Twilight is completely unsubtle, unevenly directed, is full of annoying characters and clunky, expository dialogue, and has a final third that is weak and nonsensical – and yet all of that is forgivable.
It’s forgivable because the film isn’t really concerned about any of that. It makes clear early on that its main focus is its central relationship between Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson). These characters are well portrayed, played with conviction and the chemistry between them is so strong that every time the pair are on screen together, the film comes to life. This part is so well done that all the other flaws of the film can actually be overlooked.
It’s now been ten years since the big-screen version of Stephanie Myers’ best-selling teen-lit novel was released in the UK. Fans of the book loved it, though it won few newcomers, but the film still went on to be a huge financial success, taking more than $300 million worldwide. This initial success saw it go on to become one of the biggest franchises of the late noughts and early 2010s.
A decade later, however, the Twilight series has become somewhat forgotten, overtaken by the titles that rode in on its coattails (such as The Hunger Games). It has now largely been resigned to a fad, a piece of teen fiction that through sheer hype made it to the big-screen. It may be teen fantasy fiction, but it’s a good example of teen fantasy fiction, and goes deeper than most.
Like the book, the film follows Bella as she starts at a new school in the Pacific Northwest after moving in with her divorced dad. It’s there that Edward, the object of affection of all girls at the school, begins to pursue her, much to her surprise. As the two get to know each other, though, she comes to learn of the dark and potentially deadly secret Edward is trying to keep from her – he is a hundred-year-old vampire.
As Edward, Robert Pattinson is highly convincing as a man who fears his personal baggage would push away the girl he desires. Kristen Stewart, meanwhile, is perfect as a young woman who is feeling unwanted after her parents split up. At first this makes her unwilling to accept Edward’s affections, but in the end she can’t deny her true feelings.
Both flawed and vulnerable, and willing to admit it, these characters feel accessible and are more drawn out than most of those found in teen love story fare. The connection that forms between the two really comes across on screen (which may or may not have been helped by the couple’s real life relationship).
Much was made of their relationship being chaste – Edward keeps Bella at a distance so as to not give in to his vampiric urges – but this moment also evokes the feeling of entering into a relationship you fear you can’t live up to, with someone you worry you won’t be good enough for.
Much was also made of some of the film’s stilted dialogue. While it’s true that the exchanges between Edward and Bella can be less-than authentic (“You give me everything just by breathing”, “You’re like my own personal brand of heroin”), if intentional, this is the thing that Twilight best gets right – the feeling of being so infatuated with someone you can’t even express it in words.
There are other things that Twilight gets right as well, and not just the minimal use of Taylor Lautner. It’s a film that pitches itself perfectly to its audience.
The filmmakers forgo using lazy pop culture references as a cheap way of conveying the characters ages, and instead have worked to ensure they capture the world and mind-set of late-noughts teenagers without talking down to them. Portraying the imperfections of life and humanity go a long way to give the film a more realistic feeling of the late-teen experience.
Conversely, there’s a lot that Twilight also gets wrong. Aside from some truly cringeworthy moments (the baseball game for one), all of the supporting characters have a single character trait and serve only to flesh out the story. In addition, director Catherine Hardwicke never really seems sure what tone to take, and ends up casting it as a much darker story than it actually is. This results in a somewhat uneven feel.
As the series progressed, there was more that it got wrong. With every future film it got further and further away from what made this first one work so well – Bell and Edward’s relationship. The sequels were less about that and more about further building on its mythology, which is not as interesting and is something not unique to the series that’s been done better elsewhere.
Twilight works best when viewed on its own merits, though. It’s a film made with conviction that knows what it’s trying to be, and because of that holds up to this day. It stumbles at times, but when it’s up and running it manages to bring back those first giddy, excited feelings you can only get from another person that you felt as a teenager.