An actor faces a lot of pressure when tapped to embody a beloved fictional character. But try living up to fan expectations when the author who birthed said character describes him as “devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful,” with a “musical voice” and “soft, enchanting laugh.”
Those adjectives — along with many, many others that reiterate his perfection — add up to Edward Cullen, the heartthrob teenage vampire who helped Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series become exalted as “the next Harry Potter.” Which would be accurate, if only the novels were better written. And the stories appealed to boys as well as giggly girls (albeit of all ages, apparently). And — most crucial — if the franchise’s inaugural big-screen adaptation by director Catherine Hardwicke didn’t suck more than its vampires actually do.
Twilight is not Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Meyer threw out all the vampiric rules to make Edward (Robert Pattinson) and the other baby Nosferatus in his family sexier, more glam — because, ew, who’d want to read about a hottie who weakens or combusts in sunlight when he could just, well, sparkle instead? Yes, when Edward insists on showing his new love, a mortal named Bella (Kristen Stewart), what he looks like when the sky’s not gray, you might expect something frightening. Instead, he glistens as if covered with Urban Decay glitter. Dreamy! And forget about needing to be invited into someone’s home. Edward pops up in Bella’s bedroom whenever he feels like it, which is totally hot.
Really, though, Twilight is Bella’s story, and scripter Melissa Rosenberg (Step Up) does a fair-to-inadequate job translating the novel’s first-person introspection to the screen. Bella is a junior in high school who’s moved from her native Phoenix to Forks, Wash., to live with her father, whom she irritatingly calls Charlie (Billy Burke). She hates the rain and the goofy guys who hit on her, but nonetheless becomes friends with the goofiest of the lot, Mike, and the girl who’s crushing on him, Jessica (Michael Welch and the usually bitch-cast Anna Kedrick, both of whom give the truest portrayals of their literary origins even in their reduced roles).
Bella stops minding the perpetually overcast weather, though, when she becomes drawn to Edward, a master at playing hard-to-get who hangs only with the rest of his pale, odd foster siblings and nearly busts a dusty blood vessel when Bella ends up sitting next to him in biology class. He glowers and clenches his fists; she naturally swoons, even though it’s a love-hate thing for a while because she doesn’t understand how someone could act so angry at her when they haven’t even spoken.
Edward soon softens around Bella and eventually reveals a few of his quirks: One, his eyes change color. Two, he and his family skip school to go “camping” on sunny days. And three, Edward had to ball his fists and storm out of bio because he was pretty close to chowing down on her fair neck.
Edward can also read minds, but he can’t read Bella’s, part of what marks her as his “own personal brand of heroin.” But because the Cullens’ patriarch, a doctor named Carlisle (Peter Facinelli), has taught his brood to snack only on animals and not on humans — to lessen that whole monster angle — Edward cautiously courts the tasty new girl.
The will-they-or-won’t-they tension that’s rather titillating in the book is all but lost on screen, though. The problem isn’t Stewart, best known for Into the Wild and a believable, likable Bella who trips in all the right places. (Meyer saddled her with a case of clumsiness that’s as unsubtle as Edward’s flawlessness.) Not even Pattinson’s to blame — rather, it’s that Hardwicke’s interpretation of Edward and his fellow vampires is as ludicrous as Meyer’s vision was unachievable.
Try not to laugh when you first see Dr. Cullen at the hospital, treating Bella after an accident: Even among pale Washingtonians, Facinelli’s Carlisle looks like an albino mime, as alien as someone with a lab coat and clipboard could look and still resemble a human. And Pattinson’s mood-swinging but “musical” reticence too often sounds like a 12-year-old attempting to deepen his voice, with grunts instead of sultry “hello”s resulting. Pattinson tries really, really hard to be really, really ridiculously good-looking, but with crazy hair, pancake’d skin, and almost-tough-guy attitude, he just looks ridiculous.
It doesn’t help that, with the exception of some rogue bloodsuckers and a game of — I swear — vampire baseball, Twilight‘s main action is yearning. Meyer liked her characters to convey their thoughts with expressions almost more often than words; therefore, Pattinson and Stewart do a whole lot of staring. And because Edward’s supposed to be a good guy, he shows off his speed instead of his violent side.
The leads have a couple of juicy moments together, and a mini damsel-in-distress arc is thrown in to keep the story from being completely, well, bloodless. When Edward warns Bella that he’s a killer, she responds, “I don’t believe you!” Neither do we.