REVIEW: Broken Beds! Bloody Placenta! Breaking Dawn - Part 1 Goes to Crazytown — Almost
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part I is such a departure from the previous three Twilight pictures that you could almost consider it a rogue offshoot. Director Bill Condon steers the franchise away from visions of wan, suffering teens and fake-fur werewolf tussles and brings it closer to -- if not necessarily close to -- something resembling human adult sexual obsession and its attendant responsibilities and anxieties. It's like Jules and Jim for the Tiger Beat set.
In fact, even Twilight naifs, those who haven't read Stephenie Meyer's blockbuster vampire-romance novels or seen any of the other pictures in the series, can probably step into Breaking Dawn -- Part I and get at least a small charge out of it. It's the most imaginative picture in the franchise, and I say that as a fan of the first picture, Catherine Hardwicke's Twilight, an irony-free adolescent romance that took the idea of teenage erotic fantasy seriously. (I loved the entrance Hardwicke gave Robert Pattinson's vampire heartthrob Edward Cullen: A pale effigy with brooding eyes and a blond quiff, he strode in the school cafeteria looking like a cross between Elvis and Simon Le Bon.) But the second installment, Chris Weitz's New Moon, suffered from an excess of cheap, fake werewolf fur -- what's so suspenseful about being attacked by a pack of trappers' hats from Target? And in the third, David Slade's Eclipse, the actors looked all but ready to pack it in and go home, as if the mere thought of doing two more movies were enough to send them drifting toward to their Victorian fainting couches.
But Breaking Dawn -- Part I gives the series a jolt, a little like the lightning-bolt goosing Elsa Lanchester gets in Bride of Frankenstein, a film that's lovingly referenced here. (It's also an obvious nod to Condon's 1998 Gods and Monsters, about the last days of James Whale, the director of the Frankenstein movies.) For those of you not up to speed on the Twilight canon, all you need to know is that Pattinson's Edward is a vampire hiding in plain sight (with his whole family, no less) in the American northwest. He's deeply in love with Bella (Kristen Stewart), though if he has sex with her, he'll go crazy and turn her into a vampire, too. Did I mention that there's also a neighborhood werewolf clan, perpetually at war with the vampires? The most significant of these wolfies is Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who's also in love with Bella and who almost got her out of Edward's clutches. Until Bella and Edward patched it back together and got engaged -- they figured they'd work out the sex thing somehow. And that's where Breaking Dawn -- Part I picks up the thread.
The movie opens with a wedding. Actually, there are two: One a dream-sequence affair, the other a really-and-truly exchanging of vows and rings. One of these weddings is a vision of white tulle and blood-red roses; the other is a storybook illustration incorporating hanging wisteria, cheerful, saucy wedding toasts (very artfully edited ones, at that), and the sight of the new bride and groom gazing into each other's eyes, giddy with happiness and the knowledge that the whole thing is finally over. Now they can get to their secluded Brazilian honeymoon shack, where Edward literally breaks the bed. Who knew he had it in him?
But the Honeymoon doesn't last long, and here's where the kookiness kicks in: Bella discovers that just 14 days after losing her virginity, she is with child. Or with something. And it's growing inside her fast, like a watermelon with teeth (and, apparently, a thirst for blood). The birth scene that ensues is less Rosemary's Baby and more Dario Argento, complete with smears of bloody placenta and Fantastic Voyage-style point-of-view shots that take us zooming through Bella's arteries. Meanwhile, Jacob shows up to growl at Edward and hold Bella's hand as she gazes placidly into his eyes. Exactly who's married to whom here?
There's more, but you probably get the picture. While I, and perhaps you, don't care for all of the Twilight pictures, I have greatly enjoyed the anticipation leading up to each one. For New Moon, especially, that lead-up was wonderful, a pop-culture moment reminiscent of the way audiences might have looked forward to a new Rudolph Valentino film in the '20s: Moms, grandmoms, gay men, lesbians and last but not least, the preteens and young teenagers who were ostensibly the franchise's target audience -- there were lots of people gearing up for the Twilight movie adventure, and if the pictures let them down in some ways, at least they'd experienced the thrill of anticipation, some thread of connection via a big, lavish popcorn phenomenon.
Breaking Dawn -- Part 1 may restore the faith of part of that audience, and it may very well turn some of the faithful right the heck off. But Condon hasn't fully taken the series to crazytown. He, cinematographer Guillermo Navarro and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (who has written all of the Twilight adaptations) still hit all the essentials: They prolong the moment at which we finally get to see Bella's wedding dress -- our first glimpse is a sensual tracking shot along her spine, a long, slow stretch of lace-trimmed sheer netting. And Breaking Dawn -- Part 1 gives us more laughs than the previous films did: Anna Kendrick, as Edward and Bella's snotty school friend Jessica, shows up to make some wisecracks about the wedding cake, and series favorite Billy Burke returns as Bella's protective yet perennially nonplussed dad -- Condon gives him a great reaction shot when one of Edward's brothers offers an off-color wedding toast. There's also a scene in which various friends and family members weigh in on Bella's baby-name choices. No snickering, please! (Snicker.)
Breaking Dawn -- Part I has to include the by-now obligatory wolf-and-vampire battle, and so it does. But it also features a wild, fancifully silly sequence in which the wolves talk to one another in growly, old-phonograph voices. The actors seem recharged, too: Pattinson still hasn't been fully jolted out of his Eclipse sleepwalking stupor, but he occasionally shows signs of life -- particularly in a scene where he attempts to revive his possibly dying wife -- and he may yet rally for Part 2. Stewart seems more engaged too; she warms to the slow-burning melodrama Condon's stoking here, and at certain points of the film she looks less like a lovesick teenager than a seriously exhausted and perplexed adult. Even Lautner seems less like a talking brick than usual. Breaking Dawn -- Part 1 hints that the Twilight series will go out with a bang rather than slink off with a whimper. If Condon is going to send us off licking our wounds, he's at least going to make it sexy.
Follow Stephanie Zacharek on Twitter.
Follow Movieline on Twitter.