Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 (Bill Condon, 2011)

Only the most cynical financial motivation could lead anyone to split Breaking Dawn, the conclusion to Stephenie Meyer's embarrassing and tedious tetralogy about a girl's inability to function without the sexual presence of her emotionally unstable lover. There isn't even enough material to fill this film, which goes above and beyond the already over-saturated prevalence of helicopter shots of Pacific Northwest forests, the visual trademark of this film franchise. Breaking Dawn Part 1 starts with a wedding and ends with a birth. It's like Yi Yi, only replace the rationalist evocation of life's pains and pleasures with dialogue so mortally stilted that the actors can only prolong their demises by fighting against it.

Breaking Dawn Part 1 is a film of even mores. It's got even more helicopter shots, even more Edward flightiness, even more Jacob sulking, and, amazingly, even more Kristen Stewart lip biting (how has her lower lip not fallen off?). The one exception is plot, of which there is even less than usual. Director Bill Condon gets us through Bella's and Edward's wedding painlessly enough, but soon the film languishes as their honeymoon bliss turns to crazed pregnancy fears softened by so much religious conservatism that even the occasional newcomer dragged to this film by a fan will know that everything will turn out fine for our empty shell of a heroine.

From the start, Breaking Dawn displays the franchise's glacial pace and unintended humor. Melissa Rosenberg, writer of all the saga's screenplays, has tried to alleviate the former by shoehorning in various stabs at intentional comedy, but with the exception of Billy Burke's always reliable Charlie, everyone's jokes fall flat while the sheer listlessness of everyone involved makes it hard for one not to bust up laughing amidst a sea of Twi-hards. Consider the montage of toast givers at the wedding, where everyone awkwardly stumbles through some lame jokes, then look at the far more entertaining moment of tension between the invited werewolves and the offended vampire Irina. Watching Maggie Grace attempt a look of disgust and effrontery, which instead comes out a sort of overwhelming social panic (as if she'd just loudly farted and had no way to deflect blame), proves one of the film's comic highlights.

There's also the acting, which continues to suggest either hostility to the script or mere incompetence. It's certainly embarrassing to see people like Michael Sheen and Peter Facinelli stooping to droning out portentous lines, though not as bad as Taylor Lautner's seemingly immobile face hissing sour comments out of any break between teeth. Robert Pattinson continues to be unreadable, delivering Edward's clinging lines with conviction but also betraying moments where one can't help but think he's in on the joke. Indeed, the only pleasure I've gotten from these movies is gradually catching on to Pattinson's strange game, and having to fret over Bella's half-breed demon fetus—or, as one vampire insists, "baby," opening up a political argument this insipid, anti-feminist text cannot hope to argue with any depth—is like a comic gift from heaven.

Forced to comply with a PG-13 rating, Condon cannot plumb the depths of Meyer's unhinged sexual fantasy, eliding over sex scenes and censoring the Grand Guignol birth scene of this first part's climax with some simplistic but schizophrenic effects. The repression that so ensnares Bella extends to the framing and editing, to the point that Breaking Dawn would make a fine add-on to Condon's biopic on Arthur Kinsey, if for no other reason than to prove the sex researcher right in his belief that an unhealthy view of sex could lead to unhealthy psychological problems. After forcing Bella to remain chaste for three novels, Meyer abruptly throws her into physically harmful sex and a pregnancy that any sensible person would abort, basking in the long-delayed sexual euphoria and then meting out punishment for it. And then Meyer makes sure to clarify that Bella quite literally asks for it so no one raises any objections.

But as much as I revile the sexual politics inadvertently thrust into this franchise, what continues to rile me the most is the mere lifelessness of these films. Not one of them has a spark of chemistry between anyone, much less the raging torrents of passion each installment is meant to invoke. After their night of bruising lovemaking, Bella asks her guilt-ridden husband, "Why can't you see how perfectly happy I am?" to which one wishes he would respond, "Because you just said that sentence so flatly it didn't even sound like a question." So unutterably dull is this picture that its casual inclusion of offensively simple-minded issues—from its pro-life stance to its forgiveness of Edward's past murders (see, he only killed bad people, so he's actually a hero)—could not even rouse me to anger. That would be some form of emotional response, which this film cannot hope to conjure. I was, however, incensed that Guillermo Navarro, the cinematographer responsible for the breathtaking blue nights of Jackie Brown and Pan's Labyrinth (among others), is the man behind Breaking Dawn's murky, atrocious night shots. Now that is an artistic offense.


  1. Tell me, you didn't pay to see this cause I really don't want anyone to waste their money on this bullshit.

  2. Well, my parents did because it was my sister's birthday.