iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Michael Hogan

GET UPDATES FROM Michael Hogan
 

Kristen Stewart in On the Road: Is She the Only Celebrity Making Real Art?

Posted: 09/07/2012 9:05 am

In her next movie, Kristen Stewart goes to bed with two men at the same time, gives both of them simultaneous hand jobs in the front seat of a car and performs oral sex on one of them while he's driving said car. She also appears topless twice, once just minutes into the movie, and spends much of the rest of her time doing drugs and robbing people.

But wait. Before you scroll down to the comments to register your disgust at Stewart's latest attempt to lead the nation's youth into a ditch of vice and vulgarity, try to imagine any of her fellow Millennial über-celebrities giving a performance as brave, or as powerful, as the one Stewart delivers in "On the Road," a new adaptation of Jack Kerouac's famous novel, directed by Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries").

For Taylor Swift, edgy is writing a breakup song and encouraging her fans to figure out who she's talking about. For Miley Cyrus, it's letting her side boob hang out. For Kim Kardashian, it's dating Kanye West and daring the world to decide if the whole thing is one giant put-on.

Is Kristen Stewart the only major celebrity of her generation who also happens to be a true artist?

It's certainly telling that she chose to make her big post-scandal comeback at last night's North American premiere of "On the Road," which took place at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was her first outing since photos of her fooling around with director Rupert Sanders blew her fairytale romance with Robert Pattinson to bits. And while it's possible Stewart was contractually obliged to support the film, the decision to spend an hour communing with her fans and answering questions from the press had to be hers. Again and again, she told reporters that she would be just as happy to be there promoting "Twilight," but I wonder. I suspect it's important to her to remind the world that she's more than just a twinkling star in the celebrity-weekly firmament. She's a real actress.

Like her contemporary Shia LaBeouf, Stewart gets a lot of flak from people who can't stand her zillion-dollar franchise. I won't claim to be a "Twilight" fan, but I'm consistently impressed by Stewart's work in what you might call more "serious" films, and "On the Road" is no exception.

This is definitely an "On the Road" for our times, directed by a Brazilian Boomer for a global audience of Millennials. The film doesn't shy away from the destruction that Kerouac's speed-demon hero, Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), wreaked on those around him, and, as a result, the women register with far more impact than they do in the book. Kirsten Dunst plays Dean's second wife, Camille, as an arrogant princess whose dreams fall victim to her man's wanderlust, but it's Stewart who steals a sizeable portion of the film. Not in a showy way -- it's remarkable how much time this massive global superstar spends in the back seat, literally and figuratively. But hers is a bold, brave, indelible performance. When we first see her, she's topless on a bed, shaking off her sexual afterglow so she can roll a few joints for Dean's friends. "You're the only girl I've ever known who can roll tea like this," Sam Riley's Sal Paradise tells her, as smitten as the audience would be if their inner tabloid editors weren't reminding them that they're supposed to be mad at her for breaking RPattz's heart.

The toplessness itself is an extremely courageous choice for someone as famous as Stewart. There is no question that screen shots of those scenes will proliferate all across the Internet, in contexts that would make even Marylou blush. But Stewart has proven that she's the kind of actress who puts her commitment to the role above concerns like that. To some people, her self-seriousness comes off as pretentious, but I see it as her way of protecting herself from the madness that surrounds her.

Marylou's sexually competitive side makes her a great fit for Dean, but she doesn't capture his imagination the way Camille does, and Stewart does her best acting during the group's long trip from New Orleans to San Francisco. As they depart, Dean, who has more or less replaced sleep with Benzedrine, promises to spend half his time with Marylou even though he's returning to Camille, who gave birth to his child, but Marylou knows that's not going to work. As the car barrels toward the coast, we watch the clouds slowly fill Stewart's face. This is acting of the highest order, and it's all the more impressive that it's being done by one of America's most notorious celebrities.

You know you're dealing with a real movie star when her off-screen travails enhance her performance, rather than detracting from it, and that's what happens here. Stewart's Marylou is pure Id: she steals what she needs and she screws who she wants, when she wants. And Stewart -- who, lest we forget, is only 22 -- is so convincing in the role that I can't help feeling glad that she now has the chance to stop playing house with Robert Pattinson and truly explore the world.

To my knowledge, Stewart did not address the scandal or her personal life on the red carpet last night. She kept the focus on the film -- and the real people whose stories inspired Kerouac -- and shrewdly did all her interviews in tandem with Garrett Hedlund. That protected her a bit by making it feel extra-inappropriate to shout out Robsten questions (not that she had much to fear from the polite Canadians bunched up against the rope line), but it also represented an admirable level of collegiality. Hedlund, after all, plays the lead in the film, not Stewart, and it was generous and right of her to share her spotlight with him.

