Cue the music from "All About Eve." The reigning King and Queen of the Croisette, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, may be overshadowed on the red carpet this week by younger, rising cinematic royalty: Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson.
Stewart, 22, and Pattinson, 26, are making their first appearance at Cannes with two gritty and hip films that could help them break out of the velvet coffin of the blockbuster "Twilight" franchise.
Stewart plays Marylou in the long-awaited movie version of Jack Kerouac's classic "On the Road," (above) and Pattinson goes way against his usual good guy type in David Cronenberg's sexy, violent "Cosmopolis" (below).
"I'm looking for more," drawls a nude Pattinson, reclining below a half-naked woman pointing a gun at him in the 'Cosmopolis' trailer. "Flip the switch. Show me something I don't know."
While Cannes has always been known as a festival for those interested in serious films, the importance of major movie stars at the festival cannot be underestimated. From Brigitte Bardot to Sophia Loren to Sharon Stone, stars have provided the frisson of sex and flash that has made the festival so iconic and newsworthy.
The supercouple smackdown, which begins Tuesday with the premiere of Pitt's new movie, "Killing Me Softly," is already being speculated about breathlessly in the French tabloids.
"Les Robsten ou Les Brangelina: Who will win the Palme du Couple?" asks Adobuzz, a French entertainment news site. "Let the battle begin!"
To some Cannes regulars, the idea that the sullen Stewart and her once-secret boyfriend Pattinson could rival the majestic Jolie-Pitts is laughable. Sure, they're a real-life couple who met on the set of a movie like Brad and Angelina, but there, say detractors, the comparison ends.
"Nobody can compete with Brange," says Lainey Lui who writes the popular and snarky Lainey Gossip website. "Every journalist I know here is going to be up at the crack of dawn to make sure to get into the screening of Brad's film and to track them all day long. Brad and Angelina play us all so well and they continue to play us. No one else can make their kind of headline. There just isn't this level of excitement with Rob and Kristen."
Or is there? Another school of thought suggests that the bloom is off the Jolie-Pitt gorgeous-globetrotting-philanthropic-superstar-parents-of-six brand and that Cannes is ripe for fresh blood like Robsten. The younger couple together earned $40 million between May 2010 and May 2011 compared to the Jolie-Pitts' combined salary of $50 million, according to Forbes magazine – and Stewart alone made more money ($34 million) than either Brad or Angelina in the last 12 months.
"Kristen and Rob are hot on their heels and have a huge and much younger fan base that Brad and Angelina would kill for," says longtime British celebrity journalist Jen Paul who now edits the European entertainment news site Bohomoth.
"Kristen especially has a massive following. Even her bodyguard has a fan page. There are easily 10 times as many Tumblrs and Pinterest pages for Kristen and Rob than for Brad and Angelina. And you know Angelina is well aware of it. She'll say she doesn't pay attention but trust me, she does."
Paul says that from what she observes from the traffic on her site and the articles requested by editors she writes for in the U.K., the collective Jolie-Pitt star is "fading." Indeed, one of People magazine's top five worst-selling cover stories of 2011 featured the Jolie-Pitt children.
Also read: Complete Report From Cannes
"Brad and Angelina were big sellers when their relationship was fresh and after they had their first baby," says an editor with another of the top celebrity weeklies in the U.S.. "There was a bump, so to speak, when Angelina had the twins. But the recent engagement turned out to be a real shrug for readers. They didn't seem to care."
Stewart and Pattinson, in any case, will potentially bring a new demographic and aesthete to the festival, especially if Stewart continues her recent habit of switching from high heels to sneakers on the red carpet, as she did during the premiere of "Snow White and the Huntsmen" in London last week.
"I think they're going to put Cannes on the map for younger people who normally don't pay attention to it and see it as too mature and stuffy," says a 23-year-old production assistant who worked on "On the Road" and is in Cannes for the first time.
"Angelina and Brad make it too obvious how hard they work to control their image. Rob and Kristen don't care. They'll bring more of a Coachella vibe to the place."
Owen Gleiberman, the veteran Entertainment Weekly film critic, says Stewart and Pattinson have to prove their worth outside "Twilight" before they even dream of knocking the Jolie-Pitts off their perch but had some sobering words for Jolie. Despite all her Cannes cachet, the larger-than-life narrative that has made her one of the most envied women in the world may have a down side.
"At this point, Angelina's status as part of this royal supercouple has eclipsed her work as an actress," Gleiberman says. "That's much less true of Brad. He has established and re-established his credibility as a great actor. His double whammy last year with "The Tree of Life" and "Moneyball" was about the best work he's ever done. He's at the top of his game. But with Angelina, her life has overtaken her art and swallowed it."
Says marketing and branding expert Layla Revis, vice president of social media at Ogilvy and Mather: "Robert and Kristen are taking a much more private approach. In this regard, they may be prolonging their own relationship as well as their careers by not always needing to be in the public eye."
- Kristen Stewart
- Rob Pattinson