Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Anyone who knows my opinions concerning Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series might wonder why I bothered to see the second film in the four-part saga, perhaps even assuming that I went only to snipe the picture to rain on the fans' parade. That simply isn't true: first of all, this blog doesn't get enough traffic to offend a significant portion of any demographic. Second, I went because, if I expect to be a film critic when I graduate, I should prepare myself now to check out whatever movie ignites the zeitgeist, regardless of whether it interests me. Besides, New Moon is such a tedious bore that anyone who goes in relishing the opportunity to make catty comments and project an air of superiority will be too lulled to do anything.
New Moon picks up a few months after Twilight ended. It's Bella's 18th birthday, but she's so wound-up over her vampiric boyfriend's agelessness that she she openly fears her birthday as a sign of growing old. At 18. Edward assures her that her concerns border on the obsessive (it's all relative, remember; he stands at the foot of her bed at night) and that he'd love her even if she was old, because that's how much he loves her. She pauses. Her pause gives him pause. That night, Bella celebrates the birthday she doesn't want to celebrate with Edward's vampire family. She gets a paper cut from opening her card, and it bleeds like a minor stab wound, awakening the vampires' bloodlust. This reminds Edward what their relationship risks, so he breaks up with Bella and disappears.
This brief bit of plot setup takes long enough, but that's nothing compared to what's in store. Bella spends three months or so locked away from the world, wracked by inhuman grief. Chris Weitz took over the director's chair for Catherine Hardwicke, and he appears to have made the bold auteurial choice to make the passage of these three months feel as close to real-time as possible. Bella is not simply sad; she's devastated. She suffers screaming nightmares constantly, her shrieks rating somewhere between a child crying in a restaurant and "Crazy Frog" on the list of Things That Are Insufferably Annoying. Eventually, she discovers that adrenaline rushes fuel visions of Edward and, desperate to see even an apparition of the moody sparkler, she buys two rusted old motorbikes and takes them to her old friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner) to repair. Jacob tries his best to be there for the girl he loves: Bella hits her head on a rock, Jacob takes off his shirt.
Naturally, with Edward gone and Jacob standing in that "I never knew you were so handsome" light, Bella must decide between pale,sub-poetic stalker vampire Edward and kind, friendly werewolf Jacob (oh right, forgot to mention: Jacob is a werewolf). But Bella can't help herself: when presented with the nicer, more supportive and, frankly, better-looking Jacob, she can't stop thinking about Edward as his professions that seem to come less from Shakespeare and more from George Lucas. Not that her choice really matters: everyone involved in this love story is so repressed that I kept waiting for one to explode in a sticky blast of backed-up sexual effluent.
If it seems like I'm summarizing this film, know that I'm simply writing about the few things that actually happen. This movie is interminable: the pauses have pauses. It's like Antonioni by way of My Chemical Romance. In my review of Twilight I did my best to defend its stars against the material they had to speak, but I've run out of excuses: Pattinson, his part mercifully reduced, reads his few lines as if embarrassed by them (though who could blame him?). Stewart, so intriguing in Into the Wild and Adventureland, is dead-eyed and vacuous; Bella intrigues the vampire cult known as the Volturi (lead by Michael Sheen in an over-the-top performance that genuinely made me wince) because they cannot read her thoughts, but that's only because she's an empty cipher of a character, there to stand-in for its audience to project themselves into the story. However, Bella, fawned over by gorgeous men and scrutinized by elite vampires, doesn't so much represent the normal girl discovering her inner beauty but the popular girl with the body image issues. That's a perfectly valid person to study, but there's something unsettling about propping this type of character up as a role model when Bella sets herself up as a beacon of helplessness and incompetence . At the end, she stands between Jacob and Edward and begs Jake not to make her choose between them. Well, you have to, Bella. What are you supposed to be, a Morm-oh, right.
Only Lautner gives a decent performance, one rooted in some semblance of reality as the boy who can only ever be just a friend. Having put down the first book a hundred pages in out of anger, I never got to this aspect of the story, so I was surprised to see how much better in every way Jacob is to Edward. If that places me in "Team Jacob," so be it. I actually felt sorry for Lautner when his character had to turn into Meyer's idea of a werewolf, which is essentially nothing more than a large dog (I shouldn't have been surprised; look at her idea of a vampire).
Visually, New Moon bests its predecessor, as it dropped that sickening blue tint that Hardwicke inexplicably used for Twilight. Otherwise, however, nothing about Weitz's direction is particularly pleasing, and I feel like I only appreciated his aesthetically neutral touch when compared to Hardwicke's tinting an laughable camera movements. He does give us one good moment though, when Bella flies to Italy on Virgin Airlines. Weitz was given a script in which almost nothing happens, and he does nothing to pass the time, only tilting and panning his camera near the end in a vain and ill-fitting attempt to breathe some life into the film. New Moon follows a circuitous path, opening with a vision of what's to come in the climax, but by the time we get there it's impossible to care anymore; I'd been so lulled into delusion by that point that I worried for a moment that the whole thing would just start again, a never-ending spiral that led down to some level of hell Dante could not conceive. New Moon is simply one long, sleepy pause interspersed with the odd sexual fantasy. This isn't a film; it's an Ambien-induced hallucination.
In the end, though, I do not wish to project onto the fans, as many of the series' detractors have. I certainly don't agree with the characterizations, but I also don't think that any but perhaps a minuscule few would accept someone behaving like Edward in real life as romantic. This is merely a venue for young girls to vent all their obscene, shrieking excitement, which is just fine. Many seemed bored by the end of this seemingly endless film, but they'll be back, just as all of us men hated The Phantom Menace and still showed up for Attack of the Clones, which was even worse. To be honest, I find the Twilight phenom fascinating and revelatory: the rampant hysteria over the franchise and the degree to which women across a surprising age range connect to this admittedly questionable vampire lover opens up interesting dialogues concerning not just female under-representation at the cineplex but also a national feeling of sexual repression that should not be so casually dismissed by a bunch of chortling men who conveniently ignore the Star Trek and Star Wars conventions that endure to this day. Ignoring these feelings is what led to Twilight in the first place.