Every teenager hits that phase when life becomes Tragic. In my day, girls packed the theatre to see Romeo + Juliet . Most of those same girls do reach a point where they realize that it doesn’t hold up the way it once did; Romeo and Juliet, at the end of the day, are two bored and horny teens with nothing to say to each other.
Did I mention I saw Twilight last night?
When it’s not posing as a travelogue for the Pacific Northwest (“Come for the scenery, stay for the abusive undead boyfriends!”), Twilight tries to capture teen malaise with a faux-mature sincerity that would have been satiric in the hands of a better director. Here it backfires. Bella Swann (Kristen Stewart)’s move from Phoenix to the tiny town of Forks is supposed to represent a lonely bleakness that only a room-temperature boyfriend can allay, but the initial scenes of Bella’s “boring” life come off not so much as a desire for the exotic and dangerous as it does a totally self-centered and misplaced petulance: her father is shy but kind, her peers are welcoming and inclusive, and by the end of her first day at school two boys have a crush on her. Oh, how can she STAND such a life?
Well, turns out she doesn’t have to—the prettiest boy in school, Edward Cullen (played apoplectically by Robert Pattinson), sweeps her away into a world of excitement and danger. He wants to be her friend—but it’s a bad idea —but he can’t stay away—but he’s a murderer!—but he’s been waiting so long for her!—but it’s not safe—but it’s impossible for him to be away from her!—but she has to leave home, it’s not safe—but how can they be parted?
You’ll notice Bella’s feelings never enter into this emotional emocoaster; she decides she loves him from the first moment and never changes her mind. In fact, she doesn’t even make up her mind about much else; having decided on the guy whose girlfriend she wants to be, she lets the plot meander along largely without her. With Edward doing all the romantic heavy-lifting, Bella gets to be carried beatifically from dinner dates, to prom, to fleeing for her life from a bloodthirsty vampire, to the Cullen family baseball game with nary a peep to say about her own future. (It’s fine; Edward does enough broody, close-talking romanticizing about their doomed love for six people.)
This is perhaps the movie’s biggest misstep: there’s no need to show us the mundanity of high school, and yet by the time Edward introduces Bella to his vaguely-incestuous vampire family we’ve spent so much time watching normal teens surfing and dress-shopping that there’s hardly any time for vampire baseball before it’s time for the tacked-on mortal threat to appear and become as infatuated with Bella as everyone else has. The vampire family dynamic appears as an afterthought, which means we never even get to experience Bella’s joy at attaching herself to a group of random people that are much cooler and prettier than the previous group of random people to whom she attached herself.
Instead, we get endless and often painfully awkward love scenes between Edward and Bella; they talk mostly about how they shouldn’t be together, which gets old long before the two of them are finished talking about it. Even after making the jump to Official Couple, complete with Edward’s possessive arm-slinging, they have nothing to talk about without an external problem to discuss; in a telling scene, Edward and Bella share a night of cuddling and talking, but the audience sees only a series of quick, mute fade-outs as twinkly music plays. What they had to say is far less important than the scene of her cuddling up to his chiseled chest as he makes the sort of face normally seen in the “before” half of a constipation commercial.
Unfortunately, this largely faithful movie adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s blockbuster novel is set to do extremely well among the set still pining for their first love, whether it’s thirteen-year-olds who are still waiting or diehard romantics for whom their perfect man never appeared; it’s the perfect movie for anyone who never let go of Romeo and Juliet and don’t mind spending two hours with bored, horny teens with nothing to say to each other.