Olivier Assayas’ new movie Personal Shopper opens next week. That’s exciting in its own right, seeing as Assayas is one of the best filmmakers working today. But it’s made even more exciting by the fact that it’s his second collaboration with Kristen Stewart, one of the best young actresses around. Of course, as the star of the Twilight franchise, Stewart’s talent isn’t the only notable thing about her — she’s also known for having an incredibly rabid (to put it mildly) fan base.
It’s an open secret that if you tweet anything positive about Kristen Stewart, her fans (consisting mostly of teenage girls), will find it and shower it with attention. Even if an average person tweets something as innocuous as “Kristen Stewart is a very good actress!” it’s bound to get tons of likes and retweets within the next 24 hours. There are some film critics who refuse to use her full name in a tweet, lest they want their notifications blown up. For real.
After seeing Personal Shopper for myself at last year’s New York Film Festival—and really enjoying it—I decided to put tweeting about Kristen Stewart to the test. After sending out a brief 140-character thought about the movie and Stewart’s performance in it, I sat back and watched as dozens, if not hundreds, of her fans liked it or retweeted it. This went on for almost a full day, before I deleted the tweet because I was tired of notifications popping up on my phone. And, of course, I have to note that it’s not like I’m a big name film critic whose opinion these people should be taking to heart. I’m just some dude on the internet who thought Kristen Stewart was pretty good in the movie. Naturally, there are conspiracy theories out there that some critics only say such positive things about Kristen Stewart because it’ll drive more traffic to their reviews.
It’s easy to be cynical about all of this and criticize teenage girls for scouring the internet for any positive mention of their idol. But a realization eventually dawned on me — how cool is it that tons of young people are checking out movies by Olivier Assayas now? Before he collaborated with Kristen Stewart on Clouds of Sils Maria (above), how many teenagers (and really, Americans in general) were rushing to the theater to see his movies? Probably few, aside from the most cinema-obsessed. But now, a handful of them, devoted to their favorite star, are actively seeking his movies out. This is all just conjecture, but in fifteen years I wouldn’t be at all shocked to hear several women filmmakers say something about Assayas being their gateway into the larger cinematic world. And that’s definitely nothing to be cynical about.
And it doesn’t just stop with Assayas. It’s likely that one of the reasons Kristen Stewart is so popular among critics today, aside from her obvious talent, is that she’s really good at choosing roles. Just last year, she also performed in Kelly Reichardt’s excellent Certain Women, one of the best movies of 2016. Other notable directors she worked with in films released last year? Woody Allen and Ang Lee. There are some duds in her filmography, sure, but for the most part, she certainly seems to be the type of actress (especially now that she’s found success and must have considerably more freedom in choosing parts) who will turn down a role she isn’t personally interested in.
So, yeah, it’s only natural to laugh at teenagers who worship at the altar of a celebrity. But when that teenage passion translates to more tickets being sold to stuff like Personal Shopper or Certain Women, then I’m all for it. It’s not like these are movies that are blowing up the box office; any money they earn is important. And we’re already, as a society, way too dismissive of the intelligence of teenagers. If even only a small chunk of those Kristen Stewart fans discover a real love for cinema, the rest of us are going to be all the better for it. At the very least, it might result in more of a market for interesting, challenging movies — but even better (and as corny as it sounds), it might help foster an interest in cinema that’ll inspire young filmmakers of the future.