Lately, I’ve developed an inexplicable addiction to Dawson’s Creek. Like many people, the appearance of James Van Der Beek on the relatively new sitcom Don’t Trust the B— in Apt. 23 (of which, Van Der Beek—who plays himself—is the only worthwhile aspect) prompted me to ruminate about the old Dawson’s Creek star and kindled a desire to re-watch his old show. With the addition of Dawson’s Creek to Netflix Instant Streaming this past May, we either have some savvy marketers on our hands, or a big coincidence.
A Tale of Two Twitchers
Although Joey Potter was my favorite part of Dawson’s Creek as a kid, she now seems undoubtedly one of the most awful parts of this show. And it’s not just Joey Potter that’s awful, it’s also (perhaps to a greater degree) Katie Holmes.
For years, Katie Holmes’s proclivity to overact has driven me mad. While some actors struggle with physically under-acting (i.e. Daniel Radcliffe, particularly in his early Potter days), Holmes takes it to the opposite extreme. She can’t seem to speak without doing one of or a combination of the following: incessantly shaking her head as though she is perpetually, overwhelmingly befuddled; dramatically shrugging her shoulders all the way up to her ears; whipping out that bunched up side smile as she proceeds to talk side out the side of her face; and of course, her habitual eye rolling. Oh and another thing, she likes to flail her arms as she clutches her fingers around the ends of her sleeves as though her shirt is trying to creep right off her skin (to be fair, Michelle Williams also seemed to flail her arms often in early Creek days, for some reason. Perhaps there was something about the Creek set that made young women fear they’d spontaneously lose their tops.)
While recently observing Holmes’s trademark twitchiness on Dawson’s Creek, I realized she reminded me of someone. Someone twelve years her junior who most of us were unaware of when the Creek first debuted. Someone who in the last few years has surfaced in Hollywood as yet another excessively twitchy actress . . . Kristen Stewart.
Like Holmes, Stewart apparently can’t help employing the same nervous tics in virtually every scene of virtually every movie she’s in. I have an impression of Stewart that goes like this: shrug my shoulders up to my ears and cross my arms, bite my lip, drop my head but avert my eyes, and, most important, bounce like a jackhammer as incessantly as Holmes shakes her head. She did this all. the. time. Prime examples are the first Twilight film and Adventureland, especially scenes in which Stewart was supposed to act anxious, internally conflicted, or some other negative emotion. Such as when she’s trying to end her affair with Ryan Reynolds in Adventureland. I’m surprised her lip didn’t bleed from biting it so hard. And that scene in Twilight where Bella (Stewart) is in the hospital, and Edward (Robert Pattinson) says they should stop seeing each other. Do you remember how grossly Stewart overacted? She looked like she was having a seizure. Her head shaking like mad, eyes blinking rapid fire—“What!? No!? What!? No!? Wha-wha-wha-what!?”
To be fair, both actresses have toned down their excessive expressiveness over the years (yeah, yeah, I know. Everyone thinks Stewart’s face is made of stone. I’m referring to excessive expressiveness with her body, not her face). By the time Holmes was in Batman Begins, for instance, she seemed to rely more on fervent head shaking and talking out of the side of her mouth than arm flailing and habitual eye rolling. And she doesn’t shake her head nearly as much. Stewart similarly shows a drastic improvement from Twilight to Breaking Dawn to Snow White and the Huntsman, displaying much more subtlety and naturalness of emotion than in her previous films. She’s learned to subdue her erratic bouncing and lip biting, like a child finally weaning from sucking her thumb. BUT—these minor improvements don’t negate that both women still employ the aforementioned ticks, nor do they suggest that these women have learned how to act well (they haven’t).
Our Melancholy Friends
Holmes and Stewart share similarities beyond twitchiness. Both actresses were catapulted into fame by their roles as sulky troubled teens on bad love/sex centered melodramas (Josephine Potter on Dawson’s Creek and Isabella Swan in the Twilight Saga, respectively)—roles which both actresses continue to be best known for. And aren’t these roles with which Holmes and Stewart will likely be forever identified eerily similar? Both Joey and Bella are moody, despondent, solitary, tomboys. They’re “misunderstood,” closed off, and out-of-place, radiating a “no one truly gets me” (except maybe the object of each character’s affection) attitude.
Take Joey Potter: I’m a basically an orphan. My mom died of cancer when I was thirteen and my dad’s in prison for trafficking marijuana. I live with my sister who had an illegitimate baby with her black boyfriend. I’m from the wrong side of the tracks and everyone’s favorite fallback topic of gossip.
Take Bella Swan: I’ve never been able to relate to anybody and feel like an outsider. I’ve always felt awkward in my own skin. I’ve literally been stumbling through my life.
Sure, Potter’s moody misunderstood quality may seem better founded, but that’s not the point.
Keeping with the spirit of their despondency, both characters have a predilection for melancholy. Joey expresses her preference for the darker side to Dawson: “Sad stories are just more powerful. I prefer them,” and, “To continue loving somebody when there’s no promise of that love ever thriving, that is romance.” And then we have Bella frequently musing about such things as, “Death is easy, peaceful. Life is harder,” and, “I’d never given much thought to how I would die. But dying in the place of someone I love seems like a good way to go.”
And of course, Joey and Bella are each romantically obsessed with a man around whom their whole lives seem to revolve, and upon whom their happiness seems dependent—Dawson Leery (this attitude of course, manifests most prominently in early Creek days and tapers off after season two) and Edward Cullen. Granted, Bella’s obsession with Edward is more egregious than Joey’s with Dawson, but undoubtedly, both women’s lives are tethered to these men—in season two, Joey admits that her whole life is connected to Dawson, that she doesn’t know where he ends and she begins, and without him she’d have nothing. Bella thinks that she is nothing, and being with Edward is the only thing that makes sense to her. Her whole world is Edward.
Not So Great Expectations
Katie Holmes hasn’t had the best career. After Dawson’s Creek, she went on to many bad films, one of the few exceptions being Batman Begins, for which her acting did not receive high praise. Slate recently delineated the meager quality of the actress’s career. On Rotten Tomatoes, her films received a measly 48% average rating. In the last six years, the rating of her films dropped to a mere 27%. Similarly, the total box office revenue of her films has plummeted. Prior to 2006, they made an average of $28,487,812 at the box office (not much to begin with). After 2006, that number dropped down to $9,061,221.
Can we perhaps look at Holmes as portentous for Kristen Stewart? Probably (although, we really don’t need to look to Holmes for that prediction). The biggest problem both actresses have to contend with is that they essentially play themselves on camera. As it is, their best known roles have become synonymous with them as individuals. Joey Potter is Katie Holmes. Bella Swan is Kristen Stewart. Homles’ inability to dazzle critics, casting directors, or audiences is likely because she is the type of actress who doesn’t become her characters; her characters become her. And that’s Stewart’s problem as well, and why—even if she pulls off a financially successful acting career—she in all probability won’t ever be critically acclaimed as an amazing actress.