the train rolling and take the biggest paychecks they can get. But uniquely, Pattinson and Stewart seemed impressively unconcerned with being famous, and went the other way – they bet on themselves and focused on the work. They took their star power and invested it in great filmmakers. Pattinson became a muse of sorts for David Cronenberg – doing two films with him (Cosmopolis and Maps to the Stars) – and collaborated with other greats in Werner Herzog (Queen of the Desert), James Gray (The Lost City of Z), Brady Corbet (The Childhood of a Leader), Anton Corbijn (Life), David Michôd (The Rover) and of course, Josh and Benny Safdie (Good Time). Stewart became a muse of sorts for french auteur Olivier Assayas – doing two films with him (Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper) – and spent time with other greats in Ang Lee (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk), Woody Allen (Cafe Society), Walter Salles (On The Road) and New Americana pioneer Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women).

And it wasn’t even just that they’re working with great, innovative filmmakers, they’re also working with great performers, which is huge for a young talent to develop under key veterans. Stewart logged innings with talents like Peyman Moaadi (Camp X-Ray), Juliette Binoche (Clouds of Sils Maria) and Julianne Moore (Still Alice). Pattinson was getting minutes with Guy Pearce (The Rover), Paul Giamatti (Cosmopolis), Julianne Moore (Maps to the Stars) and Nicole Kidman (Queen of the Desert). Getting to pick the brains of performers that have been doing this a long time is a huge plus for a young career.

Let me put it this way, at the beginning of this year’s baseball season, Aaron Judge started off by hitting 10 home runs in the first month. When something like that happens, you think “Oh wow what a cool run that was for him.” It’s a lot of fun, but surely he can’t keep it up, he’s got to regress to the mean at least at some point. But then he just kept hitting them. At a certain point, you just realize that this is just who he is and what he is capable of. Right now he’s leading the American league with 35 home runs, and that could increase even as I’m typing this. Initially there’s a “Hey, look at what this person’s doing!” moment, and then the hype is solidified when they keep up the good work.

For Pattinson, his “Hey, look at this!” moment was Cosmopolis in 2012. He wasn’t out of the Twilight franchise yet, the final installment would come out later that year. In Cosmopolis he plays Eric Packer, a young billionaire asset manager who spends his day riding across town in a stretch limo while interacting with a cast of characters that contribute to his 24 hour downfall. Cronenberg took Pattinson’s knack for apathy and weaponized it. At one point somebody is attacking Eric’s sense of morality and and takes a dig at his charities. Eric quickly retorts with disinterest, as if to just correct him, “I don’t have any charities.” It’s hilarious, but that one line and his delivery of it tell you everything you need to know about this character.

I think the moment we started to accept that he was for real was The Rover. His whole performance is great, Pattinson brings a tragic desperation and youthfulness to Rey – but the key moment is in the sequence where he listens to Keri Hilson’s “Pretty Girl Rock” on the radio by himself and sings along sheepishly with it. It at first appears sort of comical, the upbeat song is tonally opposite to the entire film, and honestly who isn’t going to smirk at the site of Pattinson singing the lyrics “Don’t hate me cause I’m beautiful”? But as he keeps going, he reveals a deeper truth within the film and the character. Despite the macho front he puts up, he’s still just a young man with something resembling hope for a better world. The scene starts off as almost dark comedy and quickly pivots to heart-wrenching, and it’s because of Pattinson’s timid rendition of Keri Hilson’s bopper.

Kristen Stewart has taken great strides as well since Twilight, showing enigmatic charisma and warmth. She made what should have been a bad film in Camp X-Ray into something worth watching just by how riveting she is to watch. She plays a soldier stationed at Guantanamo Bay who strikes up a friendship with a detainee. She wears conflict and emotional distress so subtly and felt, she really draws you into the film. My personal favorite of this run is her performance in Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women. It’s a small role, but like the mark of any good performer, you remember their work no matter the length of screen time. She plays a teacher of a law night class with a 4 hour commute both ways, and strikes up a friendship with a shy farmhand. She makes the scenes of them sharing dinner tender and aching for connection, it’s just really effective work.

Both Pattinson and Stewart have just been on a roll since hitting it big time. It really does resemble the thrill in watching an athlete just tear it up against the odds. And you look at their IMDB, they’re both continuing to rack up intriguing projects with interesting filmmakers – and that’s the thing, they weren’t all that interested in fame even when it was handed right to them. They took that fame and invested in interesting and ambitious roles and filmmakers. 10 years ago, when the Twilight movies started, it was common to joke about their acting in them. Now, they’ve both established themselves as some of the most exciting and accomplished actors of their generation.

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