Eugene Weekly : Movies : 11.23.11

Twi-Hard With a Vengeance

Sex and consequences in Breaking Dawn

BREAKING DAWN, PART I: Directed by Bill Condon. Written by Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer. Cinematography, Guillermo Navarro. Editor, Virginia Katz. Music, Carter Burwell. Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner. Summit Entertainment, 2011. PG-13. 117 minutes. Two stars.

Technically, there was only one scene in Breaking Dawn when I was helplessly waving my hands and whisper-shouting “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?” to my giggling friends. It just felt like there were more. Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) has done something I wasn’t sure was possible: made a Twilight movie that’s even more ridiculous than the book on which it is based.

Breaking Dawn, though it’s only part one, has a lot to get through, and our heroic screenwriter, Melissa Rosenberg, doesn’t waste time. Witness the wedding of 18-year-old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) to the supposedly beautiful but overly made-up vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson)! Enjoy the semi-drunken speeches, one of the film’s rare moments of on-purpose humor! Consider Bella’s dress, the back of which resembles a giant lace tramp stamp, and the weirdness of Iron & Wine crooning “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” as the newlyweds kiss! Follow the pair to Rio, where they visit their new island (a wedding gift) and get down to business! Sexy business.

Vampire-human sex, though pretty tame by cinematic standards, is apparently truly outstanding. Edward destroys the bed; Bella says she can’t imagine it getting any better (sex, not the bed), which is odd, since we never really see Bella enjoying herself. (Then again, we never really see evidence of Bella and Edward’s timeless love, so this is par for the course.) Regardless, Edward has left bruises, and he refuses to have sex again. 

Bella’s subsequent attempts to seduce Edward are incredibly awkward but oddly refreshing. She had sex, she liked it, she wants more, and she isn’t afraid of being judged for her desire, despite the actions of her overprotective husband. Edward is disdainful of her wishes. The movie, however, seems to have more sympathy for Bella, stuck in a pretty, dull, sexless honeymoon full of chess games and chaste nights. More trouble in paradise comes when Bella realizes her period is late. Vampires can’t make babies! OR CAN THEY?

Bella’s unexpected pregnancy divides the Cullens. Edward wants to do away with the “thing” before it kills his wife. Alice (Ashley Greene) carefully calls it a fetus and is met with a withering glare from Rosalie (Nikki Reed), who insists that it’s A BABY. Bella loves her deadly half-vampire fetus and enlists Rose, who always wanted a child, to help her protect it, which mostly involves standing near Bella as she sits on the sofa growing thinner and paler.

Meanwhile, the werewolves — including surly Jacob (Taylor Lautner) — are cranky about everything. In human form, they have heavy-handed discussions about love and “imprinting,” a magical kind of werewolf bonding; in wolf form, they convene a pack discussion that looks like it’s lifted out of a B-grade ’80s kids’ movie. Over epic CGI snarling and cowering, the wolves, their human voices heavily laden with effects, mentally shout at each other about what must be done. There is no more absurd scene in this film — and it’s a film in which a vampire has to tear his child from the womb with his own supersharp teeth. 

Breaking Dawn is more like a theme park ride than a movie; you giggle and shriek your way through it and leave with a vague desire to experience it again, possibly under the influence of mind-altering substances, even if it made you a touch queasy. 

But I have to give Condon and Rosenberg a modicum of credit for making a film that’s a veritable Choose Your Own Adventure of morality. Is Bella’s determination to keep her child an argument for a woman’s right to choose, no matter what she’s choosing? Is her deadly pregnancy a toast to righteous mamas everywhere, who put the lives of their fetuses above their own? Is Edward a good man who won’t hurt his wife, or a withholding creep who doesn’t trust her to make her own decisions? Whichever door you choose, the story stays the same; it just takes on different shading.

Alternately, it’s just a future camp classic about monster pregnancies and vampires in bad wigs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.