Sunday, January 06, 2008

Kristen Stewart Steps Into the Wild

Although it’s not the type of showy performance or role likely to nab any major kudos, or maybe even a spot among the more diverse field found at Stinkylulu’s 2nd Annual Supporting Actress Blogathon, the quiet, lovely work of young Kristen Stewart in Into the Wild left possibly the most indelible mark of any 2007 supporting actressing I viewed. Although Stewart is subdued throughout her brief appearance as Tracy, a free-spirited, yet melancholy, sixteen-year-old who catches the eye of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsh) midway through his series of exploits across American, she leaves a vivid impression on both McCandless and the viewer. First spotted singing to a crowd in the purest, sweetest voice imaginable, the dreamy, serene Tracy is mainly around to provide a brief romantic interlude for Wild’s wandering hero. However, Stewart’s soulful, intelligent eyes, graceful sensitivity, and phenomenal, ethereal screen presence make Tracy a figure hard to forget after McCandless moves on to his next, and biggest, adventure.

The camera loves Stewart to such a degree that, after her first few Wild scenes, I started suspecting she probably could have given Lillian Gish or Greta Garbo a run for their money during the Silent’s heyday some eighty-odd years ago as, to misquote Norma Desmond, “They had faces then.” As Tracy, Stewart’s beautiful, unguarded visage manages to convey both freshness and world-weariness, allowing the talented newcomer to project something akin to a jaded purity, which I’ve never seen onscreen before. I was surprised to find out Stewart was actually the same age as her character- the adage “wise beyond her years” could have been coined for her, as the mature comportment Stewart displays throughout her Wild appearance is rare to find in an ingenue.

Stewart’s possesses an insightful, focused, and naturalistic acting style, and she brings off Tracy so effortlessly a viewer might simply overlook her substantial accomplishment in Wild. Stewart is always fully “in the moment” as Tracy, to the extent an audience can be forgiven for assuming director Sean Penn simply cast a non-professional, then improvised her scenes in a semi-documentary style. Stewart’s abundant acting prowess is evident in what (for me) constitutes the film’s most perfect moment, wherein Tracy interrupts a serious exchange between McCandless and fellow nomad Jan (Catherine Keener, in an earthy, warm performance) and lets out a slight, nervous laugh while informing the couple dinner is ready, before she quickly departs the scene. Stewart plays Tracy’s reaction to her unwitting intrusion upon Christopher and Jan’s private discussion very skillfully; the giddy quaver found in Stewart’s voice may not have been scripted, but it’s exactly how the alert, sage Tracy should react after unexpectedly discovering her normally laid-back friends involved in such a solemn conversation. The wounded look in Stewart’s eyes during Tracy’s sad, gentle, and mainly wordless goodbye to McCandless also lends a remarkable degree of depth to her characterization, leaving one to ponder what road Tracy traveled in life after Christopher embarked on his own final journey.

Although Stewart’s been around for a few years since her big breakthrough as Jodie Foster’s offspring in Panic Room, I’d never seen her in any role before her delicate, penetrating portrayal in Wild, and I left the screening wanting to view more, a lot more, of her work. The sometimes perverse fortunes found in the world of cinema makes it hard to determine how things will play out for Stewart; however, adorned with uncommon beauty and perceptive acting skill, Wild’s breathtaking young star should have a bright future as a major film performer.