You’ve been underestimating Kristen Stewart — and why you need to stop

Personal Shopper, Twilight
IFC Films, Lionsgate Films

It’s not news anymore: Kristen Stewart is an acclaimed thespian. We’ve said it before ourselves. The last few years have seen the former Bella reborn, going from Twi-hard icon — loved and mocked in equal proportion — to a god of indies and even arty Euro movies. This week sees the arrival of “Personal Shopper,” a mysterious ghost movie and her second with Olivier Assayas. The acclaimed French filmmaker previously directed her in “Clouds of Sils Maria” — the perf that netted her a Cesar (the French Oscar) and told her haters they can officially go suck it.

Here’s the thing, though: Everyone may agree KStew was terrific in “Still Alice,” in “Certain Women,” in “Cafe Society.” But she’s always been great. As a kid she played Jodie Foster’s appropriately curt young daughter in “Panic Room,” and she earned raves for a small role in “Into the Wild,” one year before “Twilight” came along. Even during her Twi-stint, she was an unusually thoughtful dream girl in “Adventureland” and a killer Joan Jett in “The Runaways.”

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But we’ll go one further: She’s good in “Twilight,” too. This isn’t a popular opinion. For five years, Stewart was an easy target — that awkward girl who looked out of place in an inane franchise. She mumbled her lines. She couldn’t close her mouth. She had to quiver uncontrollably over an albino vampire and a shirtless werewolf. She was, in short, a bad actress in the worst movies in the world.

We won’t defend the first “Twilight” itself — that YA debacle where a creepy stalker woos his prey by cooing pick-up lines like, “I’ve never wanted a human’s blood so much in my life.” Even ignoring that it’s abstinence-only propaganda, the first one is an emo embarrassment with laughable special effects and a scene where Robert Pattinson’s blindingly white Edward Cullen saves his beloved from a reckless black driver.

Thing is, Anna Kendrick isn’t the only decent thing in it. (Yes, Anna Kendrick was in the “Twilight” movies. It’s easy to forget. She seems so above these things.) Stewart is good, too. Her turn is nowhere in the same universe as “Sils Maria,” but the things that critics love about her — her clear intelligence, her hesitant-yet-forceful line readings, her ability to seem at once uneasy and cucumber cool in front of the camera — are all over Bella. Watching the first one now, with a recent rash of terrific performances under her belt, it’s easier to see that she hasn’t improved as an actress; we’ve just figured out how to appreciate her talents.

In fact, go do a side-by-side. The first “Twilight” currently lives on Netflix Instant,as does “Sils Maria.”She’s clearly better in “Sils Maria,” but she’s thrilling in “Twilight,” too, giving a fool thing much more credibility than it deserves. And she’s fantastic in “Personal Shopper,” too, a movie that knows, better than any, how to film Kristen Stewart. It knows that she has “it,” that she’s exciting when she’s doing things as menial as riding a Peugeot around Paris, trying on high-end clothes or texting with a ghost. (Long story. It’s a strange movie, in a great way.) The camera loves her, and you can see that in an arty French import — and in a dumb movie where her vampire lover calls her a “spider-monkey.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter@mattprigge

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