Getting in touch with my inner 13 year-old girl: “Twilight” (for BondGirl)

April 26, 2009

412434twilight-postersOne of my coworkers—who happens to have a name that would be perfect for a Connery-era James Bond movie—has been bugging me to review Twilight. This is my punishment for being sociable to the people I work with. Initially I blew it off: “Aren’t those books for teenaged girls?” I asked. “No. People of all ages read them,” she replied. “Yes, but they shouldn’t,” I answered. “Come on! Tap into your inner 14 year-old!” She retorted. “Why would you think I even have one of those?” I thought this would be the end of it, but BondGirl undertook a truly heroic campaign to bring me around. Soon my email inbox was bursting with messages, my cel phone blew up with texts (“When R U goin 2 C Twilight?”), and when I came into work and found a life-sized cardboard cutout of Twilight vampire heartthrob Robert Pattinson propped up in my office. I figured I should probably just review the damn movie before I found my office wallpapered in pictures of Edward and Bella and a pile of carved-up Tiger Beat magazines choking the shredder.

Twilight and its three sequels—a series about teenaged vampires and the girls who love them—have taken the place of the Harry Potter franchise as the supernovas of the bestselling Universe. Much ink has been spilled over the series’ seemingly retro portrayals of gender roles—Bella is a shy, passive wallflower,  and spends a lot of time wondering why her vampire paramour Edward–fast strong, stunningly handsome—bothers with her. Is it sexism or does it speak some basic, politically-incorrect fantasies of women for rescue and romance? (For Salon.com’s Stephanie Zacharek’s in-depth exploration of this question, read here). Fortunately, I don’t have to answer those questions, because I’m reviewing the movie version of Twilight, and lemme tell you: whatever storytelling alchemy has made these books so popular sure hasn’t been transported to the screen.

Twilight, in case you have been imprisoned in a CIA black site, is about Bella Swann, a teenager who is transplanted from her mother’s place in Arizona to her father’s place in Washington State. There she notices the super-cute emo-boy in class. But there’s something peculiar about him. He’s deathly pale, and his skin his cold. And he can move at lightning speed and is possessed of super-strength. Could he be the Nosferatu? Das Wampyr? A…a…Vampire? Of course he is. Duh. Now, for most movies that fact would be established in the first five minutes. In Twilight, it takes a turgid 2/3rds of the movie to come to that foregone conclusion.

Okay, so what else happens? Um…Some bad vampires show up and Bella goes to the prom with her Vampi-date. Yeah, that’s about it.

Again, I have to believe something magical happens on the page, since onscreen Twilight looks about as listless as one of those vamps after rigor mortis has set in. It has been over twenty years since The Lost Boys, (ah, remember those heady days when we knew Keifer Sutherland was just acting and we didn’t, you know, use him as a role model for our intelligence system?) and we’ve seen endless permutations on the modern-day human/vampire romance story. Some good (Near Dark, Buffy’s relationship with Angel), some lousy (Innocent Blood, True Blood), and Twilight brings absolutely nothing new to genre. Oh wait, the vampires fucking glitter in the sunlight! That’s new. And really, really gay.

Meyer’s  Mormonism translates into possibly the least-dangerous vampire story ever made. The inherent tension in any vampire/romance is between carnal lust and bloodlust.  By eliminating one of those (the most interesting one), we’re left trying to wring suspense out of whether or not Edward will eat Bella (spoiler: he doesn’t). The burning romance at the center of the story simply doesn’t have any heat. Edward can’t even kiss Bella for fear of losing control (man, this movie has some serious blue balls).

It doesn’t help matters that the star-crossed lovers have all the chemistry of a soggy firecracker. As Bella Swann, Kristen Stewart radiates some charm and charisma that the script smothers like an ailing, rich relative. From what I glean, this is the hook of the novels. BondGirl tells me that you’re supposed to empathize with Bella because she has no idea why this amazing creature is interested in her. Uh, mission accomplished on that one. Bella is a near complete vacuum. Her parents divorce might have been hard, but we get almost no sense of that onscreen. And for someone of an age where self-expression seems like the most important thing in the world, Bella is pretty much a blank. What does she read? Why aren’t there any posters in her bedroom? We don’t even have an idea of what kind of music she likes—Christ, that’s like the primary defining characteristic for anyone between the ages of 13 and 21!  

Edward Cullen, the emo-vamp-boy she loves has the opposite problem: he’s the dynamic, magnetic one of the relationship, but Pattinson’s acting chops are pretty much limited to striking a pose that shows off his overly-processed hairstyle. I’m sure he’d look great on the side of a bottle of styling gel, but when he has to act he gets into trouble. He mostly works in two modes: blank, and slightly more intensely blank. This is really not an asset when you’re supposed to be playing someone in the grip of intense passion. Upon showing Bella his disco-ball complexion, Edward solemnly intones, “this is the skin of a killer!” Except it’s hard to imagine Pattinson-as-Edward killing anyone. Or even hurting their feelings. As a matter of fact, it’s hard imagining him reacting to a confrontation by doing anything besides curling up in a corner and listening to Morrissey.

Director Catherine Hardwicke also made Thirteen (aka: Your Teenaged Daughter is Doing Something Terrible Right Now), and she shows an effortless command of the scenes of high-schoolers hanging out at the cafeteria, shopping, going on a field trip. Not so much when trying to visualize the more fantastic elements of the story, though. The vampires’s super-speed, for example, just looks like desperate camera-tricks. The scene in which Edward rushes Bella up a tree is about as convincing as the “walking on water” scene in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (never heard of it? Yeah, there’s a reason for that). She also shoots everything in washed-out, blue-tinted hue. This was a novel filmmaking trick ten or so years ago. Now it’s just tedious, and it sucks much of the beauty out of the Oregon location-shots.

In the end, whatever the charms of its source material, the film Twilight is a listless, bloodless, timid affair that breaks no new ground in plot or character. There’s just nothing you haven’t seen in this movie you haven’t seen done before—and better—a half-dozen times.

And the vampires glitter for fuck’s sake! If you want an example of just how safe this movie plays it, there you go.


  1. I haven’t even read the whole review. I read “Das Wampyr” and could not stop laughing. You have made me so happy. And now I will just keep repeating “Das Wampyr” for the rest of the day. Thank you.

    • In fairness, I stole that from a Simpsons episode.

  2. In the books Bella is a big fat blank, too. Nothing registers. She has no personality. No defining characteristic other than self doubt. She wanders through the story wondering why Edward and Jake are in love with her and the rest of us wonder the same thing, because she does NOTHING. She has no interests, no passions, no intelligence. Her only hobby is being the girlfriend of Das Wampyr. YAWN. Supposedly Bella’s written as a big blank so that unimaginative girls can project themselves into the character. That is the laziest fucking writing I’ve seen in my life. It’s a novel, not Mad-Libs.

    That’s it. I am writing a series of romance novels about Mummies. My lover is a wizened corpse. I long for his leathery embrace….

  3. It’s been a while since I have checked in on this site, and when I saw Twighlight listed front and center, I couldn’t wait to read the review! After all, my daughters enjoyed Aquamarine so much that I needed to understand the movie (without personally watching it) so I got my review here. And of course, now that Twighlight is out, I need to keep up on the times. Great review, and thanks for saving 2.5 hours of my life.

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