Vampires play baseball. And they have to do it during thunderstorms to hide the mighty cracks of the bats hitting the balls (neither object, by the way, is damaged, despite creating enough noise that it could be mistaken for the sound of lightning ripping through the sky). If you think this is a premise from a movie that 30 Rock‘s Tracy Jordan has made, you’re wrong. This is a scene from Twilight, the vampire romance novel turned movie that is a phenomenon in the world of teen girls (and their mothers, trapped in loveless marriages to beer swilling goons) unprecedented since The Jonas Brothers, or whatever the last major fad happened to be.
Vampire baseball is the nadir of Twilight, but the movie never gets much above that level. Too brooding to be campy, too silly to be taken seriously, Twilight sits right on the edge of being either good trash or an allegorical tale of teenage passion. The movie is filled with dialogue that beggars belief and performances driven more by haircuts than by any school of acting. Worst of all, it’s cheap, a budget production from top to bottom. This is certainly going to be the thriftiest blockbuster since The Blair Witch Project.
Here’s the thing about reviewing Twilight: there’s no point. Most of you reading this won’t go (unless you’re dragged along by significant others/mothers with whom you have troublingly close relationships), and those who want to see the movie will in no way be dissuaded by a negative review. There is not a single human being on the fence about seeing Twilight this weekend, in much the same way no one was on the fence about seeing Episode I on opening weekend – you either were or you weren’t, and all of the critics were simply voices howling in the wind.
Or they were there as support systems. The positive reviews will give heart to the Twilight fans (not sure what their fandom subculture is called. The Duskies?), while the negative reviews will bolster those who, for some reason, feel threatened by the success of this property. Occasionally either side will dip into reviews that disagree with their point of view and become enraged or something.
But I feel like Twilight is worth talking about if only because of its place in Catherine Hardwicke’s career. Hardwicke came out the gate very strongly with Thirteen, and followed it up with another film that I loved but which didn’t quite catch on, Lords of Dogtown. She stumbled with The Nativity Story, but it was still a bold move; Hardwicke’s forte seems to be teen stories, and recasting the tale of Mary, mother of Christ, as a teenage pregnancy yarn was a neat idea. So with three teen stories under her belt, two of which I feel are near perfect examinations of the teenage experience, it made sense and was very interesting to see Hardwicke tackle this story, which resonates so strongly with a certain younger female audience. The novel itself is an ode to chastity written by a crazy Mormon, but Hardwicke’s involvement promised something a little more. If the material wouldn’t be edgier, I hoped that it would feel realer (and I’m not talking about the vampire stuff).
So where the hell is Catherine Hardwicke in this movie? Or is this really who Hardwicke is and her first two films were blind luck? Every time I think that she’s nailing down what high school dynamics are like, the whole thing slips into crummy TV show territory. I gave up when I realized that the crowd of kids who heroine Bella (Kristen Stewart) fell in with included a guy in a letter jacket, a black guy, a metrosexual Asian guy and some yearbook girls. It’s like a multicultural Breakfast Club of phoniness.
Without a base of teenaged reality, the fantasy of the hunky, dangerous vampire boyfriend just drifts along on its own, detached from any meaning. And because the film is almost free of incident, Bella falls madly, passionately in love with hunky, dangerous vampire Edward after taking a walk with him. It’s perfunctory and, as will be the keyword for this film, phony.
It’s important to note that Stephenie Meyer, the aforementioned crazy Mormon author, has reinvented vampires for her own purposes. First and foremost, they do not die in sunlight – rather, they sparkle. Like a gay man at Studio 54 covered in glitter. It’s a ludicrous and awful conceit, one that adds nothing to the proceedings except for a hearty laugh (which is maybe the point. More on that next). The good vampires in this film also don’t kill people, although they really, really want to eat them all up. See, this is the metaphor for abstinence. You gotta hold back! Or something.
As I was watching the film, and laughing at moments where I wasn’t supposed to laugh, I began to wonder if maybe Hardwicke hadn’t just simply sabotaged her own movie. There are so many shots of longing eyes, so many exchanges of yearning glances, so many scenes that are presented in such a laughably overwrought style that I began to suspect this was all on purpose. Is Hardwicke lampooning the way that teenagers take everything so seriously? The basic love story here – these two meet and within days decide they want to spend all eternity with each other and every second they’re apart is a burning hell of desire – is the epitome of an overblown teenage crush, the kind where the very fate of the world seems to be in the balance. Is Hardwicke blowing this movie up in such a way as to reflect that over the top quality, and possibly deflate it?
I don’t know. If she is, Joss Whedon beat her (and Stephenie Meyer) to the punch in a big way. I won’t even get into the Buffy & Angel vs Bella & Edward debate (it’s a pretty good potential Devin’s Advocate, though. And it would be hit bait! These Twilight fans can’t get enough), but Buffy the Vampire Slayer did the whole ‘high school/love is hell’ thing in a fairly definitive manner, and with forbidden vampire love to boot. All of that said, I am leaning towards the idea that while Hardwicke may have been aware that she was going over the top and went there purposefully, it wasn’t meant to elicit guffaws from goons like me.
Every time I thought I could settle into Twilight and enjoy it, the film would throw another shockingly inept special effect at me. This movie is probably best described as Dark Shadows at Degrassi Jr. High, but with half the budget of either of those two shows. The vampire running effects are almost audacious in how terrible they are – guys on wires just slide two feet above the ground while waving their legs around like Wile E Coyote trying to stay in mid-air after stepping off a cliff. Every effect is this cheap and bad, and as the credits rolled and a Thom Yorke song played on the soundtrack I wondered aloud why Summit hadn’t taken the money for that and spent it on fixing the godawful effects. Seriously, I’ve seen episodes of Xena with better production value.
With all of that in mind, I didn’t hate the movie. At two hours it’s a little long (especially because nothing at all happens for the first 90 minutes), but I never felt particularly pained. It’s often funny, although unintentionally, and some of the leads are engaging. I liked Robert Pattinson as Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter films, and if he had been allowed to have a bit more of that character instead of a sixth generation copy of James Dean, he might have actually carried the film. Kristen Stewart is a fine actress, even when given the truly hideous lines of this script, and she acquits herself well enough. I found myself fascinated by Peter Facinelli as the Daddy of the good vampire clan, but it’s hard to say if that fascination was a good or a bad thing. He seems to be the actor most desperate to make this thing a big campy musical or something. And then there’s Rachelle Lefevre, barely getting any screentime as Evil Girl Vampire, but so very hot in her short scenes that she almost warrants the price of admission.
I almost feel bad for Twilight as a movie. It’s cheap and shoddy and often mediocre, and if it had just come out and been a standard, middle of the road teen release, people might have looked at it with a less critical eye. Instead it comes into theaters as the blockbuster-elect, selling out shows a week in advance and fomenting teenybopper riots at publicity events.
There is one thing that baffles me when all is said and done: what’s the big deal? I’ve seen phenomenas come and go; I’ve seen fanbases get whipped up into a frenzy over properties. I haven’t always felt as strongly as those people, but I could usually get why they had that reaction. Maybe Twilight the movie forgot to translate something from the page, because at the end of the movie I just couldn’t understand what it was about this world that speaks to people so strongly. It’s not a strongly sketched mythology, the central love story is so rote and the heroes and heroine are utterly standard, seemingly without a single element that differentiates them from a zillion other characters. I suppose I could see why people like this story – I just don’t get why they like it so damn much.