Critics have been instructed very sternly that we are not to express our opinions about this little movie called Twilight
until Friday, but since the movie opens tonight at midnight, it seems best to ignore the instructions and warn you.
I have seen the new face of teen sex, and it looks like Buster Keaton.
Buster Keaton, the silent-film comedian with his mug painted white as a sheet and his eyebrows arched in sleepy concern. It is an iconic visage,
but not one liable to launch a thousand pubescent quivers—or at least it wasn't until it was pasted onto the figure of Edward Cullen, the antique teenage vampire of Stephenie Meyers' Twilight
books. In the new Twilight
movie, that undead dreamboat is played by Robert Pattinson, and while I'm sure he is a perfectly handsome boy—he has thoroughbred cheekbones—here he is sloppily caked in white base makeup and oil-smeared lashes, a la Keaton: He looks less like Dracula than like somebody who's seen a ghost. I cannot fathom how this plaster-of-Paris ghoul is supposed to turn young girls on—unless he's supposed to turn them off
, which I suspect may be closer to the point.
But maybe I'm not meant to fathom this. The Portland-filmed Twilight
is a dreadful movie—static, hysterical and aggressively insipid—but I've no doubt it will completely gratify the needs of its target audience. As for me, I left feeling unhappy and overwhelmed, reminded of childhood playground games where I was to play a Brave Knight and rescue tiny imperiled princesses for hour upon grueling hour. This movie is the closest thing I've ever experienced to a pure distillation of a romance dime novel. It's a performance of Peter Pan
by extras from Dawson's Creek
. It's going to be a massive hit.
Director Catherine Hardwicke has been tasked with adapting some very slack writing to the screen, and she cannot be faulted for going at it at half-sail. She immerses herself in the lukewarm pool of Meyers' prose. After a half hour of requisite dithering, young Bella Swan (Kirsten Stewart) is whisked into the Olympic rain forest to see the real nature of her high-school crush, Edward. “Are you afraid?” Edward moans, sniffing the air with a snivel. (Afraid…of emo
?) He then walks into a beam of sunlight, and reveals that he is secretly dipped in glitter. “This is what I am,” he wails, aghast at his own hideousness. (You're Ziggy Stardust?) And then the worst truth of all: Edward longs to munch on innocent Bella like a lamb chop. “You're like my own personal brand of heroin,” the vampire interjects. This, along with the fact that Edward is more than a century old and slurps deer blood as a substitute for human platelets, does not bother Bella. She is a vegetarian, but she has a very pliable sense of morality. It isn't a deal-breaker for Edward, either, even though so far as I can understand the situation, he'll be going steady with a plate of spareribs which he is only allowed to lick gently on occasion. So, how about we lie in a Columbia Gorge meadow for a while and stare at each other? Okay? Okay!
Then it's off to meet Ed's folks. These are the best scenes in Twilight
, since they allow Hardwicke (a previously competent helmer of girl-trouble pictures Thirteen
and The Nativity Story
) to leak glimmers of humor into the proceedings. The Cullen family is a makeshift, uber-pale unit led by Peter Facinelli (Six Feet Under
); they all bear the alarmed expression of Christopher Walken in Annie Hall
, and for once I think the joke is intentional. The interlude, in which the Cullens play an inning of baseball, is interrupted by more ludicrousness (culminating in the heroes gleefully burning a bad vampire at the stake), but at least for a second there's something worthwhile onscreen.
Here is as good a time as any to praise the redeeming features of Twilight
. For example, it is generally well acted. (Billy Burke is comforting as Bella's father, and I mean it in the best possible way when I say I hope Pattinson and Stewart are not confined to their lovers' roles for eternity.) The school sequences, while glib, showcase Hardwicke's aptitude for diagramming juvenile pecking orders. And the production values are top-notch: Whenever DP Elliot Davis's camera pauses from swooning and dashing, it captures the sublime damp of Oregon wilderness.
That said, the film might just as well been shot in Utah. The foggy canopy that protects the bloodsuckers from glitter eruptions would be gone, true, but the story would be closer to its spiritual source. Make no mistake: Twilight
is a Mormon movie, to the degree that I suspect Edward is hiding some long undergarments beneath his leather jacket. It may not be fair to read Stephenie Meyers' membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints into a critique of her film, but it is appropriate to point out the ways in which the movie proselytizes the values of an especially atavistic Mormonism—in the angelic clan which holds claim to the universe's holy mysteries, in the manifestation of a deathless savior to the American West, and most of all in the cringing fear of sex.
I know I'm stepping on sacred toes here, but this erotic panic is manifest everywhere in Twilight
. Edward recoils from a make-out session with Bella, flinging himself from her bed into a nearby wall and groaning, “I can't ever lose control around you!” This chivalric torment—my boyfriend wants me so bad he can't even touch
me—dovetails neatly with Christian evangelicalism's youth-group cult of the supposedly exquisite sensuality of agonized celibacy. It also begins to explain why the teen pinup of the moment is coated in white wax, like a body condom. The pleasure this movie pimps is the rejection of intercourse, physical and emotional. And so Edward and Bella dance chastely to the strains of Iron & Wine, refusing to give the devil a foot rub. “No one will surrender tonight,” Bella pledges at her prom in Twilight
's final speech. Her attitude toward sex is the same as the one I'd encourage toward this ponderous, stupid movie: Just say no. PG-13.
Twilight opens tonight and Friday at Broadway Metro 4 Theatres, Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Eastport 16, Cinema 99 Stadium 11, Cinemas Bridgeport Village Stadium 18 & IMAX, Cinetopia, City Center Stadium 12, Division Street Stadium 13, Evergreen Parkway Stadium 13, Hilltop 9 Cinema, Lloyd Center Stadium 10 Cinema, Lloyd Mall 8 Cinema, Movies On TV Stadium 16, Oak Grove 8 Cinemas, Pioneer Place Stadium 6, Sandy Cinemas, Sherwood Stadium 10, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Stadium 9 Cinema.