Once in a while, a movie comes along that makes me wonder what the forty-something movie critic sitting next to me in the theater watching Say Anything wrote. Did Some Kind of Wonderful, or let’s say for convenience sake… Lost Boys, get one star, or a thumbs down? If so, do those movies really deserve low ratings? Sometimes a movie makes me wonder how a movie critic is really supposed to do his job.
Twilight is such a film.
Whenever this happens, I never seem able to avoid the conclusion that my job, as film critic, is to let a movie build my lens to the greatest extent possible, and then try my best to hate it… viewed through that lens.
It’s a complicated view that I won’t go into further here, and it turns watching a film into a strange experience, but if that’s not what I’m doing, I don’t think I’m actually doing anything that serves a purpose.
Twilight is the story of Bella Swan, a teenage girl who moves to a small, rainy town to live with her father, and slowly falls for her new school’s chief resident bad boy, Edward Cullen. It turns out that Edward and his family are all vampires. This fact will ultimately lead to Bella being put into great danger because of her exposure to other vampires, and chases and angst will follow. It is also completely irrelevant to the film. This is not a vampire story. It’s a story that happens to have vampires in it. That there are vampires is perhaps why we’re listening, but that should not be confused with being what we’re listening to.
We get moving when Bella first meets Edward, and he seems repelled by her. Through rather mundane, high school events, the two… acknowledge each other. When Edward suddenly and dramatically saves Bella from being crushed by a van, things start spinning. Meanwhile, some non-home team vampires are beginning to scatter corpses around.
We quickly move to a fairly simple, yet varied, examination of Bella and Edward, with a smattering of plot event driving us forward through their relationship. Bella tries to understand what makes Edward tick, then doesn’t really love what she learns, then shuffles off to meet the vampire family. Edward tries not to eat Bella, then tries really, really hard not to eat Bella, then tries to save Bella’s life, then very nearly eats Bella in order to save her life. The beauty of a nicely put together metaphor should not be overlooked.
What drives this story is not the very strange love between a human and a vampire, and the obstacles that arise from such a love, but the very normal love between two anyones, and the steps involved, many facets, and evolution of such a love.
Bella and Edward are not initially interested in each other because they are in love, but because, as Edward says, Bella is his, “own personal brand of heroin.” It is not a vampirism comment, it is a being human comment. Edward is not interesting, specifically, because he is a vampire, but because being a vampire legitimizes and leaves open for real examination the whole phenomenon of “bad boy” attraction. He is not merely a “loser,” or “rebel,” or what have you. He is in fact undead, and by many accounts evil incarnate, but the rational fact of the situation does not turn off Bella’s love. He is in fact “good” by some definition, and morality is grey, and understanding emotion doesn’t much care either way. You may not look past whatever label you attach when you dismiss, deride, or disallow whoever’s love, but people are complicated and love is about who, not what, people are.
Edward calls himself monster, even to Bella, and he knows what he’s talking about. As the couple spend more time together, talk for hours on end, listen actively to some of the world’s most beautiful music, and get to know each other, Edward becomes more, not less, scared that he will consume her. Because what else is being allowed to love anyway? In the end, they are not in love for good reasons, but because… doesn’t it just seem like they’re supposed to be? Isn’t that how it happens?
The question is, does this film actually relate any of this, and does it do so in a watchable, engaging, entertaining way? The answer is yes. Thirteen‘s Catherine Hardwicke is perhaps the best of all choices as director, apparently in tune as she is with crafting this movie’s particular lens. Robert Pattinson‘s Edward is mildly believable as a vampire in general, but brilliantly engaging as someone who is too many decades old, and seriously trying not to eat you. Kristen Stewart‘s Bella is also a winning choice, portraying not only simply every teen being pulled through… whatever happens in any given situation, but a clever confusion and a well-rounded depth. She is teen… watch her muddle through.
Unfortunately, the whole thing suffers from it’s modest budget, and just about anything involving special effects is hard to swallow. The lighting is weird, the makeup is overdone and misused/abused, and another two weeks shooting probably would not have hurt anything.
Despite the flaws, which are admittedly abundant, the effort is a real one. At the end of the day, this film isn’t talking to me, but I do not confuse that with thinking that it isn’t talking to anyone… and I’m not that interesting.
On the other hand, it is talking about something, and it is doing so rather well. It’s got a bit of heart, and it reaches out pretty relevantly, while trying to have a good time.
I’ve had those classes, and I’ve read those books, and I’ll take Gosford Park when that lens is relevant, and I’ll shoot down Casablanca with nearly the same lens — but I’ve been a lot of people, and we all really like movies… and depending on how you look at it Say Anything is really stupid, but it knew me well, and sat in the theater and watched itself with me, and that was really cool.
Are You Screening?
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