Sunday, December 14, 2008


Wait, what?

No, I mean: seriously? This is the pop culture phenomenon everybody's going bozo over?

Not sure exactly what compelled me to, but I took in a matinee showing of Twilight today. (Despite even my own active skepticism about the thing.) It's...I don't even know where to start. This is a singularly bizarre movie. I sort of loved and despised it in equal measure. OK, "loved," maybe not. But...found curiously appealing? Begrudgingly respected for the way it succeeded in what it was trying to do? Was intrigued by some of the more salient features that have, evidently, made so many other people love it? And despised it in equal measure.

About a quarter of the way into the movie, I couldn't help but think of this bit from High Fidelity: "People worry about kids playing with guns or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands, of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery, and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?" I think the same goes for the effect on girls' psyches of utterly poisonous movie love stories like this.

I don't know how he comes across in the book (and I don't plan to find out), but there is nothing, I repeat nothing, appealing about the Edward Cullen character, except the fact that he's played by the oddly attractive Robert Pattinson. I understand that this is a story about vampires and that vampires brood. I also understand that this is a story about teenagers and that teenagers brood. I also understand that this is a story about first love and that first love is often an experience filled with brooding. Clearly, the Venn diagram where all these things overlap is very, very broody indeed. But still? Ack. Why do we continue to romanticize this hunky, tortured archetype? I am as big a sucker for teenage romances as they come, and my burgeoning status as a cougar-in-training knows no shame when it comes to objectifying delectable young morsels, so I was absolutely primed to go all swoony-moony for this guy. But instead, I just kind of wanted to punch him. People, this guy's a dick! For rizz! His mood swings and emotional abusiveness and control issues/possessiveness appalled me. It'd be one thing if I felt like the movie was trying to make some comment about the emotional truth of what being young and in love for the first time feels like--that it can be all-consuming and exciting even when it's stupid and reckless and otherwise not a "good" idea, literalizing the metaphor in the great way that Buffy always did--but I feel like we're really supposed to go unironically, uncritically ga-ga for this love story. Sure, he's just the next in a long, grand tradition of wrong-side-of-the-tracks lust objects, and it's a continually irresistable fantasy for a girl to be "the one" to penetrate the cold, cold heart of a guy like this, so I guess I'm willing to concede the film's success in using these tropes effectively and accurately. But, I suppose what I'm getting at is this: that's a completely fucking damaging fantasy. (And I say this as one who has indulged in it in her own life.) I know that, just because I'm bitching about it, Hollywood's not going to all of a sudden start giving us viable romantic alternatives to rebels with a heart of gold on one hand and schlubby, lovable losers (a la Apatow's boys) on the other, but...c'mon already! A huge part of what I loved so much about the teenage love story subplot of Snow Angels was the fact that the kid felt so real, like the kind of young dude a girl could actually meet in real life and convincingly fall for. Aside from Edward's sexy danger, and the fact that he was all flatteringly hot and heavy for her, I really, honestly didn't understand why a girl who seemed as smart as Bella would go so bonkers for a guy like that. It's like a way dumber version of the Rory/Jess arc in Gilmore Girls.

And yet............

There's something kind of special about the feel of this movie. Every time I'd get my nose up about the most disgusting aspects of Edward and Bella's "relationship," I'd somehow find myself reeled back in by the very somber, dead-serious tone. It's another way of doing what Brick did so well, as far as respecting the intensity of teenage emotion without making light of it or implying "oh, but they'll grow out of it; we all did, didn't we?" Adults get to have stuff like In the Bedroom that wins scads of awards and critical praise, so why shouldn't teenagers be entitled to the same, on their own playing field?

I've missed the last few Harry Potters (mostly because, well, you know), so this is, as far as I'm concerned, Pattinson's debut. Folks have been falling all over themselves to compare him, in this role at least, to James Dean. The comparison's slightly off, though not wholly inaccurate. The comparison people are actually looking for, I think, on a surface level, is Brando in The Wild One: sexy, dangerous, volatile, still kind of out of nowhere. There's a sensitivity in Dean's style, especially in Rebel Without a Cause, that doesn't get acknowledged as often as it should. (I think people get distracted by the word "rebel" and then let our general pop cultural shorthand for what "James Dean" signifies take over from there.) But. I only bring this up in order to say...Pattinson's performance here is really reminiscent of James Dean. By which I mean, it's nothing like what I expected it to be, and there's this nervous, Method jitteriness inside it that's almost more interesting for what it says about the actor than what it says about the character, which, in turn, gave my experience of the movie this weirdly enjoyable other dimension. So much of anyone's experience of this movie, at least right now, is necessarily going to be informed by the media juggernaut surrounding it, and so bringing this sort of king-making extra-cinematic narrative to bear on my initial impressions of his performance was almost literally the only thing that made me sympathetic in any way to his character.

Another thing I wasn't expecting out of this movie was how fucking nice all the minor characters were! It's almost funny to think about, especially when you know that Stephanie Meyer is (or at least was raised) Mormon. But, I really, genuinely enjoyed the time we, as viewers, spend with all the kids that Bella goes to school with, as well as the various townspeople.

And, far more than any aspect of the love story, or even the family drama with Bella and her father (which should have really gotten to me), the thing that made my heart ache most was the Pacific Northwest setting. Ohhhh, kittens, you know I'm a city girl and you know I love Chicago, but something about that area of the world really calls to me.

Most of the soundtrack was kind of whatever, but I thought the use of Iron & Wine's "Flightless Bird, American Mouth" over the last scene was (say it with me) unexpected and very nice, and hearing Radiohead's "15 Step" explode over the ending credits was a great trick that hearkened back to the use of Yorke's "Analyze" after the final blackout of The Prestige.

(Plus, and this is totally stupid and barely worth mentioning, but my friend SB works at a doggy daycare, and his coworker owns a chihuahua named Bella that they let roam around the office, so whenever anyone in the movie said her name aloud, I couldn't stop cackling to myself thinking of the stories he used to tell me of Bella hopping up on the desk to help him check his e-mail. "Bell-uh! Bell-uh!")

So, for those of you who've been wondering "what is the deal with Twilight?" I'm more than happy to have taken one for the team here. It was a diverting way to spend a Sunday afternoon, both for the pure experience of watching the film and for the stew of "she's my sister, my daughter, my sister, my daughter!" ambivalence that it brought up in me afterward.


michael o'd said...

I haven't seen Twighlight, but I did read a thoughtful article by Caitlin Flanagan in the Atlantic that argues that the movie effectively portrays teenage girls' longing/abhorrence for adult sexuality. I'm not sure that I agreed--I guess I couldn't, without seeing the movie--but Flanagan's usually worth reading, and this piece was no exception.

annie* said...

i started reading this series while on vacation two weeks ago and find it super annoying and sappy and heartwrenching and fucking-a addicting all at the same time. am about to embark on book 3 of 4. heard from others that the movie was on the terrible side so i'm glad you found some redeeming qualities!

Kasia said...

The whole thing is total crap and awesome. I'm thoroughly enjoying a trip down teen angst lane. First she falls for a vampire. And then a werewolf? What is there not to love? Mind you, I'm home alone and I've had a couple too many, but still...