Movie review of “Anesthesia”: Kristen Stewart stands out in writer-actor-director Tim Blake Nelson’s preachy, arty drama about interlocking lives. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.

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Last year, Kristen Stewart finally put the popular but trashy “Twilight” series behind her, turning up in the Oscar-winning “Still Alice” (she played Julianne Moore’s youngest daughter) and becoming the first American actress to win a Cesar for a French film (“Clouds of Sils Maria,” in which she plays Juliette Binoche’s surprisingly intimate assistant).

Stewart delivers another intense performance, as a self-mutilating graduate student in an American ensemble piece, “Anesthesia.” It was written and directed by the prolific Tim Blake Nelson, who also has a small role. Unfortunately, the result is an arty, preachy muddle, full of good intentions and half-baked literary references.

The actors work hard, especially Sam Waterston as a revered philosophy teacher who, on the verge of retirement, is mugged and Glenn Close as his worried wife. But the others struggle to make sense of characters who hit too many false notes.

Movie Review ★★  

‘Anesthesia,’ with Sam Waterston, Kristen Stewart, Glenn Close, Tim Blake Nelson. Written and directed by Nelson. Rated R for language, sexual content, drug use, brief violence. 89 minutes. Varsity.

Stewart stands out because her one big scene seems so passionate and genuine. It’s the only moment when “Anesthesia” seems to be working.

Nelson’s “O,” a contemporary high-school version of “Othello,” was released in 2001, when Josh Hartnett’s performance as the Iago-like villain was widely and justifiably praised. It remains a high point of Nelson’s directing career.