Judging from the hundreds of fans and dozens of media outlets who crowded around her last night, Stewart has plenty of support to get her through what has been a tough time. She doesn't need any help from me. But I'm going to keep rooting for her anyway, if only because it would be a shame if we ceded our celebrity arena to shameless fame balls and reality-TV oversharers. I still remember when the biggest celebrities were people like Liz Taylor and Mick Jagger and Jack Nicholson. People who did great work and lived fascinating lives.

If we want interesting people to share their lives with us, we can't rip them to shreds every time they make a mistake -- or a courageous choice. And we should try to recognize real talent when it arises in our midst -- even when it comes attached to a corny franchise.

Loading Slideshow...
  • "Looper"- Opening Night Gala Premiere - Red Carpet - 2012 Toronto International Film Festival

    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 06: Actor Bruce Willis attends the 'Looper' opening night gala premiere during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, 2012 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

  • "Looper"- Opening Night Gala Premiere - Red Carpet - 2012 Toronto International Film Festival

    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 06: Actor Noah Segan attends the 'Looper' opening night gala premiere during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, 2012 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

  • "Looper"- Opening Night Gala Premiere - Red Carpet - 2012 Toronto International Film Festival

    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 06: Actor/Executive Producer Joseph Gordon-Levitt attends the 'Looper' opening night gala premiere during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, 2012 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

  • "Looper"- Opening Night Gala Premiere - Red Carpet - 2012 Toronto International Film Festival

    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 06: Actor/Executive Producer Joseph Gordon-Levitt (L) and actress Emily Blunt attend the 'Looper' opening night gala premiere during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, 2012 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

  • "Looper"- Opening Night Gala Premiere - Red Carpet - 2012 Toronto International Film Festival

    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 06: Actress Emily Blunt walks onstage at the 'Looper' opening night gala premiere during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, 2012 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

  • Marion Cotillard

    Writer-director Jacques Audiard, left, actress Marion Cotillard and actor Matthias Schoenaerts attend the premiere for "Rust and Bone" at the Elgin Theatre during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, September 6, 2012, in Toronto. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

  • Matthias Schoenaerts

    Actor Matthias Schoenaerts, right, and a guest attend the premiere for "Rust and Bone" at the Elgin Theatre during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, September 6, 2012, in Toronto. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt

    Acto Joseph Gordon-Levitt attends the opening night gala premiere of "Looper" at Roy Thomson Hall during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012, in Toronto. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

  • Marion Cotillard

    Actress Marion Cotillard attends the premiere for "Rust and Bone" at the Elgin Theatre during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012, in Toronto. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

  • John Krasinski, Emily Blunt

    Actress Emily Blunt, left, and her husband, actor John Krasinski attend the opening night gala premiere of "Looper" at Roy Thomson Hall during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012, in Toronto. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

  • Bruce Willis

    Bruce Willis attends the opening night gala premiere of "Looper" at Roy Thomson Hall during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012, in Toronto. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

  • Piper Perabo

    Actress Piper Perabo attends the opening night gala premiere of "Looper" at Roy Thomson Hall during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012, in Toronto. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

  • Emily Blunt

    Actress Emily Blunt attends the opening night gala premiere of "Looper" at Roy Thomson Hall during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012, in Toronto. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

  • Garrett Hedlund

    Garrett Hedlund is shown on the red carpet at the gala premiere for the movie "On the Road" during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

  • Kirsten Dunst

    Kirsten Dunst poses for a photograph on the red carpet at the gala for the movie "On The Road" during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

  • Kristin Stewart

    Kristin Stewart poses for a photograph on the red carpet at the gala for the movie "On The Road" during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

  • Kristen Stewart

    Kristen Stewart is shown on the red carpet at the gala premiere for the movie "On the Road" during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

  • Walter Salles

    Director Walter Salles is shown at the gala premiere of "On the Road" during the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday Sept. 6, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Kirsten Dunst, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart

    Cast members Kirsten Dunst, left, Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart are shown before the gala premiere of "On the Road" during the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday Sept. 6, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Kristen Stewart

    Actress Kristen Stewart is shown at the gala premiere for "On the Road" during the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday Sept. 6, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Kristen Stewart

    Actress Kristen Stewart is shown at the gala premiere for "On the Road" during the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday Sept. 6, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst

    Actresses Kristen Stewart, left, and Kirsten Dunst are shown at the gala premiere for "On the Road" during the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday Sept. 6, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Kirsten Dunst

