Twilight (2008) / Romance-Horror
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some violence and a scene of sensuality
Running time: 122 min
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Kellan Lutz, Peter Facinelli, Cam Gigandet, Taylor Lautner, Anna Kendrick, Michael Welch, Justin Chon, Christian Serratos, Gil Birmingham, Elizabeth Reaser, Edi Gathegi, Rachel Lefevre, Sarah Clarke
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Screenplay: Melissa Rosenberg (based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer)
Review published November 24, 2008
Cinematic catnip for teens of the female set, Twilight definitely holds more sway the more you fall under its predominantly young girl demographic, especially if the books have you aflutter with the dreamy possibilities of emo human-vampire romance. If you fall outside of this, there is still a certain cheesy entertainment that can be had with its campier qualities, not entirely unintentional. It plays like a blend of The Lost Boys, Edward Scissorhands, and a Calvin Klein ad, with fashionable cliques and angst-y posturing the vampires that makes you wonder why they aren't deemed just too cool for school and take their GED to keep out of attending at all costs. Of course, were that to happen, there wouldn't be a movie, and we wouldn't be treated to one of the most awkward, yet fascinating, courtships put on celluloid this year.
High school junior Bella Swan (Stewart, Jumper) finds herself a fish out of water after moving with her divorced police chief father (Burke, Untraceable) from sunny Phoenix, Arizona to the small, gloomy town of Forks, Washington. Though she makes fast friends with the locals, her goal is to just get through her remaining school years without sticking out too much. That plan doesn't hold up, as she is paired up in science lab with off-putting pretty-boy Edward Cullen (Pattinson, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), a misfit himself, whose constant stares and snarls, in addition to his request that they be separated, have Bella feeling less than secure in her welcome at the school. Edward soon apologizes for his initial behavior, and soon the two become fast friends, with lots of undeniable magnetism between each other that startles both parties. Edward's strange behavior is finally revealed; he's over a century old, and one of several in an adoptive family of "vegetarian" vampires (they feast on animal blood rather than human) and Bella's scent is the strongest and has given him the most powerful urge to kill a human to date. Despite considerable hurdles, the two manage to find a way to coexist with each other, only turning for the worse when a trio of human-feasting vampires prone to tracking human prey for sport and food develop a strong yen to make Bella their next victim.
For all of the hoopla, Twilight is surprisingly without much substance, offering a fairly routine forbidden romance storyline ("lion with lamb") followed by a predictable chase-action sequence to serve as the climax. The one hook is that this taboo romance contains a duality of one lover who strongly desires to kill the other, while this other appears to willingly accept such an outcome for the hope of eternal love. It's meant to be a great sacrifice of love that Edward refuses to see his beloved suffer his same eternal fate, though given how cool it seems to be a vampire (superhuman strength, lightning-quick agility and eternal life would have even non-lovesick humans begging to be bitten), it's never quite justified that he's doing her that much service.
The engine upon which the romance runs is that attraction feeds more through wanting glances and agonized presence than it does on actually getting to know one another. The times when the love bond threatens to strain come when they start to talk to one another, such as when Bella comes over to meet the Cullen clan. Luckily, Edward soon realizes that, like so many male sex objects in female romances, the more his lips move, the less attractive he is, so he sticks to such things as playing the piano and giving Bella piggyback rides up the high trees of the local forest.
I've not read the Stephenie Meyer book upon which the film is based, but I have read that it is a faithful adaptation, so lovers of the novel will probably be most pleased. The same strengths and weaknesses also translate, with stock characterizations (Charlie Swan's police chief character comes complete with cop-stache) and dialogue that doesn't demand a great deal of deep nuance. One gets the sense that, despite the angst-ridden love tale at the heart of the film, director Hardwicke sees the humor of the situations and plays them to the hilt, even if it creates some awkward shifts in tone.
If there is an aspect that I consider to be most refreshing, it's that Meyer captures the sense of longing and awkwardness among teenagers struggling with the overwhelming feelings of immense attraction and affection for the first time. This is further exacerbated by the idea that the two would-be lovers are hindered by the fact that they are of completely different worlds, a staple theme in teenager love stories for centuries.
And yet, its inherent cheesiness is too potent to ignore. This is especially true during scenes requiring special effects, as the sight of vampires hauling ass or scaling tall objects looks so obviously fake, it constantly reminds us that we're watching a fairly dreadful movie bolstered only by mystique and charisma. Certainly, the acting could be improved upon, and the directorial decisions are often head scratchers (a scene where a fan blows Bella's scent to overwhelm Edward with a desire to kill her produced many guffaws in the audience I attended with), but that's no excuse to be not much more than passable in any department. Some visionary needed to take what was so appealing for so many in Meyer's book and inject just those elements into an effort that actually tries to compel readers and non-readers alike.
For fans of the genre, Twilight gets a pass for delivering the goods you expect from a teenage vampire romance, though it isn't remotely close to a cinematic or narrative achievement by any stretch. Like the early adaptations of the Harry Potter books, the desire to give the novel's fans completely faithful recreations of scenes they are fond of does make for a rather awkward presentation from a cinematic perspective, as the plot is all but lost under the random key moments of glossy, underdeveloped characterization. It's far from a satisfying meal for most viewers, but for those who enjoy a little junk food now and then, it will sate those guilty pleasure hunger pangs.
©2008 Vince Leo