I always admire any movie that can effectively convey the trials and tribulations of high school without resorting to parody or mockery. High school is typically (and rightfully) portrayed as a time of great emotional upheaval, where friendships are formed and broken, alliances are tested, and worldviews are carved into one’s character. Given the setting’s potential for some great (melo)drama, it seems as though director Catherine Hardwicke, whose critically acclaimed Thirteen also dealt with the hardships of teenage life, would be a perfect choice to direct Twilight. Indeed, Twilight is at its strongest when it’s offering its spin on high school romance. Virtually every element of angst-filled adolescence is on display here – the awkward first meeting with your girlfriend’s parents, the pressures of finding a date for prom, school lunch tables as a gauge of popularity – and all of them are rendered faithfully. But setting these aside, does the rest of Twilight offer the casual viewer a compelling experience?
Based on the first of Stephanie Meyer’s wildly successful series of novels, Twilight tells the story of Bella (Kristen Stewart), a plain girl from Arizona who moves to the small town of Forks, Washington to stay with her father. While learning the ropes of the social scene at her local high school, Bella falls in love with Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), one of the school’s hottest boys who just happens to be a vampire. In fact, the entire Cullen family, led by the enigmatic Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli), is made up of vampires who have learned to co-exist peacefully with humans by subsisting off the blood of animals. But when a competing group of vampires (led by Edi Gathegi) begins encroaching on the Cullens’ territory, they threaten to destroy the life that Bella and Edward have struggled to create.
Despite the film’s rabid fan base (and the profound chilling effect it had on my enthusiasm), I honestly went into the film with an open mind. I had never read the books, so my goal was to see how Twilight operated as a film alone, unencumbered by the expectations that accompany a book adaptation. In my mind, there are two huge problems with Twilight that make this film forgettable for anyone that’s not a fan of the series. First of all, it’s clear that the screenwriters tried to squeeze in as many elements from the book as possible. This is understandable, as fans have spent years poring over the words and details from Meyer’s entire trilogy. The problem is that in an attempt at pleasing the fans, they have sacrificed a logical flow to the film’s overall narrative. While most of the film focuses on the relationship between the two leads and the complications it causes (Edward finds Bella’s scent irresistible and must constantly restrain himself from consuming her blood), the last third introduces a major conflict and its resolution seems hurried compared with the languid pace of the rest of the film.
All of this would be forgiven if the romance was captivating, but the real weak link that almost kills the film entirely is Pattinson, who seems to be outmatched by virtually every other actor on display here (including /Filmcast favorite Cam Gigandet, who plays one of the evil vampires). Pattinson spends most of the movie with a look on his face that’s a cross between Zoolander’s “Blue Steel” and a person trying to stave off a diarrheal attack. Pattinson and Stewart struggle valiantly to find chemistry, but it never quite gets there, due almost entirely to Pattinson’s leaden performance. It should be said that Stewart, whose work I’ve admired in the past, acquits herself decently here, but she’s held back by a script that relentlessly hammers home the restlessness and wistfulness of her emotional state. In summary, the romance between the two, which the film hinges upon completely in order to work on any meaningful level, is implausible at best.
There are certain elements of Twilight that are supremely clever, and even some moments that approach brilliance. Vampire baseball. A brief shot of a wall full of graduation caps. The look of primal hunger on Ashley Greene’s face when she sniffs Bella’s blood. The problem is that for every one of these moments, there’s also one that’s utterly baffling. The movie’s flashbacks are rendered in a ridiculous and cartoonish fashion. Dr. Cullen’s make up is an over-the-top white. The vampires don’t suffer any adverse effects at all from daylight, except that it makes their skin all shiny. The wire-work and running effects are cheap-looking and obvious. All of these scenes drew unintentional laughter from my theater’s crowd (which was packed with die-hard Twilight-ers), and made the film’s task of being taken seriously that much more difficult.
For fans of any property, there’s almost always visceral thrill from seeing characters that once existed only in your mind be brought to life on the big screen. I realize that nothing I say or write can possibly take away from this joy in the hearts of all the Twilight readers out there; in fact, a small part of me is extremely happy for them. It’s clear that that the phenomenon of this film has brought people a level of excitement that I’m loath to counteract (who among us hasn’t felt enthusiastically wrapped up in a popular franchise before?). For everyone else: In a year that has brought us unforgettable renditions of vampire through films and shows like True Blood and Let the Right One In, Twilight falls far short of giving us an engaging take on the vampire mythos or the teen romance. The movie isn’t terrible, but viewers who aren’t fans of the book series won’t find much to like here.
/Film Rating: 5 out of 10
Discuss: Twilight – A faithful adaptation of Meyer’s novel? A solid teen romance flick overall? Or trash?
You can reach David Chen at davechensemail(AT)gmail.com