The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 is something of a beautiful disaster. Make no mistake, it’s an awful film. In fact it transcends awful and comes back around like some sort of cyclical nightmare, turning into something that’s altogether watchable and eminently enjoyable for the many of us who take pride in our love of trainwreck cinema.
I’ve never seen a film more afraid of its own shadow than Breaking Dawn. This film, the one where Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) finally get to the business of getting busy, should be an inherently sexual film. Instead it’s almost asexual, skirting the nitty gritty around every turn and shying away from everything that made the book the manifesto of bugfuck, sexually-repressed insanity that it truly is. I’d call director Bill Condon out for letting down the source material if the source material amounted to anything more than misogynistic toilet paper sandwiched between hardcover binding.
And Breaking Dawn is most certainly an exercise in misogyny. Bella has spent three films grooming herself into the woman Edward wants her to be. She’s still every bit the insufferable, unbearable she-beast she’s always been – but now she’ll have the added benefit of being a limp-Twilight vampire in addition. Abandoning family and friends to devote herself fully to life with Edward and the Cullens, Bella is willing to give up everything for her man. Edward never arrives at any such crossroads, content to stand in the corner and smarm like he’s playing the Robert Smith role (poorly) in a Cure cover band.
If I had a genuine compliment to the film, and I barely do, it’s that beginning-to-end the film looks competently crafted. Condon and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro do a fine job of shooting this fourth entry. Aside from some truly awful CGI which I’ll touch on in a moment, each shot is handled meticulously. I get the sense that Condon, like his predecessors, is content being a cog in the wheel – unwilling to leave his own stamp (imprint?) on the franchise. But really, what’s there to screw up at this point?
With Breaking Dawn, Condon thought he was making a safe, unthreateningly sexual vampire movie. In actuality he’s unleashed a glorious B-movie romp upon the unsuspecting masses. And before we herald the man a genius: no, it was not on purpose. To our benefit, the movie seems to have just gotten away from him – degenerating into mush brought on by awe-inspringly dumb source material and terrible acting the level of which hasn’t been seen on a stage this grand since Mystery Science Theater 3000 was cancelled.
Our journey into the bowels of madness begins with Edward and Bella’s wedding. There’s an uneasy truce between the vampires and werewolves predicated in part upon Bella’s survival. Noticeably absent at the wedding is passionate wolfboy Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Edward rectifies this by sneaking Bella off to meet up with Jacob so they can share a passionate, final embrace. He leaves them be, knowing that with a man by her side there’s no threat of Bella spontaneously combusting.
This of course leads into the honeymoon where Bella finally gets it on with her sensitive vampire husband. After a passionate (one assumes) evening of off-camera coitus, Edward has second thoughts about sexing a human Bella ever again. Vampires are strong, feral beasts in the sack. And Bella has the bruises to show for it. But once again, Bella cares not for her own wellbeing. She just craves more of that hot, pale, unprotected vampire loving. It should come as no surprise that any reservations she might have had are expressed only after she gets knocked up.
And that’s where Breaking Dawn really goes off the rails. Once Bella starts showing, the whole film denigrates into a war between passionate wolfboys and sensitive vampires. The werewolves, for whatever reason, are peeved that Bella’s going to birth this demon spawn. Equally upset is Edward, who desperately tries to talk Bella into “getting rid of it.” This is in direct conflict with fellow vampire Rosalie (Nikki Reed) who around every turn cries “It’s a child, not a fetus!” Transparency, thy name is Stephenie Meyer.
That baby turns out to be the gift that keeps on giving throughout all of Breaking Dawn. First, it’s slowly killing Bella. Taking sleeping beauty Kristen Stewart out of the game halfway into the second act is hardly a bad thing. Second, this is a psychic baby – communicating to Edward that it likes both he and Bella in a brilliant, last-ditch attempt to put a cooler on all of this abortion talk. When it finally unsheathes itself from Bella, it does so in the most magical of ways: Edward eats the baby’s way out of Bella’s womb. If that’s not traumatic enough, they saddle the poor girl with the horrid moniker Renesmee.
Baby Renesmee doesn’t get five minutes on this Earth before Jacob claims her as his own. Not to raise mind you, but to bang. Jacob sees this baby and right away imprints on her. In wolf boy-speak, imprinting is how they find their soulmate. So imagine a scene where wooden Taylor Lautner locks eyes with a wooden CGI baby and instantly makes arrangements to tap that somewhere down the road. Essentially Meyers is saying Renesmee doesn’t really have a choice. This is the fourth film and Jacob is running out of options – so naturally, the man’s needs come first.
That goofy-looking CGI baby is the best lead in the film, if only by default. When Jacob sees her he immediately dreams of her adult form which, incredibly, is also CG’d. I think the effects team was hoping for a cross between the features of Stewart and Pattinson, but they thankfully landed on Adult Chucky Doll With Sexy Bangs. It works splendidly.
I’m not remotely joking when I say that the CG monstrosity gives the best performance in the film. I’ve never seen two leads look more bored than Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. Emotions on their face barely register. Bella seems almost dismissive towards the fact that she’s going to die. Edward is caked with so much makeup that the muscles in Pattinson’s face seems tired and gaunt under the weight of it all.
I’m not dismissing the two as actors, just as professionals. Having seen Stewart in Adventureland and Pattinson in Water for Elephants, the two have already proven that they at least understand the most rudimentary aspects of the acting profession. But their own resentment towards the franchise that made them shines through here – Pattinson goes through the motions and Stewart is content to bite her lip while doing something less.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is poor Taylor Lautner, trying so hard and still failing spectacularly. His performance as Jacob is truly abhorrent, some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen in a major motion picture. It reminds me of those old B-movies of yore where directors were too broke to cast anyone but their friends. To him, intensity is squinting really hard. He doesn’t deliver lines so much as they just fall out of his mouth and the people around him just have to react with it. He shares a scene with a CG baby and is noticeably upstaged. And it’s made all the more tragic by the fact that he seems to be the only one in the film actually trying.
With Breaking Dawn, this Twilight franchise finally gives merit to its existence. Stephenie Meyer is an astoundingly odious storyteller, a fact that couldn’t be more apparent if it bit you in the womb. Breaking Dawn isn’t just bad, it’s laughingly bad. And I had a great time with it, giggling and groaning the whole way through. Films like this aren’t meant to be despised, they’re to be celebrated and cherished for their ability to entertain in the midst of overwhelming failure. Breaking Dawn is one of the worst films I’ve seen in a theater this year. Unintentionally on the part of all involved, it’s also one of the most fun.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars