TIFF 2014: ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ Features Kristen Stewart’s Best Performance Yet
There’s a scene in 'Clouds of Sils Maria' where Val (Kristen Stewart) is trying to vouch for the popularity of a troubled, hellion of a starlet named Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Moretz). Maria (Juliette Binoche), a veteran and acclaimed actor who may star alongside Ellis, is the person who needs convincing. In Ellis’ defense, Val, Maria’s assistant, mentions that Ellis is very popular among pre-teens. Maria laughs at this statement before Val cuts her off and says, “Watch out, there are a shit-ton of them.”
Kristen Stewart, of course, would know. It’s an odd balancing act that we’re currently watching with Stewart – as she is clearly trying to leave behind the ‘Twilight’ franchise that made her so popular, without alienating a fanbase that scours the Internet looking for anything Stewart related. (Right after seeing ‘Clouds of Sils Maria,’ I tweeted my approval of the movie. It is by far my most RTed tweet since I’ve been at TIFF.)
Moretz’s Jo-Ann Ellis – intentional or unintentional -- is basically a representation of the tabloid media’s interpretation of Kristen Stewart. To listen to Stewart’s Val talk about Ellis – her high profile relationships and a separate relationship with a married man -- is a lot like watching Stewart talk about herself in the third person. But what makes this interesting is that Stewart is so good playing Val – who is essentially a normal person -- that while watching we almost forget about this dynamic.
Stewart seems so normal and effortless in this role that it (a) completely made me forget about Stewart the celebrity and (b) made me wonder where this actor has been hiding for so long. Stewart is fine in say, ‘Adventureland,’ but she still seems so brooding. In ‘Camp X-Ray’ (which premiered at Sundance earlier this year), Stewart almost seems to be trying so hard to be someone different, it comes off as stilted. Here, Stewart just seems like a normal person. This is remarkable because I don’t remember ever watching Stewart in the past and thinking, That is a normal person.
For as great as Stewart is in ‘Clouds of Sils Maria,’ the movie belongs to Juliette Binoche and she is dynamite as Maria Enders. Enders (along with Stewart’s Val) is on her way to Switzerland for a tribute to an acclaimed playwright who game Maria her start. On her way there, the playwright passes away, but Maria uses the time there to escape and reflect on her long and storied career. Eventually this reflection leads to the scenario in which Enders might star alongside the hot mess that is Jo-Ann Ellis.
It’s a weird thing to watch ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ so closely to ‘Maps to the Stars’ (which, coincidentally, co-stars Robert Pattinson) because ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ so effortlessly skewers Hollywood in a way that ‘Maps to the Stars’ wishes it could do. And, guess what, ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ didn’t have to literally burn everyone and everything to the ground. Instead, we are given real characters that aren’t all assholes and, in turn, is much more effective in criticizing its target.
This feels like Stewart’s first true adult role, at least in the respect that she’s not screaming Hey, look at me, I’m an adult. And I like to think her fans will follow her into adulthood. I’m not sure how much she cares about that “shit-ton” of now former pre-teens who will now follow Stewart into adulthood. She was certainly wise not to alienate them, but this really feels like the first role in which Stewart wasn’t thinking abut them in some way, even though her character is talking about them, and herself, almost the entire time.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.