The Cold Case: Bite Into Kristen Stewart's Little-Seen Best Performance

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Fanboys will be delighted this week when Avatar finally kills off New Moon's waning box office. Die, vampire, die! Semper fi, space marines! Hoo-ha. But where does that leave the Twi-hards? Sure, they'll get in line, like everyone else, to see The Movie The Changes Everything, but after that it's about 195 coffin-sleeps until Eclipse. The only solution? The Cold Case, which this week looks back at one Twilight star's even more indelible (if sadly underseen) performance from 2007.

Sure, you can veer off to Netflix for some pre-Edward R-Pattz in the unintentionally funny freakout The Haunted Airman. Same goes for Taylor Lautner busting a move as the titular fin-tastic fella of The Adventures Of Sharkboy And Lava Girl. But I'd stick with Twilight's true acting veteran, Kristen Stewart, who ever since Panic Room has rocked screens with a series of deft portrayals of teenage girls. Some Bella fans may have seen her in Adventureland, and some might even have ventured to appreciate her fine supporting work in What Just Happened and Into The Wild. Yet very few will have seen her best in 2007's The Cake Eaters.

In the film, Stewart plays Georgia, a 15-year-old girl afflicted with Friedreich's Ataxia, a degenerative nerve condition that causes her to walk clumsily and speak with a slur. While her movements and speech make her condition obvious, and she's well aware that her lifespan is limited, Georgia is a normal teenage girl. She's ready to rebel against her well-meaning but overbearing mother, who chronicles her daughter's life in her photos, and smitten with Beagle (Aaron Stanford), an unassuming young guy she meets at a flea market, and keen to get laid for the first time in case, you know, time runs out.

Stewart handles the physical challenge of Georgia superbly, and the emotional pull of the character is every bit as demanding. She's a strong-willed but vulnerable kid -- in other words, Anyteen -- who just happens to have a body she can't control and an annoyingly short shelf-life. She never pleads for understanding or sympathy; Georgia just wants to do her thing, whether it's getting a spiky new haircut or getting the shy Beagle to follow her lead in the roadside motel deflowering stakes.

While Stewart's Georgia is at the heart of The Cake Eaters, the film's success is that she's part of a beautifully conceived ensemble, with each character feeling fully formed, with their own motivations and points of view. Beagle can't come to terms with the news that his recently widowed dad, Easy (Bruce Dern), has for years been carrying on an affair with Marge (Elizabeth Ashley), Georgia's grandmother. Beagle is similarly resentful of his brother Guy (Jayce Bartok, who also contributed the screenplay), who deserted during mom's illness to pursue his rock dreams in New York but who has returned to try to pick up his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Stephanie (Miriam Shor). The Cake Eaters follows these three intertwined relationships with a remarkable ease, thanks to both Bartok's refreshingly bullshit-free script and natural, unfussy direction from Mary Stuart Masterson, the 1980s' peripheral Brat Pack actress making her feature debut.

The Cake Eaters isn't autobiographical, but it's deeply infused with Bartok's own experiences. His artist mom spent the last years of her life confined to a wheelchair, his family had a run-down studio in rural Pennsylvania, similar to the locations used in the movie. Other characters were inspired by his brothers and wife. As for Friedreich's Ataxia, Bartok selected it precisely because he knew nothing about it and wouldn't come to the subject with any preconceived notions. "When I had the honor of meeting some young women with FA," Bartok told Movieline. "I was floored by their rebellious spirit. I loved the idea that the one character that can't physically get around, is the one that accomplishes the most in the story, really."

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Comments

  • Rachel Wright says:

    I found The Cake Eaters to be such a refreshing little movie - I had never heard of it before, just happened to pick it up off the library shelf. Kristen Stewart is such a talented actress, so natural and unaffected, and that goes for the other actors in the movie too. How nice to see a story with such simple, real characters! I've always loved Mary Stuart Masterson as an actress, and now she's showing her other talents too. Thanks for this gem!

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