Here are a few things I've learned from Twilight, in no particular order:
It's possible to throw out nearly every defining characteristic of a thing, and still cling to the idea that it's still that thing. Being a teenager hurts. Stalking isn't a crime, it's totally sexy. True love means finding a guy that realizes, not "thinks," that you are the most amazing person to ever live. Vampires are idiots, and haven't spent their immortality learning anything useful, like how to convincingly lie about all the weird shit they do. Chicks really like it when guys wear more makeup than they do. If love isn't really hard and painful, it's just not real. If there's lots of heartfelt gazing and snuggling, it's perfectly acceptable to have nearly no plot in your movie. And if you want to make oodles of money, don't entertain any ideas about quality or integrity; just whore yourself out to fourteen year-olds by creating a product they will venerate precisely because it venerates them, a self-perpetuating cycle of undeserved praise that will cause cash registers to ring like a chorus of angels.
After her mother remarries, sad-faced Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) moves to Washington state to live with her dad in a dismal land of unending rain and gloom. Mom was a ditz, you see, and Bella was the one really keeping things afloat; we know, because she tells us so in voice-over. Pretty, sensitive, and responsible! And sad. As she settles into her new school, she wanders into chem class and into, apparently, an Aerosmith music video shoot, where her hair is caught in a stiff breeze that instantly vogues her up and carries her irresistible scent straight into the flaring nostrils of Edward Cullen (rhymes with "sullen"), a popular local boy wearing more face makeup than all the members of Duran Duran put together, who spends the rest of the class giving her a nasty stare as if she had either just murdered his mother or simply stank like cow feces on a hot summer day. He vanishes for days, then reappears with a new, chummier attitude and a different eye color. One day he saves her from a car crash. A few days later, he saves her from a rape gang. He's that awesome. Why? Because, as Bella discovers, he's a vampire.
Oh, sure, he doesn't hurt people, isn't hurt by sunlight, crosses, holy water, garlic, or running water, casts reflections in mirrors, needs no invitation to come into your home, doesn't turn into a bat or wolf, doesn't sleep in a coffin, and doesn't even have fangs, but he's a vampire. I swear. He's immortal, and eats animal blood. His eyes turn black when he's feeling bloodlust, which he never gives in to, and the sunlight makes him sparkle like a unicorn probably would while galloping through a thirteen year-old's idea of a really steamy dream. Make no mistake: these are the lamest vampires ever put to film. The lack of a proper pedigree notwithstanding, Edward goes off on a long tirade about how dangerous he truly is: he can't resist her scent, he wants to drink her blaaad, he's killed people before. "I don't care," Bella says, sounding like she really doesn't. Excuse me? What kind of moron is this girl, anyway? He hasn't even qualified it with a "self-defense" or even a "they really had it coming." She should make haste out of the whole goddamn state. He wants her more than any person he's ever met. She's so enigmatic, he can't even read her thoughts, which is his normal ability. Yes, she's that significant. What teenaged girl has ever been more important, other than, you know, any of them, provided you go by their own accounts?
I'm fully aware that I'm not the audience for this sort of thing. But that's no excuse for making a stupid movie. Edward is, in case you're interested, a hundred years old. Yes, and he's chasing tail in the eleventh grade or so. Yes, Kristen Stewart is kind of cute, but what could any hundred year-old have in common with her? A lot, it seems; from all appearances, she's the first girl he's ever actually talked to in a century. "Are you wearing contacts?" she asks him after noticing his eyes have changed. "It's err, these flourescents," he stammers before skulking off in a thoroughly suspicious manner. A man with any brains whatsoever could instead have replied "Yes," and put that issue to bed before it ever existed. Why must we endure a scene of the whole vampire family playing baseball in slow motion (I repeat: lamest vampires ever) just so the bad guys can finally be introduced? Why the FUCK would an immortal condemn himself to high school over and over? And why do teens in modern movies do nothing but brood? Where are Ferris Bueller and the Duckman when you need them? I honestly have no idea if either of our leads can even act. Brooding is such a dull, one-note emotion; I can only picture the director shouting "You! Curl your lip more! And you! Look more conflicted, and stammer some more!" behind nearly every scene.
I was a teen once, too. I know things at that age feel much bigger, much more intense, much more epic than they do later in life. But there's nothing epic about the events of this film, nothing to convince me, the viewer, to take this stuff as seriously as our pasty-faced emo couple does. I imagine future editions of the dictionary placing screencaps of this film next to the definition of "overwrought." When Edward has saved Bella for the second time/third time/whatever-she imagines a montage of cuddling and shots from Cure videos and a deer loping through the woods. A deer? A DEER?! Was this made for or by preteen girls? I don't know. But none of this is the real problem here.
The problem is that the filmmakers feel that it's every girl's primal fantasy to be cast as a perennially helpless victim, one who needs a big, strong, and even potentially abusive protector to save her from rape or murder or whatever happens in the inevitable sequel. Isn't it enough for him to just be nice? Is that just too boring? Because honestly, the thought of feeding this pretend-edgy but frankly ultra-conservative "good old days" view of a woman's place to young girls actually rather creeps me out. The biggest lesson I learned from Twilight is that apparently girls are pathetic and useless without a man to save them from the world. To hell with Bueller; where's Buffy when you need her?
-review by Matt Murray