Reassessing Kirsten Dunst

I can’t help but feel that before her acclaim for Melancholia, Kirsten Dunst was given short shrift. While she may be an acclaimed actress now, it seemed like a long and successful career has become overshadowed by weak romantic comedies (Elizabethtown, Wimbledon and How to Lose Friends and Alienate People) and her unimpressive role in the Spider-Man films, these being the films that gave her the widest exposure. Below I pick out nine films from the length of her career, showing that Dunst has been doing good and varied work long before Melancholia came along.

It’s time to reassess Kirsten Dunst.

Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles
At just 12, Kirsten had to play the very complex role of Claudia, a young girl who is turned into a vampire. Struggling to grow up in an unchanging body Dunst gave a very mature performance and was absolutely terrifying at times. One moment that will always stay with me is the sight of a young girl slitting Tom Cruise’s throat and him bleeding out on the floor. Shame the sequel Queen of the Damned did not live up to this vampire classic.

Jumanji
Oh, how I loved this film. It combined “cutting edge” CGI, Robin Williams (a man who couldn’t put a foot wrong when I was young) and animals running amok; all of which make for a child friendly film. Kirsten took the role of the sister in a pair of siblings who play an old board game in their new house, only to unleash the jungle on suburbia. “There is a lesson you will learn: sometimes you must go back a turn.”

Small Soldiers
Another childhood favourite, another case of toys getting out of control and another film which is just as good today. When toy soldiers get military chips implanted in their circuits, they take their role as soldiers very seriously and humans aren’t on their side. Dunst was mostly the love interest here, but for a 10-year-old me that was more than enough, and she got to dabble in some violence too.

The Virgin Suicides
In Sofia Coppola’s debut Dunst stars as one of a group of beautiful and elusive sisters, all of whom defy understanding and are heading towards the inevitable tragedy. Possibly Kirsten’s first opportunity since Interview with the Vampire to do some “proper” acting, this being a film focussing more on mood and character than the high concept plots of Jumaji and Soldiers. Alarming to think that at the age of 17, Dunst had five films out this year.

Drop Dead Gorgeous
Another of those five films in 1999 is one of my all-time favourite comedies, a mockumentary following contestants in a beauty pageant. An extremely dark comedy, one involving murder and anorexia, Dunst gets an opportunity to showcase her comedy chops. The film is also notable for featuring the great Allison Janney along with early appearances from Amy Adams and Brittany Murphy.

Bring It On
No child of the nineties doesn’t secretly love this cheerleader comedy, one of the classics of the teen comedy genre of the late-nineties/early-noughties. The plot is simple, the new cheerleading captain (Dunst) has to lead her team to victory at the national championships, but the execution is a joy to behold. Say it with me, “Brr! It’s Cold In Here!” Another film where the sequels (not involving Kirsten) pale in comparison.

Get Over It
I fully accept than no-one else seems to have seen this film, let alone enjoyed it. I saw it by chance on a plane and since bought the DVD to prove to myself that it exists. This high school comedy is essentially a re-imagining of Twelfth Night, with the students in the film also rehearsing a musical adaptation of the same play. I urge you to see out this forgotten gem, you won’t be disappointed, because I imagine your expectations are pretty low. The film starts and ends with a musical number, I’ll leave it at that.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Confusing, thought-provoking and flawless, this is a film I can return to an infinite number of times. Dunst plays the receptionist (and then some) of a doctor who offers a service in which patient can remove all memories of a loved one from their mind. While the main story is about Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet’s characters, Kirsten has a sad little arc impacting on the main plot. “Blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders.”

Marie Antoinette
When Sofia Coppola reunited with Kirsten Dunst to make this lush period piece the reception was one which the real Marie would not have been unfamiliar with. In the film’s defence I would say that it subtly conveys the story of a young woman who is forced to leave her own country to marry a man who shows no affection. The film is gorgeous, Dunst is great in the role and there’s plenty of humour and tragedy to be found if you give it a chance.

UPDATE: As you can see in the comments below, this post does not reflect the views of the entire Mild Concern team.

