Rating: 2.5 stars
The vampire myth is, of course, about sex and death and the forbidden intermingling of the two. Unless, that is, you’re talking about Twilight, a vampire story for tweens, as written by a Mormon, in which case it’s essentially a vampire-as-dreamboat fantasy, with our fanged hero Edward about as dangerous as a kitten. But he is, as the book tells us many, many times, like, totally gorgeous.
So the primary challenge for the talented director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen), in adapting the first in this series of much-read and loved and obsessed over teen romances, was finding a cast that satisfied the book’s ardent fans.
She scores, brilliantly I might add, in casting British actor Robert Pattinson as Edward. He is beautiful, in an unearthly sort of way, with an aquiline nose and high cheekbones and a thatch of rustled, Heathcliffian hair. (You don’t see many of his type at the mall.)
Next, she had to find the perfect Bella, the young woman who moves to suburban Washington to live with her police chief dad and falls under the spell of Edward and the mysterious Cullen clan (hint: they’re all very pale). In Stephanie Meyer’s book, Bella is a bit of a doormat, so besotted by Edward, she seems to have no personality of her own. (I would never encourage any young woman I know to read this book; it’s an anti-feminist fantasy.) But I knew that Hardwicke was too crafty to make that mistake in the film and I was right. The casting of Kristen Stewart, a tough, tomboyish beauty, told me all I needed to know about the movie’s Bella: This heroine was going to at least have a spine.
Hardwicke manages to inject some humor into the book’s mawkish story, too—Bella’s mortal high school friends are an amusingly gossip-and-clothing obsessed teen chorus, a much-needed break from all the longing and unfulfilled desire.
The cinematography is also quite lovely—Bella and Edward embrace in meadows and bound in majestic treetops (he can’t fly, but he can climb and run really fast with Bella on his back). Sexy Cam Gigandet is particularly menacing as James, the bad boy vamp who threatens to destroy Edward and Bella’s chaste bliss.
But there’s really only so much you can do with this gooey material—especially since Meyer oversaw the production and put the brakes on anything that might upset the book’s faithful readers (hell hath no fury like a ticked off tween).
If the sighs and squeals of delight from my audience were any indication, the groupies will be pleased. (However, I overheard at least one pair of Twilight fans complaining about some of Hardwicke’s minor alterations as though she had positively blasphemed). Lovers of particularly gooey romances (like The Notebook) will like Twilight, too. But don’t let the commercials fool you, there’s very little action in this flick, and what there is is kind of lame. The film’s best moment? As a geeky mortal asks Bella to the prom (poor shlub doesn’t have a chance), Edward stands in the distance, brooding gorgeously. Eventually, Bella can’t even hear the mortal, it’s as though she and Edward are the only two creatures on earth. It may not be sex and death, but it is kind of swoony.