Kirsten Dunst is so much more than Mary Jane Watson. Yes, Spider-Man’s muse is her most famous role, but Dunst gives terrific performances in several other lesser-known films. She uses her expressive facial features to convey unbearable sadness as well as inescapable joy. Though her career is thought to have ended when the Spider-Man franchise went up in flames after the third installment, she’s been doing some of the best work of her career since then.
Melancholia- In Lars von Trier’s latest, Dunst achieves the finest performance of her career as Justine. Though the infamous premiere press conference at Cannes that got the director kicked out overshadows her Best Actress win, she will immediately suck you back in when you actually watch the movie. She conveys the irrepressible depression hiding beneath Justine’s wedding dress, and the somewhat sadistic joy she takes in embracing the end of the world.
Interview With the Vampire- Dunst managed to steal a movie from Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, and she did it as a child. In one of the most haunting young performances in movie history, she plays Claudia, a young girl who is turned into a vampire but continues to mature emotionally. Cruise’s awful accent may have hampered the movie, but this performance is nothing short of a miracle. Rage spurts out of her like blood.
Marie Antoinette- Sofia Coppola had to follow-up Lost in Translation with something and Kirsten Dunst was on a break from Peter Parker, so the two made this off-beat take on the infamous French queen. It’s exactly what you’d expect from Coppola: a different take. By viewing the young queen as a girl placed in a world of excess and then examining her loneliness, the director tackles similar themes as Translation in a new way. Dunst was the perfect choice for this version of Antoinette, playing the subtle comedy just as well as the queen’s inner loneliness.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind- In this wickedly original film from writer Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry, Dunst takes a juicy supporting role as the assistant at a mind-erasing clinic and runs with it. As Mary, she beautifully shows us a person with chunks of their memory missing. Before she finds out she’s fine, but when it’s revealed to her she, like many would, loses it.
Spider-Man 2- The second installment of Sam Raimi’s comic book trilogy allowed the familiar characters to expand in new ways. Mary Jane is largely separated from Peter Parker here, trying to launch her acting career and working as a waitress in the meantime. Raimi allowed her to be more than just a side-show who needed rescuing. Her and Peter have a very real relationship, and being rescued by Spider-Man is thankfully a very small part of it.
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Might I also recommend her work in “The Cat’s Meow” – a very underrated film where she played silent movie star Marion Davies.
Dunst has gotten a really bad wrap throughout her career because there was a point where she never turned down a role – resulting in a lot of bad movies…or goofy ones (see “Bring it On”) that defined her pop-culture status – and most view “Marie Antoinette” as a debacle (though I don’t). In my mind – there’s always been a brilliant actress beneath her Mary Jane Watson persona. “Melancholia” combined with some of her lesser-known past work (see “The Cat’s Meow”) I think proves that.
The Cat’s Meow definitely sounds intriguing. I completely agree that there’s always been a terrific actress there, just some not-so-flattering roles.
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