10 thoughts on “Reassessing Kirsten Dunst

  1. I was wondering where you were going to go with this. For someone who’s always been pretty down on Dunst, I was a little surprised recently by just how many of her films I’ve seen but came to a different conclusion – that I loved many of those films, despite her. For example, I felt she was the weakest of the main cast in Eternal Sunshine and felt her best role was in The Virgin Suicides, mainly because the Lisbons are so distant, mysterious and lacking in characters that aren’t created by the narrator.

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    • I suppose you could be right, but watch Drop Dead Gorgeous and you’ll see Dunst carry a film. Have you seen Melancholia yet?

      The main point of this was to froce your hand to reassess Keira Knightley!

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  2. Kat has this down for me, Virgin Suicides is for me her best and a role seemingly tailor-made. But Tim if you’re going to make a case for Dunst, I can’t help but feel you missed off 3 roles that best display use of her dramatic muscle.

    Levity (with Billy Bob Thornton, Holly Hunter and directed by Ed Solomon who wrote Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (!) and Men In Black)

    The Cat’s Meow, a fantastic real life period piece about Orson Welles and friends that’d be right up your alley.

    Crazy/Beautiful, saw this when it first came out and I was the target audience. Still one of the best modern day “grittier” teen films.

    All these are on R1 DVD if not R2, so rent or get them cheap on amazon.

    P.S. Good call on Small Soldiers, bring on the blu-ray!

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    • Sadly not seen any of those three, will have to keep my eyes peeled.

      If anything these negative reponses to Kirsten Dunst have justified my defence of her. Poor Kirsten.

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  3. Not so much negative on Dunst as acknowledging the fact that for me she’s never been anything other than a solid actress whose worth as an actress is dependent on material that suits her rather than any chameleon-like abilities…

    whereas Knightley, Ugh!

    Now we are really talking about a weak link. It was embarrassing seeing her share scenes with Romola Garai in ATONEMENT and Cary Mulligan in NEVER LET ME GO, you were always aware of how she was just keeping her head above water to keep up.

    Her best work if I HAD to pick would be THE DUCHESS, but again you feel her exhausting herself just o give a competent performance in a two-hand where Ralph Fiennes does all the heavy list. Saw her on stage and no difference, she was completely outshone by Elizabeth Moss who blew her off stage. Her performance was so mannered, awkward and ‘straight outta drama school’, you could never quite focus on the story and be engrossed with it.

    LAST NIGHT is laughable. A film about severed sexual loyalties in which her cue-card readings and am-dram over-emoting, again make her the weak link of an awful film in which she has not a splash of chemistry with her co-stars. And the less said about A DANGEROUS METHOD, the better. She had no business being in that whatsoever. Her go-for-broke feral performance would have been more at home in a bottom-shelf horror film — like watching a bad impersonation of Lucky McKee”s THE WOMAN and the atrocious accent is Jason-Statham-bad, but at least for his part he doesn’t even bother anymore outside of trying to sound generally man-with-no-name-gruff instead of specifically London hard nut. She was really trying, bless her and it brings the film tumbling down around her. Proper amateur hour stuff, one of those, “I can’t believe the tea boy didn’t go up to the director and say — excuse me, might want to think about another take, that was utter shite”. This film indulges in her worst trait — that Desperate Dan glass jaw that looks like it’ll explode any second from the the pressure of all those teeth compacted in her mouth. Her whole face always makes me think of an elastic about about to snap, which is why all her “sexy” cover shoots are not that, she looks like someone suffering perpetual toothache.

    Hate it when she plays scenes of loved-up happiness too. That gaping maw snaps open in a horrifying grimace and the most obnoxious foghorn laugh shoots out, like a boozed-up ladette on a hen night, completely destroying this image of classiness she tries (and fail to imbue) in every performance. The kind of hollow laughter you might see in any EastEnders episode that will predictably be followed shortly thereafter by a tragic event, like a car coming round the bend and knocking her down.

    Like the worst actresses, she’s always ‘playing at” the emotion the scene requires, never do you not see the gear turning. Force, calculated and always uneasy to watch Knightley’s is a name that makes my enthusiasm for any film plummet.

    Given that I’ve said my bit, I’ll gladly hear from the defence, but I certainly don’t eny you, Kat!

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  4. Oh dear, if it turns out that Keira’s performances are as described there, I suspect my view of her isn’t going to change that much after all!

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