Child stars have an uncertain fate. At best they fall into irrelevance and their careers die a remote and reluctant death. Some accept this blithely, like seagulls flying out to sea, looking back on their superstardom as a dream. At worst, they degenerate into a drink and drugs free fall like a skydive into hell (Lindsay Lohan anyone?). But some child stars weather the storm and somehow emerge the other side of adolescence relatively trauma free and with a glittering career trailing out behind them like a peacock’s tail. Kirsten Dunst is one such star, and though for a while it may have seemed that she had flourished in childhood and was merely floundering in light and un-challenging roles thereafter, she has since made a much welcome return in a film that shows some of her earlier, ‘side tracked’ promise finally being pushed to the fore. Its time to delve into ten memorable roles from one of my favourite child stars, the divine Ms Dunst, who has the appeal of being the sunshine starlet, with darker, deeper substance:
1. Interview with the Vampire – Claudia
This was Kirsten’s ‘break through’ role at the tender age of ten, the role with which, without, there might have been no Kirsten. This was an explosive start for the young actress in her role of Claudia, the child vampire, transformed by ‘parents’ Lestat and Louis, part of Lestat’s diabolical scheme to bind Louis to him eternally. To make a child vampire is to break the rules because to trap an ageing spirit, soul and mind in the body of a child is rather than being some Peter Pan like miracle, a type of torture. Sure enough, after coming across a beautiful creole woman, Claudia grows to resent the limitations of her childlike physicality and begins to despite her surrogate parents, whilst plotting revenge on Lestat. She finds herself committing one of the worst sins imaginable for a vampire: killing her maker, and is locked away with fledgling Madeleine as punishment, who having lost her own child, wishes to care for Claudia, who is harbouring fears that her beloved Louis will leave her for the more worldly Armand who tempts him away with secrets of their origin. Kirsten is truly beyond her years in this role, capturing the hopeful and blind acceptance of youth that enable her to be a manipulative and cunning killer, the fury and frustration of adolescence and the cynical, hopeless boredom of adulthood that stretches on forever. Not only did she receive a golden globe nomination for the part, she also got to kiss Brad Pitt, although she was far too young to be suitably impressed…
2. Little Women – Little Amy
After assuring everyone she really can play a ‘little woman’ in her portrayal of Claudia, Kirsten won the role of ‘younger Amy’ in the movie adaptation of the novel ‘Little Women’ alongside a troupe of other cast members who grew up to have cataclysmic careers. The film follows the trials and tribulations of the March sisters in the aftermath of the American civil war. Kirsten manages to capture Amy’s romantic and idealistic spirit in childhood and looks cuddly and adorable throughout.
3. Jumanji – Judy
Jumanji was one of my favourite childhood films. It had everything: suspense, fear, monkeys and mischief, all contained and controlled by the throw of the dice as siblings Peter and Judy find themselves inadvertently freeing Alan Parrish (who was sucked into the game as a child) and having to continue to the bitter end in order to be rid of the game forever. If you want monkeys riding motorbikes, stampedes, monsoons and mosquitoes, then this film will certainly keep you entertained. Kirsten manages to hold her own with some pretty big names and establishes herself as a certified movie cutie. I think this film was Kirsten’s very own ‘Home Alone’, securing her in the minds of many as a nostalgic part of many adults childhoods.
4. Kiki’s Delivery Service – Kiki
Kirsten might not lend her appearance to this role, but she does lend her melodious voice to the part of witch Kiki (ironically one of Kirsten’s nicknames). This film has Miyazaki’s distinctive style slathered all over it from the bright and chirpy landscapes to the intriguing cast of characters. Witches traditionally must live alone for a year at the age of thirteen and so Kiki travels far from home to Koriko with her black cat Jiji. In order to support herself financially she starts up her own delivery service (hence the film’s title). Miyazaki’s films always have a strong moral centre and this one most certainly encourages innovation and independence, particularly amongst young women. Kiki’s year off is littered with peaks and troughs but everything works out in the end and she decides to make Koriko her permanent residence. Miyazaki once famously claimed that children should watch just one movie a year and that movie should refuel their curiosity and encourage them to go out into the world and make memories. This might not be the only film you watch all year, but it should be one of them.
5. Small Soldiers – Christy Fimple
Kirsten establishes herself as ‘underage eye candy’ as cutie-patootie girl next door Christy, the object of Alan Abernathy’s affections. The two ‘would be lovers’ find themselves caught between Gorgonites and the Commando Elite, two sets of warring military themed action figures. If you want to watch Kirsten being attached by dolls and riding a motorbike, you’ll find all that and more here. This is the role in my opinion that for a while ‘doomed’ Kirsten to the sweet and fluffy girl next door parts, and though she shimmers in the role thanks to her all American girl looks, we all know she has far more substance than that!
6.The Virgin Suicides – Lux Lisbon
Lux is the perfect girl next door with a twist and this is the second role after Interview with the Vampire that gives her the opportunity to portray a darker style of teenager. In this mystery that is concluded in the title, the Lisbon sisters take their own lives in unison following the successful suicide attempt of youngest Cecilia and the film simply tells the tale from the perspectives of the neighbourhood boys who loved them, without really examining why. The daughters are beautiful and privileged but suffocated by their small town life and over zealous, fanatically religious parents. Lux is the most blinding of the daughters, androgynous, indefinable, indecipherable, she turns to chain-smoking and promiscuity on the roof after her high school romance with dream boat high school hunk Trip Fontaine falls to pieces and he leaves her cold and alone on the football field after doing the deed. This is a surreal, dreamy tale, deeply unsettling and melancholic that captures all of the paraphernalia and cotton candy inconsistency of young girls on the cusp of becoming women. Blurring the boundaries between the girls innocence and their growing worldliness, the tone of this film is uneasy and disconcerting, but certainly memorable and impenetrable, as we never really understand the sisters motivations for departing this world.
