Apologies in advance to the confused fathers, guilt-tripped boyfriends, and dragged-along younger brothers in the theater—you’re not going to like “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1.” And no one, least of all the actors or director, seems to care. The penultimate installment in this blockbuster series is an entertaining ride for fans, but its terrible dialogue, wooden acting, and lack of a dramatic arc seriously hamper its ability to move beyond its intended demographic of already converted Twilight aficionados.
In the film’s first few minutes, sullen vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and his brooding beau Bella (Kristen Stewart) tie the knot in a predictably lavish ceremony and immediately fly away to Brazil for an exotic honeymoon. This first half of the movie—genuinely lighthearted, filled with in-jokes and references to past installments—is undoubtedly the most enjoyable part. “I haven’t told you everything about myself,” Edward warns Bella the night before their wedding. “What, you’re not a virgin?” she retorts, cuing not only peals of laughter from the predominantly preteen audience but also a genuine appreciation for screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg’s ability to poke fun at the series itself.
As in previous films, Bella’s high school classmates add needed humanity and levity to a script often bogged down by its own self-importance. “Suddenly Edward’s all about Bella,” says the spurned Jessica (Anna Kendrick) in her wedding toast to the couple, “even though she’s not the captain of the volleyball team … or president of the student council.”
Even the vampires get in a few kickers during the movie’s opening moments. Double entendres abound about Bella’s upcoming vampire transformation and marriage. “I hope you got enough sleep these past 18 years,” Edward’s brother Emmett (Kellan Lutz) says, “because you’re not getting any more!” Right on cue, the enamored couple flies off to their island honeymoon, consummates their marriage in a beachside mansion, and explores the breathtaking Isle Esme. Stewart and Pattinson have great chemistry when they stick to this more whimsical fare. In one surprisingly human scene, Bella tries to seduce a reluctant Edward, and Pattinson rolls over and giggles with a compelling contagiousness that demonstrates the actor’s genuine magnetism. This is the relatable Pattinson that people can actually imagine falling in love with, but has rarely been seen throughout the series. So far, so good.
Alas, all semi-tolerable aspects of this movie must come to an end. Increasingly constrained by the progressively more ridiculous plot of the novel, the film comes crashing back to mediocrity in its second half, from the moment Bella realizes that she is pregnant until her macabre birth scene. The material calls for the actors to move quickly between fury, self-restraint, and other heavy emotions—a task for which the photogenic but superficial cast is not quite prepared. Too often, moments of foreboding and darkness are transformed into comic parody through painful overacting.
The worst offenders in this overwrought portion of the drama are werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and his pack. Much has been written about Lautner’s lack of dramatic chops, and nowhere is this more apparent than when the hunky, fresh-faced young man earnestly delivers lines like “I always knew you’d destroy her!” and “it’s a killer, Bella!”
Meanwhile, the crème de la crème of all the film’s missteps manages to implicate its directing, screenwriting, and even CGI. Rubber-like werewolves bound across the sweeping Northwest landscape, pausing intermittently to howl unconvincingly at the moon, and meet up at an abandoned logging site for a confrontation of great importance. The already unconvincing atmosphere instantly evaporates the second the wolves start talking, an act that comes off as completely bizarre. By the time wolf-Lautner yells “I am the grandson of a chief! I wasn’t born to follow you, or anyone else!” there is no doubt that the original ambitions of a mostly respectable movie have fallen apart.
Not all the fault can lie with the actors, of course. When sitting down to view cuts of the film, did various production members collapse in laughter themselves? How could they not? There’s something so sad yet undeniably magnetic about a movie that delivers unintentional hilarity with such dependable frequency.
In the end, “Breaking Dawn” has little to recommend it to non-fans of the Twilight franchise, but that’s almost beside the point. After all, given the helm of a literary and cinematic phenomenon, director Bill Condon had the freedom to create any end product without worrying about financial returns. The shamble that emerges is thus both a triumph and an abject failure—a film whose value and artistic merits largely depend upon who is watching.
—Staff writer Leanna B. Ehrlich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.