    Actress Kirsten Dunst attends a screening for "On The Road" during the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday Sept. 6, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Kirsten Dunst, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart

    Cast members Kirsten Dunst, left, Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart are shown before the gala premiere of "On The Road" during the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday Sept. 6, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Kirsten Dunst, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart

    Cast members Kirsten Dunst, left, Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart are shown before the premiere of "On the Road" during the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday Sept. 6, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Bruce Willis

    Bruce Willis is shown on the red carpet at the gala premiere for the new movie "Looper" during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn)

  • Emily Blunt

    Emily Blunt is shown on the red carpet at the gala premiere for the new movie "Looper" during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn)

  • Bruce Willis

    Bruce Willis is shown on the red carpet at the gala premiere for the new movie "Looper" during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn)

  • Piper Perabo

    Piper Perabo is shown on the red carpet at the gala premiere for the new movie "Looper" during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn)

  • Sarah Gadon

    Actress Sarah Gadon attends Jason Reitman's Live Read of "American Beauty" during the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday Sept. 6, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Bryan Cranston

    Actor Bryan Cranston attends Jason Reitman's Live Read of "American Beauty" during the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday Sept. 6, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Christina Hendricks

    Actress Christina Hendricks attends Jason Reitman's Live Read of "American Beauty" during the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday Sept. 6, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Anna Kendrick

    Actress Anna Kendrick arrives at "The Company You Keep" premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday Sept. 9, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Robert Redford

    Actpr and director Robert Redford arrives at "The Company You Keep" premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday Sept. 9, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Robert Redford

    Actor and director Robert Redford arrives at "The Company You Keep" premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday Sept. 9, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Robert Redford, Jackie Evancho

    Actpr and director Robert Redford and actress Jackie Evancho arrive at "The Company You Keep" premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday Sept. 9, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid

    Actors Zac Efron and Dennis Quaid attend the "At Any Price" premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday Sept. 9, 2012, in Toronto. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

  • Maika Monroe

    Actress Maika Monroe attends the "At Any Price" premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday Sept. 9, 2012, in Toronto. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

  • Kim Dickens, Maika Monroe, Zac Efron, Hallie Elizabeth Newton, Dennis Quaid

    From left, actors Kim Dickens, Maika Monroe, Zac Efron, writer Hallie Elizabeth Newton, and actor Dennis Quaid attend the "At Any Price" premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday Sept. 9, 2012, in Toronto. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

  • Zac Efron

    Actor Zac Efron attends the "At Any Price" premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday Sept. 9, 2012, in Toronto. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

  • Trine Dyrholm; Pierce Brosnan

    Trine Dyrholm and Pierce Brosnan pose for photos on the red carpet at the Elgin Theatre for the film "Love is All You Need" during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Aaron Vincent Elkaim)

  • Naomi Watts

    Actress Naomi Watts arrives at "The Impossible" premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday Sept. 9, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts

    Actors Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts arrive at "The Impossible" premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday Sept. 9, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Eli Roth, Lorenza Izzo

    Actor Eli Roth and actress Lorenza Izzo arrive at "The Impossible" premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday Sept. 9, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Director Dustin Hoffman \

    Director Dustin Hoffman poses on the red carpet at the Elgin Theatre for the film "Quartet" during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Aaron Vincent Elkaim)

  • Aaron Paul;

    Actor Billy Connolly, left, and director Dustin Hoffman embrace on the red carpet at the Elgin Theatre for the film "Quartet" during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Aaron Vincent Elkaim)

  • Dustin Hoffman; Lisa Hoffman

    Director Dustin Hoffman poses for a photo with his wife Lisa on the red carpet at the Elgin Theatre for the film "Quartet" during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Aaron Vincent Elkaim)

  • Billy Connolly; Maggie Smith; Dustin Hoffman;

    Actor Billy Connolly, left to right, actress Maggie Smith and director Dustin Hoffman pose for a photo on the red carpet at the Elgin Theatre for the film "Quartet" during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Aaron Vincent Elkaim)

  • Mira Nair, Kiefer Sutherland, Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson

    From left, director Mira Nair, actor Kiefer Sutherland, actor Riz Ahmed and actress Kate Hudson participate in a photo call and press conference for the film "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" at TIFF Bell Lightbox during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday Sept. 9, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Jackie Chan

    Chines actor Jackie Chan arrives at "In Conversation With Jackie Chan" during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday Sept. 9, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Willow Smith

    Singer Willow Smith attends the premiere of "Free Angela and All Political Prisoners" during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday Sept. 9, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

 

Follow Michael Hogan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/m1keh0gan

FOLLOW ENTERTAINMENT