Film Review: Twilight (2008), New Moon (2009), Eclipse (2010), Breaking Dawn: Part 1 (2011) & Part 2 (2012)
I know, I know, it’s the film series that came out to so much hype, based on the bestselling novels by Stephenie Meyer. It premiered ten years ago today. Frenzied teens squealed in theaters, and critics generally panned. Feminists slammed it. Its own stars disowned it later on. It’s been spoofed, ridiculed, castigated, shunned.
Well, here it goes: My name is Jessica. I’m a forty-plus woman, with multiple degrees under my belt, well-versed in English literature and feminist theories, and I love Twilight. There, I’ve said it. It’s out in the open. Yeah, yeah, it’s silly and melodramatic and maudlin. The dialogue is guffawingly cringeworthy at times. And the acting is painfully stilted at others. It takes the love triangle to new, ridiculous heights. Sigh. It’s so bad sometimes and yet so good.
I can see and understand all the critiques cast upon it. Yes, it’s über-creepy stalker behavior by our vampire hero here. The vampire being a none-too-subtle metaphor for misogyny writ large, patriarchal obsession and oppression that sucks the lifeblood out of women. I know, I get it – but I’m still hoping for Edward and Bella (definitely Team Edward here).
Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
If You’ve Been Living Under a Rock – The Plot
The Twilight Saga follows the coming-of-age of awkward Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), who unwillingly finds herself back in her estranged father’s house in the rinky-dink town of Forks on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. If you’re from the Pacific Northwest and now find yourself living far, far away, well, the series is cinematographically a little piece of home. (Um, yeah, writing from personal experience here – it hits the homesick spot rather well). She meets a mysterious and aloof young man, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), and sparks fly. But he’s a cold-blooded vampire, she’s a warm-blooded human, and it all gets rather complicated from there.
She wants to become a vampire to be with him. He doesn’t wish this cursed life on anyone, especially the woman he loves. A warm-blood in a cold-blooded world is prey, always prey, always vulnerable. There are vampire rules and regulations and power struggles. Their relationship gets caught up in all that. This, for me, is where the series really shines, in its worldbuilding. It’s a rather fantastic extraordinary realm that is constructed – there in plain sight if you know how to look. That’s always tantalizing when done well.
So, do they give each other up? Deny their love? Move on? Or do they contravene nature and families and the vampiric powers that be and hold on to one another as is – she a human and he a vampire? Or does she too become a vampire? This is the central dilemma of the series, taking up much of the first four films. How do they navigate this star-crossed love affair and bridge the differences?
Thrown into this dilemma is the other possible love interest for our fair Bella, one hunky, funny, friendly and at times furry Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who’s a Native American werewolf/shapeshifter. Naturally, werewolves and vampires are sworn enemies. And Bella is caught in the classic in-between position between two hostile would-be suitors. She wants everyone to just get along.
I don’t want to give it all away for any non-viewers of Twilight out there. But it’s all about finding a solution to the central dilemma of star-crossed lovers, be they of the human-vampire or human-werewolf variety. And every decision has consequences – good, bad and ugly.
A Guilty Pleasure
As I mentioned in the intro, the series has its faults. The first film Twilight is arguably the best in the series, directed by Catherine Hardwicke. She’s replaced by others (all men) in the ensuing sequels. While the films can lag at times, there is this strong undercurrent of teen angst, of struggling to choose a life path. Edward is this Byronic hero of the Edward Fairfax Rochester variety, full of brooding nobility and self-loathing and love. And that has its appeal if you have a thing for Gothic romance.
A stand-out for me in the films is Bella’s chief of police dad, Charlie, played by Billy Burke. He steals every scene he’s in and, unfortunately, there comes to be far too little of him in the films later on. It’s a natural progression of a young woman leaving her father, but the loaded silences between Bella and her dad are great. In a series that gets a little too emotionally gushy at times, the unsaid frames from the first film are gold.
So, yeah, The Twilight Saga is not arthouse cinema, not avant-garde, not Academy stuff, but it is entertaining. It’s got a compelling narrative. It’s fairly faithful to the books, maybe too faithful at times. The characters and the story can be rather silly, at times, but if you can just turn off the inner censor and enjoy, it’s all good.
My name’s Jessica. I’m supposedly too old for Twilight, too educated for it, but I watch it and re-watch it nonetheless. Late at night, with kids and hubby in bed, I will watch a film or two. And giggle. Because you’re never too old or too educated to giggle.
Where to Watch: DVD, Amazon Prime.
Content Note: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some sensuality.
Any others out there with a guilty pleasure for Twilight? Join me in the comments.
Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment.
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