We are shocked SHOCKED at the tawdry flameout of Kristen Stewart, 22, and Robert Pattinson. The highest paid actress in the world kissed her married "Snow White and the Huntsman" director Rupert Sanders, 41, and the paparazzi snapped it up. We feel Pattinson's pain. Stewart's pain. Hey, we even feel the pain of the director, suddenly stepping into the "Twilight" cast in the home-wrecker role. Still, most of the ire is directed at Stewart as Team Edward fumbles at the finish line, apparently on the verge of proposing. There are few clearer ways to express that a relationship is over than to kiss another man (or woman). It's the coward's way out, but it's a way out.
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The Kristen Stewart Backlash
This is the star's "Scarlet Letter" moment, what Melissa Silverstein at IndieWire candidly calls "the public shaming of Kristen Stewart." But before we get celebrity gossip whiplash, let's pause to remember that Kstew and RPats are media constructs — brands traded like margarine on the cover of Us Weekly, People, or the National Enquirer. The "Twilight" duo's coupledom is as material as John Travolta's marriage. Oops! Followed by belated revelations that Travolta had a long-term relationship with a man. Tell me: Who in the offices of Us Weekly didn't know that already? (I worked there for 11 years — trust me on this one.) Or the fairytale romance of TomKat that was more of a boardroom contract servicing the Tom Cruise brand. To me, the question in that case is why Katie Holmes made the deal with the devil (OK, money is part of it for sure).
Kristen Stewart, the Actress
The role of America's supernaturally strung-out sweetheart never sat easily on Stewart — and it's that sense of unease that was so perfect for the teen grunge goddess Bella Swan. Given the chance, Stewart made dark indie movies on the side. In "The Runaways," she played rock rebel Joan Jett — and kissed co-star Dakota Fanning. In the quirky "Welcome to the Rileys," she starred opposite James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo as a New Orleans runaway lap-dancer that the couple tries to tame and adopt after their own daughter dies tragically. In both these box office flops, Stewart was drawn to kohl-eyed outsiders whose inner rage clawed at the delicate external beauty.
While Stewart may be romantically linked to Sanders, his direction of her in "Snow White and the Huntsman" (now sequel-bound) was no smoking gun. The smoky fable had the unflattering effect of showcasing co-star Charlize Theron's ample talents. Stewart's not a still beauty or a Jennifer Lawrence action heroine of laser focus. Her line readings when Snow White rallies the troops of dwarves and warriors at the movie's climax presents an awkward imitation of a St. Crispin's Day speech. She seems to leave the would-be warriors more stupefied than inspired although, perhaps I am projecting my own stupefaction there.
"The Hunger Games" connection: Katniss and Peeta forever
Stewart found herself in a position parallel to Katniss vis a vis Peeta from the rival, supernatural-free saga, "The Hunger Games." My 13-year-old daughter -- and guru in all things "Twilight" and HG — shared this insight with me. In "The Hunger Games," Woody Harrelson's cynical Haymitch Abernathy makes it clear to Katniss (Lawrence) that creating the illusion of a romance with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) will save her life,and possibly Peeta's too. The moment Katniss places her hand in Peeta's atop their flaming chariot during the games' opening ceremony, she comes closer to survival and further from her true feelings. This is doubly complicated because Peeta has always carried a torch for Katniss, while her hometown hero Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) witnesses this betrayal on TV surrounded by their families.
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Clearly, it's messier when there are real beating hearts off-screen. Stewart's apparent shame, Pattinson's embarrassment, director Sander's guilt are all to some degree real, however cushioned by paychecks we will most likely never experience. Whatever Stewart's true feelings, and I can't venture a guess, it was immensely good for the franchise that she and Pattinson had a romance that went beyond the screen and spilled onto exotic beaches around the globe and splashed across the covers of endless tabloids.
I observed Stewart at close range during the Sundance Film Festival two years ago. She was as skinny as a wet cat and a bundle of nervous energy. It was clear in the way her legs couldn't stay still and her knees jangled while she was being interview on stage following "Welcome to the Rileys" that publicity did not come naturally to her; she was all about the work. The "Rileys" cast and crew surrounded her onstage but the spotlight was all on this slight girl in jeans and a sulk to suit James Dean, her eyes downcast. In another decade, she would have been fidgeting with a cigarette.
Whatever Klieg lights the Twilight saga has shined her way, Stewart the young woman is uncomfortable beneath them. She squirms and, lately, although she has tried to please, it never came naturally. Since the day she became Bella Swan to an adoring public, she has been a bug trapped in amber. She's just too modern of a woman to remain in that position forever. There may be one final film in the Twilight saga, but she's already moving on. With that captured illicit kiss, Stewart sacrificed the adoration of a mass audience that always made her uneasy. And, the truth is, maybe that smooch wasn't a final sacrifice after all, just a way to change the game.
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