I call the big one ‘Bitey’

twilight

During last year’s “Juno” zeitgeist, I received a response from a reader who took umbrage with me slamming the film. “I guess you don’t remember what’s it’s like to be a 16-year-old girl who is unpopular, non-conforming and pregnant,” she sniffed.

I always thought this to be an odd line of reasoning for an argument. By that statement, does that mean I must have spent time as a gladiator to enjoy “300?” Must I have gone through heroin withdraw after cutting short my career in punk music to appreciate “Sid and Nancy?”

A film need not have leads with character traits that duplicate my own in order for me to appreciate it (“Trainspotting” immediately comes to mind). It does not even have to have leads that I respect, for that matter (say hello to my little friend “Scarface”). 

What it does have to contain is an involving story and, in lieu of, or addition to that, characters which captivate my attention long enough for me to want to spend two hours with them in a darkened theater.

The novel “Twilight,” written by Stephanie Meyers, is not meant for me. Nor, I gather, is the film. It was meant for the two texting tweeners sitting next to me in the theater – the ones who giggled at the first sight of Edward, the ones who cheered on Bella, but also the ones who spent the majority of film bathed in the blue light of their flipped-open cell phones, apparently interested in anything else but what was on the screen. (Maybe we could find common ground.)

But there were certainly enough fans to give this film a record-breaking weekend at the box office last weekend. Fandango, the online pre-sale ticket hub, reported that tickets for “Twilight” were being sold at a rate of five per second prior to the first screenings.

And they are not going away any time soon; after a phenomenal Friday box office, Summit, the tiny studio that produced the film, announced plans for a sequel and perhaps a third to be filmed back to back. And for that audience, I certainly understand (and even, at times, appreciate) the appeal. For beneath “Twilight’s” façade of forbidden love, mortal danger and blood-sucking vampires lies a very chaste, safe escapist fantasy for young girls who want their films with more danger than awaiting what college Zac Efron will select upon graduating high school. And when it comes to sexuality, a subject typically intertwined with the vampire mythology, these beasties don’t even grow those phallic fangs when they get excited, but rather just chomp away with normal incisors and bicuspids.

These young girls can sit in the theater and completely ignore the sociological underpinnings of “Twilight,” and instead choose to retreat into the more fairy tale aspects of the story. There are certainly worse role models for young girls than that of young Bella (played by Kristen Stewart). She’s apparently smart, plainly pretty, a little tomboyish, and the new kid at school. She’s also immediately the center of attention of fellow classmates, the object of desire from the hunky, mysterious, aloof Edward (played by Robert Pattinson) and apparently responsible enough to be given carte blanche by her separated parents.

There is a kernel of an interesting tragic story in the forbidden love of its leads (too bad neither actor seems interested in really emoting it, though). The fact that she’s human and Edward’s like, totally undead and could at any moment get all bitey on Bella makes this aspect compelling, especially for a youngster.

Yet for anyone old enough to drive, though, is where “Twilight” begins to wither and shrivel under scrutiny.

For vampire enthusiasts, this is perhaps one of the worst treatments of the mythology since Don Rickles turned into a vampire in the woefully bad John Landis mobster-vampire hybrid “Innocent Blood.” In fact, it tosses so many of the elements that make up the creatures’ mythology (the most long-standing in film history, by the way), one wonders why Meyers did not create a mythological beast all her own. For example, when these vampires are exposed to sunlight, their skin does not singe, it twinkles. Also, Edward and his surrogate “family” are “vegetarian vampires,” meaning they feast not on humans, but tear into woodland creatures like Sarah Palin on a weekend hunting expedition.

But the lack of doom and gloom with its vampires are not the stake through “Twilight’s” heart. Between their sporting more pancake makeup than a crown at a Cure concert, Edward’s family’s passion for playing a good ol-fashioned game of baseball, or even their superhuman abilities, (which are amusingly in need of a larger budget), they are extremely difficult to take as seriously as director Catherine Hardwicke wants us to.

The other splash of holy water is Stewart as Bella. Edward, who is revealed to be about 90 (that’s a lot of high school biology classes to slog through!), claims he’s waited his life for someone like her. Really? Why? Do you want to borrow her lipstick? Honestly, Stewart plays her as such a serious, mopey bore, it’s really hard to see just what it is about her that is so striking to anyone, particularly someone who has spent the last nine decades chasing high school chicks.

Look, I am happy to see film aimed at an oft-neglected segment of film-goers, giving them a fantasy world that does not involve crass commercialism or power through sexualization (and I hope after this initial encounter Bella goes home and has some serious “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” marathons for tips on being more strong willed).

But the fact that this was apparently based on a wildly popular young adult novel makes me sad to realize just how few options there must be out there for our daughters to read.

~ by usesoapfilm on November 24, 2008.

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