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.