If only Twilight were more like its spiritual inspiration, Romeo and Juliet, then at least its lovebird protagonists would eventually wind up taking an eternal dirt nap. Alas, there’s no reward for those who suffer through Catherine Hardwicke’s adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s young-adult novel about human-vampire romance, only the incessant sight of 17-year-old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) staring at undead Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) with such panting desire that it seems she’s about to spontaneously, orgasmically erupt. Edward looks like a blank, pasty-faced, fire-haired Gap model (or like a zombie auditioning for a role in a Dragonball Z film), yet despite his ludicrously exaggerated brooding, Bella can’t turn away, his supernatural magnetism turning her into a quivering, trembling bundle of charged hormones whenever she gazes into his golden, cartoonishly intense James Tween eyes.
Hardwicke has her leads go so overboard with the passionate gaping that the film soon appears headed for bodice-ripper territory, though parents need not freak, as Meyer’s tale is by and large chaste, its backbone Edward’s repression of his thirst for blood, which serves as a blunt metaphor for carnal impulses and, consequently, establishes the entire affair as a saga of self-inflicted vampiric blue balls. In essence, what we have here is a laughable, sex-free gothic tweener variation of those dime-store page-turners featuring Fabio on their cover. “Your mood swings are giving me whiplash,” Bella tells Edward in response to his mixed signals, hokum to which Edward, whose supposed hunkiness is amplified by his torment over wanting to eat the one he loves, counters with the noble platitude, “If you were smart, you’d stay away from me.” Prospective non-teen female viewers should heed this warning with extreme prejudice, lest they be subjected to a story of hysterical nonsensicality.
Relocated from Phoenix to the tiny Washington town of Forks, Bella claims to be a loner, yet by the end of her first batch of classes, has a close-knit group of friends, multiple suitors and the mysterious Edward swooning (because of her scent). A few days and countless breathless conversations later, the pair are soulmates, a relationship that engenders strange looks from both normal students and Edward’s bloodsucker step-siblings—all of whom, as with their “dad” and “mom” (Peter Facinelli and Elizabeth Reaser), sport ludicrously loud dye jobs—and is cemented, irrevocably, when Edward shows Bella what happens if he enters into the rarely seen Washington sunlight. The answer? His skin glistens like diamonds, prompting Bella to gasp, “You’re beautiful.” That’s not exactly the term I’d use to describe this epidermal condition (“ridiculous” would be far more appropriate), but hey, it’s no more absurd than the rest of Twilight, which also features a corny Cullen family game of superpowered baseball and a tacked-on conflict involving vampires who, unlike the animal-eating “vegetarian” Cullens, want to feast on Bella’s hide.
Hardwicke, meanwhile, dully drains color from her palette in order to make Bella look as ashen as her beau, as well whips, twirls and tilts her camera with such random, excessive ferocity that the film, on a compositional level, occasionally resembles that paragon of asininely askew direction, Battlefield Earth. Busy aesthetics, however, only slightly degrade what already inherently amounts to limp fantasy aimed squarely at the Tiger Beat demographic. That Bella and Edward’s syrupy, star-crossed amour is more about stay-up-late talk than let’s-get-physical intimacy seems like a grown-up’s wishful thinking about preteen sexual attitudes and activities. Still, no measure of ostensible abstinence can alter the fact that Twilight ultimately hinges on a hilariously skeevy implicit suggestion. Namely, that if Edward, despite his youthful body, is in reality a 108-year-old man, then his lustful wooing of an actual high-school junior makes him, for all intents and purposes, a borderline statutory rapist and all around dirty old perv. Your move, Anne Rice!