Nobody Asked Me To, But I’m Reviewing Twilight

Posted by Lizzie on 11/21/08

Tuesday, a friend who I’ll call Q was kind enough to take me to the screening of Twilight, a cultural event that had not quite registered as such on my radar despite my plowing through the entirety of the series to pen an exigesis on it for a paper of note. Before the movie aired, a nice young lady “reminded” the crowd, a mix of mid-range critics, teen girls, and David Denby, that all reviews were embargoed until November 21. Does this apply to book critics who plowed the the entirety of the series to pen exegeses in anticipation of said cultural event? Apparently it does, if they have other things to do Still, at the risk of spoiling the movie entirely, I will note that it is based on the book.

There are three ways to take a book to the big screen: ruin the book completely, follow it to a fault, or fix it. The screenwriters of The Devil Wears Prada did it one better by adding some humility, redemption, and Emily Blunt. No such cutwork is needed on Twilight, which is merely better suited to the large screen than the large print, where within its 600 pages it was at worst, plodding, and at best, tendentious. On-screen, the director is free to pare the plot down to its best scenes, then shoot them in glorious, cheesy abandon, releasing a butterfly from the swaddling cocoon of text.

In Twilight, the director has taken the relatively unfussy Pacific Northwest of Meyer’s works and tricked it out with fairy lights, filling it with foggy crags of moss-covered, mile-high trees, rambling Victorians and glass-enclosed, planar aeiries. The vampire movie of my era was The Lost Boys, set in a dusty, California town in which Keifer Sutherland bared his teeth, Jason Patric smoldered, and Jami Gertz tossed her tumbling curls from shoulder to shoulder, accompanied always by a strange half-dead looking child. 

Twilight keeps its half-dead above age, thank god. For those who haven’t read the books, in short, it’s the story of Bella, a very very pale human who is courted by her equally pale and HOT fellow high-school student, Edward, a (SPOILER) vampire who is so overwhelmed by her particular smell (“You’re my brand of heroin”) he’s afraid he’s going to lose control and devour her every time they come near. Bella thus achieves the holy grail of high school romance–having the hot, distant ungettable guy who actually does push you away because he is just that in love with you.

And that’s as sexed-out as it gets. The movie as a whole, in fact, is admirably restrained, innocently playing both young love and violence for camp. When Edward smolders, in veryveryclose-up, angrily at Bella, unconscionably thirsty, we laugh with him, not at him, just as when he bares his chest to show his strange vampiric skin, which sparkles like the gold skirt of a wedding buffet. Even the theme is affectionately spooky, like a friend who comes up behind you and says “Boo!”, then gives you a hug.

In fact, the scariest thing about the movie is how absolutely, and I mean ABSOLUTELY, perfect the casting is. The actress who plays Bella, who is supposed to be beautiful without knowing it, looks a bit like Jenna Malone crossed with Alicia Silverstone in her Clueless era–all endless eyes on top and half-open mouth on bottom, forehead perenially knit in a quizzical, seeking scowl. Alice is the way I pictured her down to the haircut, as is the Dad. There’s a gang of hot hippie vampires who are open-shirted and SCARY. (Did Meyer approve the casting? Did I?) It’s nice to have a Brit as Edward, whose flattened boxer’s face is an anti-Efron tonic itself, and he only slips into accent once, when he asks Bella, “Where you worrit about me?”

Also: Bella — as does the rest of the cast — looks 15. I’ll never get used to this shooting with actual children. How old was Jami Gertz when they made The Lost Boys? My age? My one quibble with it: I cannot get used to this Zac Efron/Pete Wentz haircut they give everyone, which looks like how a blowout appears just BEFORE they actually blow it back. They have also, incidentally, added a diverse cast, something along the order of my hometown, Jersey City. This is not how remote towns of the Pacific Northwest looked the last time I was there, but I’m going to assume this was the work of our new administration, and look forward to seeing it across Hollywood, especially if this man is always there with his shirt off.

The acting, in the main, follows the mode patented by Neve Campbell in Party of Five — simultaneously lacking affect and overly mannered, given to meaningful pauses, deep gazes and variable tremors. Edward himself is wont to devolve into smoldering agonies reminiscent of the silent film era — the dark eye shadow may be leading me here — but Bella is truly mesmerizing. During the period where she pretends to be angry at her father to get away, secretly in agony, I acually turned to Q and said, “I’m going to cry!” which is about as close as it gets for me.

The audience needed no such encouragement. Q was worried, as the screen lit up, that the crowd might be rowdy, but I was like, “What’s the point of a movie if you’re not going to talk to the characters as if they could hear you?” I admit I was perplexed when the young girls in the front cheered ESPECIALLY at this exchange: “So the lion fell in love with lamb.” “Stupid lamb.” “Masochistic, self-hating lion.” (There’s a WHOLE COMMUNITY about it! Is it the religion? The lion? Do they think it’s FUNNY?)

My favorite crowd moment, however, occurred after the 80th time Edward informed Bella that she needed to get away from him. (Gah, shades of Freshman year.) When Bella cried, ”You just can’t say stuff like that to me ever!” the woman behind me, incredulous, finally erupted, “How long she know him?”

Twilight the book had plot. Twilight the movie has heart — one alive in a body still pumping real blood. In its pure dopiness and innocence, it reminded me nothing so much of Legend, that movie that killed Mia Sara’s career and brought handsome Tom Cruise to my attention, when he was handsome. It didn’t only make me want to see the sequel. It made me want to read the book. 

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