She’s been the wunderkind, the girl next door, the "It" girl, and the first in the recent string of doe-eyed beauties pegged with the label "Manic Pixie Dream Girl." The most rewarding category Kirsten Dunst has been thrust into is perhaps the most recent: the comeback.
With the theatrical release of the comedy "Bachelorette" this weekend, Dunst, 30, has found herself back atop the list of bankable starlets after a few years filled with questionable film choices and a stint in rehab.
We can track the beginning of her fall from grace around the time of the "Spider-Man 3" release in 2007. For the final film starring Tobey Maguire as Spidey and Dunst as Mary Jane Watson, you could see the toll three blockbuster installments of the franchise in five years had done to both leads. The two were rather lackluster in their press commitments for the film, though Dunst went on record that she’d do a fourth if director Sam Raimi and Maguire returned. As it happened, Sony pressed pause on the franchise for five years and recently relaunched it as "The Amazing Spider-Man" with a younger cast (Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone).
News broke in February 2008 that Dunst had checked into the Cirque Lodge Treatment Center in Utah, and though she and her team said it was because of depression, many of the celeb mags reported that Dunst was partying hard. Things didn’t get any better later in the year when her next big movie, "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People" with Simon Pegg, opened in the States with lackluster earnings and critical reception. At the end, the film grossed $2.8 million (the budget was $28 million) with a deflating 37% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
After leaving rehab in late March, Dunst came out revived but perhaps realizing she was at a crossroads in her career.
Before "Spider-Man 3," Dunst had her pick of any tween comedy or drama that was hot at a studio. Whether it was a bubble-gum cheerleader ("Bring It On"), a troubled high schooler ("Crazy/Beautiful") or an iconic queen with a penchant for cake ("Marie Antoinette"), her good looks and talents would plug any plot hole or non-existent storyline. However, closing in on 30 usually is when the former child star gets the wake-up call that they can’t be young forever. "Who you are at 25 and who you are at 29 is a very different thing. For me, it feels like a 20-year age gap," she told British Elle in 2011.
Dunst kicked off her reinvention by co-starring with Ryan Gosling in the drama "All Good Things," which is based on an unsolved murder. Set in the 1980s on the posh Upper East Side of New York City, the story found a small audience through VOD and hardly made a peep in theaters. However, for Dunst it wasn’t about making "Spider-Man"-like money, as she told Harper’s Bazaar in 2008. "I remember reading an article about Jodie Foster, that at one point she wanted to give up acting and go be a ski bum, and then she did 'The Accused' and it reignited her passion for what she does again," Dunst says. "'All Good Things' was a little bit like that for me. After you go through a difficult time, you don’t care anymore. You’re so much more free. You’re not as scared, and you’re not as dependent on what other people think of you"
But then Dunst got the call she needed. Danish film-making legend Lars von Trier wanted Dunst for the lead in his pre-apocalyptic drama "Melancholia." After losing Penelope Cruz for the role, von Trier turned to his fellow directing colleagues like Paul Thomas Anderson for casting advice, and Dunst received glowing remarks. She took on the role of Justine, a woman crippled with depression who, along with her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), is waiting to see if the aptly named planet Melancholia will smash into Earth and obliterate them all.
Dunst won the Best Actress Award at Cannes 2012 for her performance, and the film is one of von Trier’s highest grossing films in America, as well as a big hit on VOD.
Now Dunst is showing her comedic chops as the perfectionist ice queen Regan in "Bachelorette." Based on the stage play by writer/director Leslye Headland and produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, the comedy was the talk of this year’s Sundance Film Festival where you either heard people call it "the raunchy 'Bridesmaids'" or "the girls' version of 'The Hangover.'" Like "Melancholia," the film has been available on demand weeks before its theatrical release; it's also the first pre-theatrical release to hit #1 on iTunes. Dunst’s performance has not gone unnoticed either; as The Hollywood Reporter noted, the Regan character "is embodied to cool perfection and with precision timing by Dunst."
Up next you’ll find Dunst in the much anticipated adaption of the Beat novel "On The Road," starring Kristen Stewart. Her next film "The Bling Ring" with Emma Watson is already in the can; her good friend Sofia Coppola ("The Virgin Suicides," "Marie Antoinette") wrote and directs this crime drama co-starring Emma Watson about a group of teens who rob celebrity homes.
There’s nothing Hollywood loves more than a comeback story, and Kirsten Dunst has a good one. It's going to be fun to watch where it goes from here.