7. Drop Dead Gorgeous – Amber Atkins
You might be noticing a theme emerging here; blonde, blue-eyed, dimpled Kirsten is the maddeningly unattainable girl next door that every boy wants and every girl likes. In Drop Dead Gorgeous, a comedy that falls somewhat flat, she is entered into a beauty pageant with a smattering of other memorable faces i.e. Denise Richards, but the contestants are taking things somewhat seriously, in their attempts to be crowned most beautiful. Styled as a mockumentary, the girls battle it out in the rather elaborately titled: Sarah Rose Cosmetics Mount Rose American Teen Princess Pageant.
8. Crazy/Beautiful – Nicole
This is an interesting take on a love story that blurs the boundaries that exist between ethnicity, culture and class. This relationship is doomed to fail in every way, so polarised are the two romantic leads, and yet somehow their love affair seems to survive (or reach the end credits at least). It’s unusual to see Kirsten play the rebellious one in the relationship and deviate entirely from her cookie cutter image.
9. Marie Antoinette – Marie Antoinette
Sofia Coppola produces a crayola world of colour in this retelling of the life of the French Queen Consort (and it takes a whole hell of a lot of artistic licence when it comes to historical accuracy). Kirsten manages to be adorable, precocious and entirely hedonistic as she enjoys the car crash of luxury and extravagance. History mingles with the MTV generation as Marie is portrayed as a more charismatic Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian. Of course, a life lived with such reckless abandon can’t go on forever especially as the French revolution draws near.
10. Melancholia – Justine
Von Triers movies are mirrors into the innermost workings of his dark and morbid soul. Indeed the insides of his brain must look like a musky old attic. Nonetheless, although he doesn’t exactly make the malady of melancholy mainstream, there is something eerily and obtusely beautiful about Lars perception of the world through the filter of depression. Despite the fact that she was portraying Lars distinctive experience of depression, she surely connected on some level with her own earlier experiences, for which she attended rehab. Melancholia marks a welcome return for Kirsten who is refreshing as Justine, the bride who has everything (much like Dunst) on a surface level, but who cannot find fulfilment or contentment. Her bleak, flat portrayal was streaked through with real notes of hysteria and a profound if nihilistic view of life in her portrayal of Justine in the midst of a depressive episode, but she still manages to sparkle and shine as the ‘happier’ Justine, still parading her mask of ‘normality’. its unusual to see Kirsten, despite a couple of darker earlier roles, in anything less than bright and beautiful because she suits those roles to a T thanks to her sunny, positive disposition and All American girl ways. This is why she is so suitable to play such a contrasting role, because she shows us that anyone can suffer from depression, no matter their social standing or accomplishments. Anyone who thought this was the end of Kirsten’s career, after Spider man is set to be rebooted, is in for a shock.
Here are a few of Kirsten’s roles that didn’t make the list, but are still worth a watch:
* Bring it On – Torrance Shipman
Snarky cheerleaders face off to be the best. Unfortunately for ‘The Torros’ their former squad leader has swiped their ‘winning routine’ from a group of rival competitors. The girls must put a rough and ready routine together in order to stand a cats chance in hell of victory.
* Get Over It – Kelly Woods
Girl dumps boy, boy enters play, boy begins to fall for new girl – that’s the 1-2-3 synopsis of ‘Get Over It’. Of course, Kirsten is the new girl who begins to steal his affections away from his heartbreaking ex.
* Spider-Man – Mary Jane Watson
She might not be the obvious choice for Mary-Jane, but she is the cute girl next door type. The Spider Man series is undergoing a recent reboot, but there are still memorable moments to tune in for, such as the upside down kiss (as pictured).
* Mona Lisa Smile – Betty Warren
Back in the traditional 50’s, a free thinking arts professor decides to try to shake loose the Wellesley girls. Betty is harder to break than most, as she has her heart set on the conventional life of a picture perfect wife. When her husband commits adultery, she slowly begins to transform into her true self. It was through staring alongside Maggie G, who spent the duration of the film ‘Secretary’ crawling across the floor with an envelope in her mouth, that Kirsten was introduced to future love interest, Jake G.
* How to Lose Friends and alienate People – Alison Olsen
A British journalist makes it as a big shot after endless attempts but finds it hard to fit in with all the shiny, sparkly stars that now form the bulk of his social circle. Kirsten plays his eventual love interest, when he can finally ease off the sheen projected by Megan Fox’s character.
* Wimbledon – Lizzie Bradbury
A high-ranking tennis pro slowly finds himself falling down the tables. His interest in rising star Lizzie, helps him rekindle his love for the game.
* Elizabethtown – Claire Colburn
Kirsten gets to sizzle alongside Orlando Bloom as the two embark on a love affair during bizarre circumstances.
* Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Mary
This story belongs to Jim Carey and Kate Winslet, as Joel and Clementine, the couple who wish to erase all memories of their traumatic love affair from their minds. Kirsten’s side story is that she is being chatted up by a man who is mimicking all of Joel’s moves to woo Clementine. She might also have had a turn on the old memory erasure machine herself for having a fling with her married boss…