Love bites and vampires suck. Stephenie Meyer’s teen lit hit comes to the screen very much intact, which is appropriate for a romance that has been embraced by abstinence advocates.
Kristen Stewart – the sensitive guitar-plucker in Into the Wild – plays Bella Swann, new girl in Forks, Washington as she gives her mom some breathing space and moves back in with her dad, the local sheriff (Billy Burke), after years of separation. Bella is pretty enough to attract plenty of attention at school, but the guy she’s really interested in goes out of his way to avoid her.
Edward Cullen (23-year-old Brit heart throb Robert Pattinson) looks a little anemic, but in an aristocratic, rather English manner. When Bella is paired off with Edward as his lab partner, he can barely stop himself from puking.
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke – whose last picture was another supernatural teen love story, sort of (The Nativity Story) – Twilight doesn’t go for subtlety. There’s a certain aura of suspense and mystery surrounding Edward and his peculiar, pale and cliquey family, but the main point is, he’s gorgeous, and Hardwicke isn’t about to let us forget it. The camera practically swoons in slow-motion ecstasies whenever he comes into shot.
This will likely seem pretty risible to almost anyone old enough to vote. But Hardwicke is right to go for the heart, not the jugular. Meyer doesn’t write horror, she does a middle-American teen take on gothic romance, the Brontes-lite for kids who don’t remember the last time a Democrat was in the White House or a Tory was Prime Minister.
This is also very much a female point of view. It’s definitely Edward/Pattinson who is the sex symbol, not Bella/Stewart. (Could this be why the studio bosses have declined to invite Hardwicke back for the sequel, despite the movie’s US box office bounty?)
It takes Bella a while to figure it out, but unless you’ve been spending too much time under a rock recently you’ll know that Edward is more than strong, dark and brooding, he’s a vegetarian vampire (ie he only eats animals). Bella confuses him and not just because she gives him the munchies. “I can read every mind in this room,” he tells her. “Except yours.” He proceeds to prove it with these snap insights into the assembly: "Money, sex, sex, sex, money, sex."
Actually Bella’s mind isn’t hard to read either, and she’s not into money. A pale, introverted teenager, smitten with a dashing but dangerous older (much older) man who confesses he may not be able to control himself – I think we know what that’s all about.
The first half works best, perhaps because its timorous torment flows naturally from Bella’s barely suppressed dreams of sexual abandonment. Hardwicke’s handheld, intimate style effectively undercuts Meyer’s overblown idea of romantic anguish. “It’s like a diet of tofu,” laments Edward. “Healthy, but not satisfying. Not like drinking your blood.” The old smoothie!
The second half is more tongue in cheek – with Bella welcomed into the rather unusual Cullen family for a game of Harry Potterish baseball – before plunging into not very convincing suspense. No great shakes as an action director, Hardwicke fails to persuade that anything really nasty might spoil our fun. A better – or at least more grown up – movie would need more bite and maybe some blood on the sheets. But it’s really not made for adults. Chaperones will probably be tickled by its deadly earnest romanticism, but in the end, for better and/or worse, Twilight is perfectly harmless.
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