If you haven’t been living like a hermit for the past two years, you already know whether you want anything to do with New Moon. Nothing in this sequel to the blockbuster Twilight — and adaptation of the second in Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling YA series — will change your mind. More than the first film, which had the advantage of novelty, this one is strictly for fans.
But the funny thing about Twilight fan culture is that it generates its own backlash. For every girl or woman who adores Meyer’s books about a teen in love with a vampire who refuses to satisfy her carnal desires, there’s another one who’s read them, deconstructed them and is eager to mock them. Maybe that’s why, at a midnight screening packed with fans, I heard borderline- irreverent giggles every time director Chris Weitz used slo mo to remind us how beautiful actor Robert Pattinson is.
“Would I ever get used to his perfection?” That’s how Bella (Kristen Stewart) sums up her feelings for Pattinson’s character, Edward Cullen, at the end of the first Twilight book. Other well-known fraternizers with the undead, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the heroine of HBO’s “True Blood,” would roll their eyes at that sentiment. But Bella never reaches the eye-rolling stage, and neither, more shockingly, does Meyer. Edward is perfect. Got a problem with that?
But perfect can be daunting. New Moon opens with Bella turning 18 and fretting that she’s already too old for her boyfriend, who will stay 17 forever. (The furrows in Pattinson’s pallid brow say otherwise.) Edward proceeds to pull a Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons, bidding Bella eternal farewell and intimating he never really liked her anyway. It’s obvious to the audience he’s just trying to protect her, but not so obvious to Bella, who spends the next 45 minutes moping in the murky forestscapes of the Pacific Northwest. When she discovers that putting herself in danger makes her hallucinate Edward’s finger-shaking presence, she becomes an “adrenaline junkie” just for a glimpse of him.
Maybe this isn’t the best fare for depressive teens. But Stewart and Weitz (aided by The Others cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe) give the depression a pre-Raphaelite glamour. The camera circles Bella as she swoons to the forest floor, and again as she sits at her window watching months pass — a visual comment on her self-absorption. Stewart does the flat affect of grief so convincingly that it’s a relief when Bella’s friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner) finally manages to distract her.
He does so by not wearing a shirt — in five scenes, by my count. Jacob also introduces some plotty stuff involving werewolves, but it’s clearly secondary to the nudity and the temptation. (The same can be said of later scenes where Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning camp it up as members of the Euro-trash vampire elite.)
Lautner isn’t great, but he manages to suggest warmth and humor, which is more than you can say for the perpetually constipated-seeming Pattinson. Both leads project a sense of being too cool for their roles — appropriately, perhaps, because Bella is convinced Edward and anyone he loves are too cool for the human race. Eager to become dead, superpowered and sparkly, too, she doesn’t seem to worry that vampirism could entail urges to slaughter her schoolmates and likeable dad (Billy Burke).
One might say of Twilight the same thing one might say of 300 on the other side of the gender divide: It takes skill to bring material this deeply felt and deeply deluded to the screen. But, before you start angsting about its effects on young fans, be aware that many get the joke.