…and the quest to see everything

Why Can’t Kristen Stewart Speak?

Again, I write this from some imaginary parental perspective. “Speak,” writer/director Jessica Sharzer’s adaptation of the Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel of the same name, shows that if your child is being obtusely silent, it’s not because they hate you. Yes, they might hate you but they might also have experienced something, and they won’t tell you what it is because they’ve gotten in trouble for telling or trying to tell people what happened to them. It’s this thing that adolescents do that I probably talked about here before that seems like an honour code but is more of a shaming strategy.

The shamed young person, Melinda Sordino, is played by Kristen Stewart, who isn’t as silent as the book’s protagonist. It’s the voice-over. I was at first malicious about the voice-over, much-needed to express Melinda’s contemptuous snark, yet the device shows the cracks within what should have been a deafening wall between her and everybody else. She also comes with clichéd hair and costume combinations. During the present she wears cool colours and has occasionally frizzy hair, which means that she’s angsty, while during the flashbacks she’s one of the girls, has a perm and wears orange which, as we know, is a chiller version of pink. Her orange self goes to a party, knows how to kiss a guy, calls the police, and gets called a squealer by a student body who thinks she was just snitching on her fellow underaged drinkers.

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The voice-over and the soundtrack are reminiscent of a Lifetime movie, but it’s understandably a more sombre affair because a louder, more fashion conscious and zeitgeist conscious movie, like many teen movies, would have blasted over Melinda’s universal trauma.

The name Kristen Stewart might sound all-too familiar to you but this is a different Kristen Stewart, before she was handed to jaded directors-for-hire. She’s now known for her mouth twitch acting but in 2004, there’s an intensity in her eyes. There’s also that primal scream that has the mature timbre that we also hear in “New Moon.” What more could we want from a young actor trying to extend her physical capabilities and still looks like she’s surviving? She’s also surrounded by actors like Michael Angarano, Elizabeth Perkins and Steve Zahn whose supporting presences don’t diminish their characters’ own problems.

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And I can actually relate to this. I don’t tell my parents things and I’ve gotten trouble for having told and not told. The solution in breaking her silence comes in slivers. It could easily have been artistic expression, fostered by her teacher (Zahn). Just because she doesn’t speak or looks like she’s listening doesn’t mean that she’s not learning. Or that eventually the silence, the ostracizing stigmatization or any inward violence just builds anger. For better or for worse, there isn’t a clicking moment that makes her decide to tell her ex-best friend about why she called the police – it’s the natural; order of things for her to start speaking. It is the right thing to do and no one else can make this happen other than the person enduring an unspeakable horror. I just pray that there are more people who break their silences than those who don’t.

 

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