Kristen Stewart is weaving her magic spell at the NYFF where she is being honored in “An Evening With…” as well as appearing in three new films. The bewitching Ms. Stewart is a put-upon lawyer moonlighting as a fraught school-teacher in Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women.” She’s tour-de-forcing her way through French director Olivier Assayas’ modern ghost story, “Personal Shopper.” She is also featured in Ang Lee’s upcoming, highly-anticipated “Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk” which is screening a week from Friday.
So while we still have to wait a week for “Billy”, I can tell you that Stewart’s other two films are very, very interesting and very different indeed. I liked them both immensely.
Filmmaker Kelly Reichardt’s work is an acquired taste. And I’ve acquired it. She is often so understated she makes Chekhov look like Cirque du Soleil. Reichardt is interested in the small moment, the very small moments in women’s lives. To cast the former “Twilight” star as an over-worked night school teacher in Montana is really a stretch. But it works.
New in town, Stewart’s Beth Travis is at first timidly unsure of what she should do in a class-room. She writes her name on the blackboard in very small letters. She soon begins meeting after class at a local diner with a student who is not even enrolled, but who seems to be developing a massive crush on Stewart’s totally de-glammed character.
The infatuated student, Jamie (Lily Gladstone), is a rancher. Gladstone is beautifully framed in many, many scenes of quotidian farm life. She is back-dropped by sweeping vistas that she doesn’t even notice. She only has eyes for her new mentor, Beth. She even rides her horse to one of the night classes, and Beth reluctantly, awkwardly wonders, should she ride a student’s horse with her to the diner. Beth acquiesces, in a very sweet charming scene, where this city girl finds she actually enjoys the ride.
Is Gladstone’s Jamie gay? Well, it isn’t really made explicit here, so perhaps the more important point is being made that the socially shy duo are drawn to each other simply as compatible souls looking for someone to talk to in the lonely Montana town. Stewart’s subtlety is amazing and endearing, and Gladstone is a revelation. Heartbreaking changes lie ahead for both women whose paths have crossed, but their chance crossing has prepared them to face those changes with newfound confidence.
A total change of pace is the dazzling turn Stewart does in “Personal Shopper” where she is virtually the entire movie. Stewart is employed as a personal shopper to a selfish, but glamorous star, who only half-appreciates her. She’s also a medium, able to tap into another level of reality, and is therefore haunted by the death of her twin brother. Many spirits are swirling through the night air in Paris and London, bedeviling Stewart, who couldn’t be more glamorous here. Trying on one stunning gown after another, while her employer is away in another country, she seems every inch the old-school movie star.
“Personal Shopper” reminded me of Genet’s “The Maids,” but Stewart’s character here puts a profound spin on the mousy, but sharp assistant, who likes to try on her mistresses clothes, and sleep in her bed, as she receives visitations from the beyond in many forms. She’s confronted by ectoplasm and bumps in the night, but primarily makes contact with the netherworld via ghostly texts on her cell phone. Unlike the villainous character in “Maids,” she isn’t planning her mistresses demise. Or is she?
Don’t try to figure out the ghosts and devils; just revel in Stewart’s bewitching performance. She is almost never off screen. But the end of the film, she seems almost Joan Crawford-esque as she confronts demon after demon, vanquishing them all, with an intelligence that pierces the screen and enthralls the viewer. Enchantingly, Kristen Stewart has become one of the greatest young screen actresses of our time.
I can’t wait to see what Ang Lee and she are going to be up to in “Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk” at the end of next week.
She’s bewitched the entire New York Film Festival. Not an easy thing to do, but she takes it elegantly in stride.
At the “Certain Women” press conference when asked to explain the incredible range of directors she has recently worked with, she casually quipped, “I just like to work with people I like to hang out with.”