Nature’s a funny thing. As some of you know, I have a penis, which means it’s a matter of primal law that I reject the very notion of a Twilight movie, partly because the story is exclusively geared toward horny adolescent girls, partly because every time I see Robert Pattinson, I want to ram head first into his cranium and declare myself the herd’s alpha male. Still, my more domesticated side, or perhaps my more bi-curious, can’t help but admire director Catherine Hardwicke’s thoughtful adaptation, and, my God, I think I just felt my testicles recede.
It’s worth noting I haven’t read Stephenie Meyer’s novel, and I don’t think I’ll bother. The plot, about a seventeen-year-old (Kristen Stewart) falling in love with her vampire classmate (Robert Pattinson), has its appeal in a “I watch the Disney Channel on a regular basis” sort of way, but the film’s more literary moments are by far its most cringe-inducing: “I’d rather die than stay away from you!” exclaims Bella, the passionate heroine; “I hate you for making me want you so much,” whispers Edward, her tortured lover. I wouldn’t be surprised if the original manuscript came with a Fabio painting slapped on its cover.
Mind you, I have no doubt the tweens will lap it up. With moves straight out of Joe Jonas’ playbook, Edward spends most of the movie exploiting Bella’s budding sexual insecurities, drawing her in and then pushing her away as if to reinforce her unconscious belief he’s too good for her and she should be grateful for the attention. In fairness, his asinine behaviour stems from genuine ambivalence, but it pains me to see yet another teenage girl hook up with a turnip for validation. That’s why I prefer Jacob (Taylor Lautner), Bella’s devoted Native American friend with the “not going to get any” sign on his forehead.
Unfortunately, the character barely appears in the story, which goes something like this: Bella leaves Arizona to live with her dad in Forks, Washington, where she meets Edward, they fall in love, and that’s pretty much it. There’s a token thread about the couple incurring the wrath of nomadic vampires who, like my mother, believe boys shouldn’t play with their food, but it never really leads anywhere. In fact, the adaptation practically skips over the subplot’s violent climax in favour of close-ups of the confused heroine, which is sure to frustrate both action and horror fans alike.
Don’t let the fantasy elements fool you. Twilight is not, in any shape or form, a supernatural thriller. The vampires, who sparkle in the sunlight and look ridiculous in their attack stances, are more akin to super-heroes than monsters, and the only tension throughout is that between two adolescents who really, really want to sleep with each other. I suppose the film does follow one convention of the genre, vampirism as a metaphor for lust, but would it have killed Edward to rip Tyler’s (Gregory Tyree Boyce) skull open and suck out his eyeballs before saving Bella from his skidding van?
I jest, of course. Even as teen fare, Twilight shows remarkable restraint. Every environment feels authentic, lived-in, from Edward’s unapologetically bourgeois house in the woods to Bella’s cluttered bedroom, which looks like it was improvised from a long neglected study. There are no pop montages, pink walk-in closets, supermodel kids, or fifteen-year-old quarterbacks pushing thirty. Hardwicke steers clear of all that Hollywood gloss in favour of a more lucid take on adolescence, evoking with muted colours and a slight handheld wobble the grungy realism of her previous work.
This is not to say the movie is remotely as insightful as Thirteen (2003), the director’s first foray into the pubescent mind, but its characters do hint at hidden depths. I particularly like Charlie, the heroine’s father, played by Billy Burke as a private, unassuming man who knows his best shot at getting close to his daughter is to give the girl her space. There’s a bittersweet quality to the way he approaches Bella, cautiously choosing every word as if he might lose her, and I was pleased to see their relationship play into her final dilemma. It’s just unfortunate that part of the story is resolved off screen.
Oh, well. Twilight is a gushy romance, not a family drama, I suppose, and the two leads give solid performances of their own… Okay, one of them does. I’m still not sold on Pattinson, who spends most of the film struggling with his character’s American accent. To be fair, the British actor doesn’t have much to work with besides goofy emo hair: Edward is presented as the perfect man, a generic fantasy to which every girl can relate. In other words, he’s got no real personality aside from being cooler than the other kids. At least the moody heartthrob gets to smile once in a while, which is rare for pasty vegetarians.
Fortunately, the female protagonist exhibits a tad more complexity, largely owing to Stewart’s dead-on portrayal of an introverted teenager. I love her defensive posture and the way she slurs her words as though every thought was fighting to come out at once. Like her dad, Bella is all about quiet intensity. She’s an old soul, which provides a reasonable explanation for her infatuation with Edward, one that doesn’t center on impassioned gazes and eternal longing: simply put, the heroine has trouble relating to boys her age because she finds them dorky and immature. I’m guessing more than a few young women know the feeling.
Hardwicke’s adaptation of Twilight may look like a modern fairy tale about fangs and forbidden love, but what it really discusses is teenage lust, how abstinence is a fine thing indeed but choosing to wait isn’t as easy as everyone claims. As I’ve mentioned, I haven’t read the book. However, it seems the film really does transcend the source material, especially in its depiction of adolescence. In fact, I suspect it might have made a number of critics’ top ten lists if the director had replaced vampirism with HIV and dumped all that goth silliness. Then again, there’s something to be said about having millions of girls camping outside cinemas to see the sequel to your movie.