After watching a double feature of Please Give and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, I got to thinking: Wouldn’t it be great if Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), Twilight’s young heroine, were more like the whiny, zitty adolescent daughter (Sarah Steele) in Nicole Holofcener’s cynical comedy? That is, wouldn’t it be funny to see her act like a real teenager?
But no. Where real teens covet designer jeans, Bella pines to join the undead. They bicker with their parents; she condescends to hers. And where other girls fight for the attentions of an alpha male, Bella is naturally irresistible to boys with cleft chins, intense eyes and incredible pecs. The only problem is, her dreamy boyfriend won’t put out.
Stewart’s convincingly depressed, muted performance can’t conceal the character’s roots in a teen’s fantasy of being dryly witty and above it all, yet secretly passionate and desired. In real life, a girl with Bella’s jaded emo affectations might well be having self-destructive sex with some older guy who didn’t appreciate her, much like Stewart’s character in Adventureland. In the franchise birthed by Stephenie Meyer, however, she’s found a guy so old (born in 1901, to be exact) that he’s made it his mission to save her from her own lusty impulses. And if that doesn’t sound terribly exciting, well, it isn’t.
Some critics are calling Eclipse funnier and edgier than the previous two Twilight movies. True, director David Slade gave us Hard Candy, a film about a young girl that makes male viewers squirm with horror, much like everything related to Twilight.
But there’s only so much a director can do with this stuff. The first (and best) Twilight movie set the parameters: saturated, hyperreal colors; creepy aerial shots of the Pacific Northwest; vampires powdered and coiffed like courtiers at Versailles; rebellious flashes of humor and bloodless CGI swooshes of violence.
Yes, it is suspenseful — or ought to be — when vengeful vampire Victoria (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard) creates an army of newborn undead to come after our heroine. And, yes, it is funny when Bella’s true love Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) asks if perpetually half-clothed werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) even owns a shirt.
But this is the tale of a teen so desperate for sweet love that she’s begging for it from a 109-year-old virgin who refuses to do the deed till he has a ring on his finger. Does it need comic relief? There’s a whole genre of web comics that satirize Twilight just by condensing it into panel form.
Meanwhile, these not-so-condensed movies are getting tiresome. It’s a long slog till dawn breaks in the last Twilight book and things get really crazy. Who knows: The two Breaking Dawn films (yes, two) could be camp classics.
But Eclipse showcases Pattinson’s fictional rival, Lautner, who seems to have grown into an eerie, unjustified cockiness. Now that he’s no longer a minor, we’re allowed to say it: The kid can’t act. Watching him and Pattinson fight over Stewart is like watching a preening poolroom tough go head to head with your grandpa.
At one point, fussbucket Edward scolds Bella for trying to take off her own clothes after he’s invited her into his bed. The scene should be all smoldering and repressed, but it comes off more like the vampire’s just concerned about getting his Zs. Some people in the audience may be tempted to do the same.