November 27, 2008

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Twilight (PG-13)
A pale teenage girl falls for an even paler teenage boy in the vampire romance Twilight, an absolutely hilarious girl-fantasy about the perfect boyfriend.

So here’s this movie’s list: He would have a cool car, a great bedroom, be almost creepily devoted, get in fist-fights to defend his girl and be a little bit older (in this case, some 80 years, but whatever). He would look like the melding of James Van Der Beek’s forehead to early-era Beverly Hills 90210 Jason Priestley’s hair with Morrissey’s pale pale skin and James Dean’s (circa Rebel Without a Cause) sullenness. He would be almost uncontrollably attracted to his girl but forced, by his own sense of moral uprightedness, to hold back.

And he would be so dreamy.

Admittedly, I’m sure parts of this would have been on my list of the perfect boy when I was 14. A boy who drives a luxury car, listens to classical music and watches you while you sleep sounds so much more, you know, intense than the goofball who sits behind you in math class. Except, if you really thought about it, an actual boy who did such things would probably be both unbearably pretentious and a stalker.

But why let realism spoil things? In reality, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), the girl who moves from her mom’s house in Phoenix to her dad’s house in Forks, Washington, would not be so pale after all her years in the Southwest that you suspect it’s only really good foundation that’s keeping you from seeing her veins straight through her skin. But Bella is as ghostly white as the most morbidly inclined, heavily made-up goth kid. She arrives at her high school all awkward and nervous but is very pretty and so has boys tripping over themselves to hang out with her, even though neither she nor they seem capable of getting out a coherent sentence. (Seriously, it’s all sighs and eyebrow arches with these kids. And, can I just take a moment, in the spirit of the season, to give thanks for not being a teenager in high school anymore? Watching these kids shoulder-shrug and haltingly pout their way through conversations made me feel a deep and sincere gratitude for my adult problems of a shrinking retirement fund and a dwindling bank account. I would speak with an HMO customer service representative and have my cholesterol tested all day long if that’s what it took to never be 16 again.)

While Bella makes a few friends at her new school, there is one boy she is instantly and dramatically drawn to — Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). He has an enormous cliff of hair and forehead, punctuated by his startling (and startled-looking) eyebrows shading his glowing eyes. Bella is in lurve with him. Instant, stupid, embarrassing lurve. Edward, on the other hand, seems both repelled and drawn to Bella. Why ever would that be? Does his cold cadaver-ish skin, his super-speed, his remarkable strength and his lack of an apparent appetite have some deeper meaning? After a bit of subterfuge, he lets it all hang out — he’s a vampire. But don’t worry, a friendly vampire. He and his “family” (other vampires, all fiendishly attractive and living in a beautifully designed modern home in the woods) only eat animal blood — they’re like vegetarians, he says. (Based on all the celery sticks and garden burgers we see her eat, the movie hints that Bella is, like, a vegetarian too.) But, Edward tells her, Bella smells so good that she is the first human in a long time that he is tempted to bite. He desires her, he longs for her — but he will control his urges, to protect her.

Talk about your perfect line.

I’m sure Twilight isn’t meant to be laugh-out-loud hilarious, but then again lots of things about being a teenager aren’t funny until you’re not a teenager anymore. Bella and Edward know each other for seconds when their love becomes epic. “You’re my life now,” Edward tells this girl he’s basically on a third date with. In real life, absurd and possibly troubling. In fantasy life, so romantic. When they run off behind the school to roll around in the lush green forest, sprinkled with purple flowers, and just look at each other, it resembles nothing like actual teenage physical intimacy but it is exactly like what you’d picture if you were a 13-year-old girl who had never had a real boyfriend but had read plenty of books. Even Edward’s physical appearance is all about fantasy — he has matinee idol looks, boy band hair, and in the sunlight, his skin looks like it’s been sprinkled with glitter. Only if he could turn into a unicorn would he be more of a what-a-girl-wants cliché.

This is not the horror, 30 Days of Night side of vampire lore, it’s the emo side, the want-to-read-my-36-poems-about-death side. It’s silly and absurd but also extremely well-used, this vampire conceit. Vampires, demons and other monsters make good metaphors for high school life (you may remember a little TV show about a high school built over a Hellmouth) and this kind of melodrama, as outsized as it is, actually fits with the outsized emotions of teenagers. I’ll love you forever, I’ll never forget, I know what I want for the rest of my life — these are things teenagers can say with absolute conviction even if they turn out not to be true a week later. Thusly what could be interpreted as hacky, The C.W.-level teenage performances (not that anybody on Gossip Girl would do anything as vulnerable as promise eternal devotion) actually kind of fit with the story and with this stage in the characters’ lives. And sure, I think most of this movie is funny, me who looks at the photos of the 22-year-old Pattinson and is overcome only by the urges to tell him to use less hair product and that it probably wouldn’t kill him to buy a comb. But for some teenage fan of Stephanie Meyer’s wildly popular books, I could also see this movie as being just exactly what they wanted. C+

Rated PG-13 for some violence and a scene of sensuality. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke and written by Melissa Rosenberg (from the book by Stephanie Meyer), Twilight is two hours long and distributed in wide release by Summit Entertainment.