Yesterday, I took myself to go see Snow White and the Huntsman. It was a really gorgeous movie, with some moments that I’m sure were emotional and deep, and a nice pair of attractive sidekicks for Kristen Stewart’s eponymous protagonist, some lovely landscape helicopter shots, and the really shocking plot twist of not having a kiss and rising strings as the final scene.
The first thing I said when I got back home was, “She was good!” Second was the visual effects, the surprisingly well-painted villain, the lack-of-romance that was so refreshing. Kristen Stewart was the first thing I commented on. There was an assumption – because my roommates and I are in total agreement in our dislike of the Twilight saga – that she would be awful. Bella Swan was pretty awful. And yet, she was pretty good in SWATH. (Not fantastic, but pretty good! Charlize Theron was also only pretty good, and Chris Hemsworth was pretty good with a good makeup artist that made up for any acting problems or lack of distinct personality. I personally think it was the direction – slightly too melodramatic for my taste. Anyway.)
I remember seeing the Star Wars prequels and assuming that I was going to hate Natalie Portman as an actress from there on because her Padme was so bland and unfeeling. She has proved my younger assumption wrong so many times I can’t count them, and has, in a stunning turn of events, become one of my favorite actresses. Later on, I remember hearing someone tell me that she (or was it Carrie Fisher?) has been quoted saying that the stiffness was the direction, not her own choice.
It’s funny how we hold our actors (and most of the time, actresses – my friends and I made fun of Anakin, but never criticized him to the extent that we did towards Padme) to the lowest common denominator of their filmography. Even if it wasn’t their first movie, the worst one is what sticks with us. I saw In the Land of Women (a movie that was just really bad) before I saw Twilight, and I thought despite the really terrible movie Kristen Stewart did a pretty good job. In fact, a better job than its star Adam Brody. And yet, she will always be judged on Bella Swan.
“I criticize every actor, not just women!” I start to say to myself. But really on thinking about it, that would be nice and yet false. There is a movie that you should avoid at all costs on Netflix Instant called Ca$h, yes with the $ instead of an S, yes it is that douchey. It’s a terrible movie and I suffered the entire way through. It starred Sean Bean and, you guessed it (unless you didn’t), Chris Hemsworth. The acting was awful, the movie was boring, and yet I wouldn’t dare call Sean Bean a bad actor for making it. “But he’s made more stuff, that wasn’t what you saw him in first, he’s proven himself, self!” I wasn’t thinking that about Chris Hemsworth either and all I really know about his work is that he’s a pretty face in Thor (a role which required more abs than nuance).
Of course, when it comes to Kristen Stewart, there are more factors than I’ve mentioned, the foremost of which is the fact that In the Land of Women was an indie that only got attention once Kristen Stewart was chosen for Bella, and that Twilight was a massive book franchise even before it turned into a movie and of course she was going to have scrutiny and criticism for her role no matter what she did. But the fact is that we are less forgiving of actresses than actors, and rarely do we see fantastic actresses who made a bad choice of film as a fluke, but instead as the norm that they, the select few who get to the upper echelon of Great Actresses, have transcended. We do not as a consumption society even grant them the Michael Caine line of saying, “Oh, well, she just takes everything!”
Being critical of media is actually a wonderful thing but whatever their gender it’s hard to remember that actors (speaking now in a neuter) are people, just like us, who make mistakes. Their mistakes just happen to become multimillion dollar movie franchises. If they do terrible work in a terrible movie, we shouldn’t be afraid to say that. But judging them for their worst role, no matter when it came in life, seems to me a fatalist attitude.
After all, if we all continued to judge Natalie Portman based on Padme Amidala from the second Star Wars prequel, she never would have made Black Swan. Kristen Stewart should have the opportunity to make her big acting movie also, as should every other actor. Whether she succeeds or not can be judged by its own merit, but until then, I think I’m going to try to examine my own criticisms of any actor and maybe curb them when they start to veer into the territory of, “Oh but they were in that movie I hate.”