A Double Dose of Kristen Stewart at AFI Fest

The Clouds of Sils Maria and Still Alice, AFI Fest 2014

By chance, Kristen Stewart appeared in two films at AFI Fest 2014. She plays a daughter or daughter figure to a pair of middle-aged actresses in the lead roles, the Robin to their Batman.

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In The Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), written and directed by Olivier Assayas, Juliette Binoche is Marie, a serious actress about to appear in a play that she starred in twenty years before. Marie projects a glamorous image for the press. At home, out of her wig and evening gown, she’s a short-haired butch to Stewart’s Val, her personal assistant go to girl.

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Unfortunately, not much happens in this dialogue heavy movie, sexually or otherwise but its Alpine locations and European veneer make it perfect for film festivals. A limited US release won’t arrive until March, 2015.

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Marie is savvy enough to realize that she’s aged past the ingénue of the play. That role is taken over by problem child Jo-Anne Ellis, played by Chloe Grace Moretz against her usual nice girl type. Jo-Ann is a terrific caricature of a performer in the Britney Spears/Lindsay Lohan bad girl mold. Suddenly, Stewart looks like Meryl Streep, by comparison. Late in the film, Jo-Ann proves to have more depth but by then the first impression is already set.

Self reflexive in its look behind the curtain, there’s an underlying theme about how European artistic sensibilities and Hollywood commercialism don’t mix.

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Also coming off a run on the festival circuit, Still Alice stars Julianne Moore as Columbia professor Dr. Alice Howland stricken with early onset Alzheimer’s. Written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland from Lisa Genova’s novel, the film is in limited release, opening wide in January 2015.

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still5f-2-webAlice is happily married to fellow academic, John (Alec Baldwin). Their daughter Anne (Kate Bosworth) is the good girl who’s done everything right, radiating success. Younger daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart) is the rebel, an aspiring actress continually at odds with Alice over her career prospects.

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The casting is perfect, starting with Moore herself, credible as an articulate professor. Alice’s decline is gradual but shockingly rapid and the actress has to show this. We watch her and her family evolve through the stages of grief from denial to acceptance. Baldwin is the rock solid presence we’ve come to expect. Bosworth is effective as someone well-intentioned but rigid.

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But much of the buzz has concerned the dynamic between Alice and Lydia. Moore and Stewart’s scenes together are heartfelt. Mother and daughter’s deep rift isn’t healed in an instant, but we see the beginning of that process and their sadness that it came because of a tragedy.

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