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cannes 2012

The Sexual Remaking of Kristen Stewart at Cannes

What's gotten into those Twilight kids? After the finally consummated cherry pop of Breaking Dawn Part 1, both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson have become insatiable onscreen. Pattinson will be seen in the next month boning his way through Bel Ami and the Cannes entry Cosmopolis, while in the new film On the Road (which debuted on the Croisette this morning, adapted from the Jack Kerouac classic), Stewart takes her top off so many times that even the perennially shirtless Taylor Lautner would be impressed.

Topless women are nothing new in Cannes, of course, whether you find them on the big screen (Marion Cotillard and Jessica Chastain have already disrobed in Cannes entries screened over the last few days) or on the beach outside the Palais. Still, it's obviously a little more noteworthy when a star like Stewart dares to bare for her art. In fact, as an uninhibited teenager who takes up with Garrett Hedlund's Neal Cassady stand-in, both she and Hedlund go nude in their very first scenes in On the Road, and Stewart later takes part in a ménage à trois, initiates road head, and jerks off both Hedlund and Sam Riley while all three are naked in a moving car. She's so horny and curious that when another couple excuses themselves to have sex, a nosy Stewart follows them into the doorway and asks, "Can I watch you guys screw?"

Bella Swan, she ain't — though when a reporter at the film's press conference noted the difference between Stewart's On the Road character Mary Lou and Twilight's Bella, who doesn't have sex before marriage, Stewart reminded him that randy Bella "really wants to!" As for taking part in those R-rated scenes, Stewart admitted, "I love pushing and I love scaring myself. To watch a genuine [sexual] experience onscreen is so much more interesting than when you see the tape holding up the pasties ... As long as you're being really honest, there's nothing ever to be ashamed of."

Certainly, there's nothing regrettable about Stewart's performance here: It reestablishes the promising character actress last seen in Into the Wild and held captive as Twilight's leading lady for years. Though Stewart delivered a great turn as Joan Jett in The Runaways, she had been field-testing that performance in real life for so long before the movie came out — donning a black mullet, rocker sneer, and Minor Threat T-shirt on the red carpet and at Comic-Con — that audiences gave her little credit for it, assuming the character was not far removed from Stewart herself. Mary Lou is a different kind of thing entirely, though: Stewart makes eye contact instead of dropping it, and the lip-biting tics that the actress brought to Bella are all banished. Stewart's honey-haired Mary Lou knows what she wants and goes after it, and Stewart gets to show off a confidently sensual side of herself, dancing with abandon and seducing at will.

To watch Stewart come alive in On the Road, you have to wonder: At what point did we stop allowing movie stars to be sexy? Was it the first thing to be excised with the rise of the $200 million superhero tentpole? Her On the Road co-star Hedlund is a case in point: Neutered of his natural charisma in all-ages blockbusters like Tron Legacy, Hedlund finally gets to make a strong impression here, wielding that window-shaking deep voice like a sensual weapon and inviting men and women alike to ogle him and eventually join him in bed. (There is even a scene where a sweaty Hedlund athletically power-fucks Steve Buscemi, which is not something anyone expected to see today, and yet it occurred!) Today's movie superheroes are at their most powerful when they've got their costumes on, but as this year's sexually adventurous films at Cannes are proving, sometimes actors are most fearless when they dare to take it all off.